Sunday, August 15, 2010

TV: Midnight Blue

"Just don't compare it to Grey's Anatomy, please." That was the one request an ABC friend made when he passed on material for Rookie Blue, the network's summertime drama. Sure, no problem, we thought. Then we watched episode after episode last week and got him on the phone to ask why in the world we'd compare it to ABC's mega hit?


Apparently because everyone else has.

There's not a great deal of originality in TV and there's even less among the Water Cooler Set determined to pass themselves off as 'critics.' Rookie Blue does feature voice overs from a lead character. And so does Burn Notice. But no one's comparing Burn Notice to Grey's Anatomy, are they? This is how simplistic -- and, yes, knee-jerk sexist -- the Water Cooler Set is: Grey's Anatomy features a woman doing narration as does Rookie Blue and, therefore, they must be exactly the same because, after all, all women are all the same, right? The two shows have about as much in common as The Flying Nun did with Bewitched.

Grey's Anatomy, no matter what else takes place and who the additional players are, is the story of one woman. She is the focus, she is everything. In Rookie Blue, Missy Peregrym does the narration as rookie cop Andy McNally but, if you cut out her voice overs, she's really not that far ahead of the rest of the rookie pack. The pilot clearly featured Andi's point of view and that may have confused some in the Water Cooler Set or maybe they were just sloppy? What we're reminded of vaguely is another ABC series: The Rookies. In that show, routine crimes were mixed with soap opera elements as well as 'shockers' (Jill Danko -- played by Kate Jackson -- is being buried alive behind that brick wall!!!!). What we're reminded of mainly is a song:

I think we can make it, if we try
I think we can make it, if we try
Looks like we're going to make it

Looks like we're going to make it

If we try

Yes, Rookie Blue mainly reminds us of the Melissa Manchester and Carole Bayer Sager penned classic "Midnight Blue." The message of each episode is pretty much captured in that chorus and, like the song, some episodes are a little more triumphant and some are a little more bittersweet.

The rookie cops are supposed to captivate you as much as any stand-alone story or continuing element. In the case of some, that's no problem. Along with Peregrym, Enuka Okuma (as Traci) and Travis Milne (as Chris) are doing a strong job. Others aren't so fortunate.

The jury's still out on Charlotte Sullivan who plays the worst written character, Gail Peck. Sullivan's supposed to be a kiss up and teacher's pet. But, except for Traci, none of the other characters appear to notice. Not even Chris who's sleeping with Gail. In stand alone scenes, Sullivan does fine work but, overall, the character's not coming together and that appears to be a writing issue.

Writing is not the problem for either Ben Bass (plays Sam Swarek) or Gregory Smith (Dov Epstein). Ben Bass' main problem appears to be someone thought "rough trick" would play as desirable. Bass isn't attractive. Bass really isn't attractive. He looks better when he smiles but even then he's not all that. Andi's supposed to have a longing for Sam. In fact, during a blackout, they went far beyond flirting, got into heavy petting and were about to do it when the lights came on (revealing Bass' abudnance of lower back hair, by the way) and Andi wisely got out of there lickety-split. Ben Bass looks like a weasel and that's really how he should be cast.

Looks aren't something Gregory Smith possesses either; however, he has enough other problems. We don't critique child actors while they're children. It's really not fair. They've got enough on their plates, in our opinion. Gregory Smith was a child actor and he demonstrates how child acting can destroy an adult career. Now some child actors go on to be very skilled performers. But it's the difference between a Buddy Foster and a Jodie Foster. Conventional wisdom, for example, is that Jodie is hugely talented and Buddy just wasn't. That's not accurate. Both Jodie and Buddy were talented as children and both should presumably still have talent as adults. But while Jodie took chances with her role choice long before becoming an adult, Buddy didn't. You can spend a lot of time blaming casting directors but part of that blame goes to Buddy who, like so many child actors before him, paid attention to what expressions and line readings were met with approval and then proceeded to repackage them over and over into a 'performance.'

