Who knows what the future holds?
Well, when it comes to the new CBS cop drama Golden Boy, we do.
The series, which premieres tonight at 9 (on CBS and its Canadian home, CTV), focuses mostly on the present-day exploits of New York City detectives, but the storyline gimmick that drives the narrative is that one of them -- ambitious and aggressive newbie homicide investigator Walter Clark (played by Theo James) will, within seven years, rise through the ranks to become the youngest police commissioner in the history of the NYPD.
Knowing that, however, doesn't spoil the fun of watching what turns out to be a slightly better-than-average police drama filled with recognizable but likable New York cops who seem directly descended from the crew on NYPD Blue.
One of them, in fact -- Det. Deborah McKenzie, played by Bonnie Somerville -- bears more than a striking resemblance to Blue's Det. Laura Murphy (played by Somerville in that storied series' final season).
Mostly, what makes Blue and Golden a workable colour match is their shared affection for the grit, attitude and clipped conversational rhythms that are the hallmarks of set-in-New-York cop shows. It's a case of familiarity breeding affection rather than contempt.
There is the matter of time-jumping to be considered, however, and in the first few episodes, it seems like Golden Boy's producers are still trying to figure out what to do with it. The pilot episode appears to open in the present, with Clark being interviewed for a magazine article about his meteoric rise to the top cop job; when the action flashes back to the beginning of his career, however, it becomes evident that the "present" in the opening is actually the future, and the "past" in the flashback is really more or less the present.
By the end of Golden Boy's prèmiere, viewers will likely feel like they've been jerked back and forth through time more than enough. The good news, for those who like the characters and are inclined to give the series a second chance, is that the gimmick is employed much more sparingly in subsequent episodes.
Clark's journey up the career ladder begins when his quick action saves the life of his uniform-cop partner; when the commissioner offers a promotion as a reward for his heroism, Clark requests a spot on the NYPD's homicide task force -- a job reserved for detectives with at least a decade's field experience.
Clark gets what he wants, but it turns out to be more than he bargained for, because his new squad-room mates are reluctant to accept a pushy young upstart who hasn't earned his gold shield in the traditional manner. He's partnered with the team's most senior detective, Don Owen (Chi McBride), and to say the two get off to a prickly start is something of an understatement.
Owen, who's trying to survive the final two years before retirement with a minimum of turbulence, becomes a reluctant mentor to the new kid. Beyond their pairing, the room is filled with big egos, blunt talkers and frequent nose-to-nose confrontation, and Clark soon finds himself facing off against Det. Christian Arroyo (Kevin Alejandro), Owen's former partner, to determine who's going to be the homicide squad's alpha male.
The case-file stuff is pretty much standard-issue cop-drama fare, with office politics often playing as big a role in investigative outcomes as basic clue-gathering. McBride, ever a towering presence who's as reliable as an all-pro tackle protecting his quarterback, anchors the partnership angle in a way that allows James, as Clark, to alternate between being a cop with good intentions and instincts and a career climber willing to cut corners and blindside colleagues for personal gain.
In the end, Golden Boy's signature element also turns out to be its most obvious limitation. The guy in the future isn't quite convincing as the NYPD's leader, and the guy in the present doesn't really seem to possess the attributes that might, not too far down the road, allow him to rise to that lofty position.
And because of that, it's probably harder to imagine Golden Boy being around seven years from now than it is to consider its central character's unlikely success.
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