'Golden Boy' Offers Nothing New But Shows Potential
Golden Boy isn't different from any other police procedural airing on CBS. The look of the show is identical to Elementary and, even, Person of Interest. The New York setting seems to entice directors to use grey filters and sterile lighting. Scenes set in the police station are aesthetically unappealing. The majority of CBS dramas are a slog to get through. Hawaii Five-0 is less of a slog than the other shows--because of its beautiful Hawaiian setting--but it is still a slog nonetheless. So many of the stories, so many of its characters, and its beats, have been done before on television, and repeated for nearly three decades. Golden Boy's one character, Detective Dan Owen (Chi McBride), is a gruff lifer in the homicide unit who's just two years from retirement; another character, Arroyo, puts aside morality for his own interests; there's a third generation female cop whose back-story is reminiscent of The Chicago Code's own third generation female cop; and, finally, Golden Boy has its golden boy, Walter William Clark, Jr., who won't hesitate to bend the rules if it means getting what he wants. Yes, Clark and Arroyo seem like the same character. Clark possesses an admirable moral center that stops him from becoming Arroyo.
The central conceit of the show is introduced in a parable. Golden Boy's uses a framing device to tell its story. Clark is the police commissioner seven years after he saves the life of his partner. A journalist is writing a profile on him because he's the youngest police commissioner in the history of New York City. The question the journalist wants to know, which in turn is what the audience wants to know, is: how? Clark recalls a parable his old partner told him seven years ago about the existence of two dogs living inside a man. One dog is good; the other bad. Whoever wins is the one that's fed the most. The journalist asks Clark to tell him his story, so the narrative goes back seven years. What the audience should really wonder is whether or not Clark's bad side got him to where he is. Which of his dogs did he feed the most in his ascent?
Clark's a hero when the story begins, having saved the life of his partner on a busy New York City street. The commissioner will grant him any assignment he wants. Clark chooses an assignment in NYC homicide. The department grumbles and looks down on him; they don't respect him; he puts his nose where his nose does not belong. Clark tries to flirt with the third generation female cop and is rejected. Owens saddles him with an 11 year old cold case that the cold case unit won't touch. Owens explains, "We're taking it slow." Clark's like a dog locked in a backyard. Younger dogs that can jump will jump the fence. Clark jumps the fence and gets the first big break in a homicide case, allowing him and his partner to join the case.
Of course, a dog on the loose usually gets in trouble. The dog's owner inevitably will yank it by the collar, scold it, maybe slap its snout so the dog will learn that what she or he did was bad. Clark can't touch the prime suspect in the case because of his civil rights; so, he plans to plant dope on him. Owens tells him that it's not a good idea. Clark reconsiders. The memorable cop characters walked a thin line between lawful and unlawful behavior. Clark's another variation of that kind of character. Clark fumes over his powerlessness to do anything to someone he knows is guilty of murder in the first degree, which as predictable a character turn as the beats of the episode.
Golden Boy offers nothing new in the police procedural format. The case-of-the-week is pretty rote and plays on the audience's predisposed ill attitudes about the rich. Each episode's case-of-the-week probably won't veer too much away from the case in the "Pilot." Golden Boy is another show that feels better suited for the big screen. It's not the first show with a premise that seems better suited for the movies. The long-form story of how one becomes the youngest police commissioner in NYC could be well-done if its elements weren't so borrowed and done before. Golden Boy feels like a movie Tom Cruise should've starred in the 80s or even James Dean in the 50s. Theo James resembles Dean, but he actually looks like the third Franco brother. James also has a sort of West Side Story character in his portrayal of Clark.
Now, Golden Boy should work in the long-term. Clark and Owens have a potentially fun partnership. Arroyo's going to be a nagging protagonist and that third generation cop is definitely going to have her own story about what happened to her brother. Also, its framing device gives the impression the writers have a plan for the series. Pilots are different in many ways from a typical episode of television, especially in its ending. Golden Boy drops quite a few juicy plot hints at the end of the episode. The "Pilot" isn't good enough to get me to stick around to watch Golden Boy hit the various plot points. Of course, it is usually worth any interested viewer's time to watch a second episode of the series, and maybe even a third. The second and third episodes give one a better sense of the show's identity.
-Det. Owens is never going to reach retirement, is he? The Simpsons' had a character in its McBain films that announced his retirement was looming, so, naturally, as happens in TV, which The Simpsons parodied, the soon-to-be-retired cop dies. McBain holds his partner's body and yells to the heavens.
-Greg Berlanti is an executive producer. I feel like I see Berlanti’s name on TV everywhere. I haven’t enjoyed any of his work nearly as much as Everwood, though Jack & Bobby was a quality short-run series.