Tomorrow night, CBS debuts the first episode of their new police procedural drama, 'Golden Boy.' TVRage watched an advance screener... so what did we think?
~MINOR PILOT EPISODE SPOILERS FOLLOW~
'Golden Boy' differs from most other police procedural shows in one key aspect: the concept of 'Golden Boy' reveals the end-point of the story in the opening minutes of the pilot, then flashes back in time to show us how we got to that point.
The series chronicles the meteoric rise to success and fame of an NYPD officer, going from a rookie beat cop to the youngest police commissioner in NYPD history, all in an eight-year span. Those eight years comprise ages 26-34 for the eponymous character, Walter William Clark, Jr. (played by relative newcomer Theo James). James seems fully capable of playing across the eight-year age span, with boyish good looks but a commanding baritone voice offsetting.
So: we have our concept and we have our hero... how does it work on the screen?
'Golden Boy's premiere episode has many promising qualities, including an excellent supporting cast and a fairly clever script. 'True Blood's Kevin Alejandro is a strong background presence as the manipulative Detective Tony Arroyo. TV veteran Chi McBride ('Boston Public,' 'Ultimate Spider-Man') plays Clark's partner, Detective Don Owen, a character that shows faith and friendship to Clark despite Clark's poor attitude.
Unfortunately, the flaws of the episode manage to outweigh the positives, being that the Clark character is insufferable and that the series itself presents a wholly idealized view of police work in New York City.
Fans of police procedural series like 'The Shield' or 'The Wire' are likely to hate 'Golden Boy.' Why do I say that? Well the cops in the world of 'Golden Boy' are good guys, through and through. There is apparently no corruption on the NYPD force; the good guys go after the bad guys, and they all work together provided that justice is being served. The episode offers such a squeaky-clean portrayal of NYC cops that any of them could walk into a "Spider-Man" comic book and fit right in with the other good-guy cops.
This seems particularly fitting, given that the Walter Clark character is seemingly a superhero. In the opening moments of the show, Clark takes a bullet to his vest--but he's staggered for only a couple of seconds, rather than suffering the cracked ribs that commonly come with such a hit. After he's hit, Clark pops up, eliminates a gunman (while the gunman hides behind a hostage, mind you), then performs CPR on his fallen partner in time to save his life. All in a day's work for the Golden Boy.
As the episode progresses, Clark proceeds to be the best marksman on the force, the best interrogator (despite having never done it before) and the only person able to chase down a fleeing suspect. Do Clark's peers resent the immediate success of this young upstart? Of course not--in fact, three different scenes are devoted to each of his peers approaching him at different points to tell him what a great job he is doing. Everything is roses for the Golden Boy.
As unbelievable as all of this is, it is made even harder to swallow by the fact that the Clark character is unapologetically selfish, obsessed with career advancement, and has no apparent character motivation to excuse these characteristics. While the pilot episode of 'Golden Boy' was sufficiently entertaining, the reason I wouldn't want to tune in to a second episode is because I'd rather see this jerk Walter Clark fail than continue his rise to unprecedented success. Herein lies the problem with the flashback concept: we can't continue watching, hoping that Clark will get his comeuppance--we already know that he succeeds with flying colors.
As it stands, the pilot of 'Golden Boy' is technically sound--it is simply a far more PG and stainless view of NYC policing than has been offered over the past decade. The tone of the series reminds me of NBC's 'Chicago Fire,' a series which I gave middling reviews to at its onset. However, 'Chicago Fire' found its audience and it's very possible that 'Golden Boy' may as well.
As for the pilot episode? I can only give it a grade of C minus.