Gregory Smith's offering the same sameness that kills a career. His looks can best be termed "tepid" and his chops just aren't there. If he were still doing bit parts in Andre or Harriet the Spy, that might be okay. Even if he were still playing the whiny Ephram on Everwood. But ABC isn't the WB or even the CW. And no one needs simpering Smith trying to play a man. In his little-girl haircut (think Tatum O'Neal in Paper Moon) that played so well on the WB, he tries to twinkle and sparkle and he just reminds you that leading men on the WB go nowhere. It's Joshua Jackson, after all, who has the career today, not James Van Der Beek. Jackson was second banana Pacey on Dawson's Creek while Van Der Beek essayed the title role. Pre-teens and pedophiles ate it up. But beyond that niche world, Jackson's an actor and Van Derk Beek's a pretty boy from a faraway time.

Gregory Smith probably would have benefited from taking a year off to study the craft. Not just because it would have made him a stronger actor but also because it would have given him time to reflect and that might have done something (maybe not) to wipe away the callow and shallow air he forever projects. It might have taken him out of the endless audition cycle and taught him something about the real world, allowing him to convincingly play someone who didn't appear to have been reared on the sound stages of Nickelodeon. Instead, he's rushed from project to project, 'playing' the same character over and over. It's beyond stale, it's mildew.

The thing about an ensemble show like Rookie Blue is that some "rookies" prove themselves and some don't. In terms of ratings, the series has demonstrated it can pull in an audience and ABC gave it a second season pickup last month. In terms of what's on screen, it's really not that hard to see Smith's Dov not being brought back for season two. While he's endlessly pouting (he's on desk duty in the pilot, at a high school he's just trying to find the spot where he copped a feel, whining when he catches Gail and Chris making out in a car, etc.), the others are doing actual work. In fact, it was Okuma's Traci who not only essayed a personal storyline in the high school scenes but also was attentive enough to solve the case that developed.

Okuma is probably the show's best find. We're told the critics loved Peregrym and, due to voice over duty, she is easy to notice. She's also doing a strong job. But we really think Okuma's the strongest performer the show has. Her character's grossly underwritten in each episode but the most interesting (she's a rookie cop, a young mother and trying to keep a relationship under wraps). She often gets the blandest lines but invests them with so much meaning in delivery. Were it not for her, you might wonder if you're crazy in finding kiss-ass Gail so irritating.

It was Milne that actually interested us in the show. Or rather, buzz about an outfit Milne wore in one episode. It stirred a great deal of industry talk. The rookies had to go undercover as prostitutes. Which meant the women. But, for a TV change, a man had to as well and it was Milne. Someone paired a *dark* tank top with the tightest white pants TV's seen since the seventies. And Milne appeared to be going commando.

Did ABC cross a line? Was it offensive? Since the show aired a few weeks ago, it's been endless chatter. Watching last week, we had to wonder if no one remembered Gary Sandy's pants on WKRP in Cincinnati? We also were surprised to discover that the women were in rather revealing outfits since none of the industry chatter had even noted that. Was it "jiggle TV"? Absolutely and Milne certainly added to it but so did the women.

In that episode, Milne is approached by a man who wants him to go somewhere else with him. Milne thinks he's about to snare a john but the man's looking for his son who ran away. It's a pretty standard story and was on paper. Chris takes the man's photo of his son. Later, Chris will find out he's a dead John Doe and break the news to the man who breaks down in tears. That Chris would be awkward in that scene was a given. But how Milne chose to be awkward and how he waited until the very last minute to let Chris show comfort were surprising and it's that quality that keeps Milne's characterization fresh and fascinating.

And in its best moments, that's what Rookie Blue has to offer. The show airs on ABC, Thursday nights, second hour of prime time and, as a favor to an ABC friend, click here to stream episodes for free at

Article corrected to "*dark*" from white when Ava and C.I.'s friend at ABC phoned to inform that the tank top was dark. 8-15-2010, Ty.
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