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PROGRAM NOTES
TV's Brave New Cop Show
'Boomtown' delivers a fresh perspective. Column Debut.

by Mark D. Johnson
October 4, 2002

TV's Brave New Cop Show_Mark D. Johnson-'Boomtown' delivers a fresh perspective. Column Debut. It should come as no surprise to regular PO readers that I'm starting up a television column. Over the past two years I've reviewed some fourteen shows and write an occasional rant or rave in the forums. I obviously watch a lot of TV and have some things to say about it, and now I'll be saying them on a weekly basis. There are certainly more lofty subjects to discuss, but television is a mighty cultural force in our nation, and while it offers plenty of junk, it is not a "vast wasteland" and can even be edifying now and then.

Allow me to give you some idea of where I'm coming from and what I intend to address in this space. First off, I simply don't have time to watch all of the good shows on TV, and I believe there are many. I regret that I won't have much to say about "The West Wing" or "Law & Order." Unlike professional critics who typically receive advance copies of shows for review, I can only comment on that which has already aired. I will touch on cable TV programming, though I do not subscribe to premium channels, so don't expect any reviews of "The Sopranos" here. I enjoy a mix of drama, comedy, news, and sports, along with the classier productions of Reality TV. I love to see originality, but am concerned with the ever-slackening standards of decency. I keep up with the industry headlines and will pass along the more noteworthy items. This column will consist of show reviews, commentary on various aspects of broadcasting, and short, random notes in a section I'll call "Channel Hopping." I'll give fair warning before revealing any plot spoilers for those who intend to watch at a later time. Your feedback is always welcome. Now let's get started with what many critics consider the best new show of the season...

"Boomtown"
Sundays, 10/9c on NBC

If you're going to make a TV show about doctors, lawyers, or cops, you'd darn well better come up with a fresh angle on the genre if you want to impress me. Hollywood, of course, has no interest in impressing me in particular (though I am in the all-important 18-49 demographic), but amongst the many, many, many shows that feature these dramatic professions there is an occasional attempt to do something new. Last year, Fox's excellent "24" proved that it could be done. This year, the envelope-pusher is "Boomtown."

Each episode tells the story of a crime in Los Angeles through different points of view in a narrative style similar to the film Pulp Fiction. We understand more of the puzzle from each perspective as the hour progresses. The segments are introduced with the name of the character it focuses on, and that character’s story often starts at an earlier time than when the previous story left off. For instance, a scene centered on the veteran cop includes a car chase. At one point, the junior officer in the squad car hops out to chase a suspect on foot, while the story continues with the veteran in the car. A later segment begins with the junior officer’s foot chase. Such jumps in time may sound confusing, but it is not hard to follow.

The ensemble cast includes former New Kid on the Block Donnie Wahlberg, who gives a strong performance as a detective harboring a secret domestic problem. Other main characters are his bold, reckless partner, the two cops mentioned above, a caring paramedic, a media-savvy deputy district attorney, who has an ongoing affair with a tough reporter.

The first episode gives the series a good, solid, though less than perfect start. I love the concept, and for the most part, the multiple viewpoints were handled effectively. With all of the critical hype, I was maybe expecting something even more inspired than what “Boomtown” provides. The ingredients (cast, style, complexity) are certainly impressive. Where the debut suffered came toward the end, when a segment about the prime suspect tried to tie all the pieces together within a couple of minutes. The pace suddenly quickened, and we were introduced to a new style element of freezing the frame, then reversing the action. It was all too quick, giving what had been an intriguing build-up a somewhat simplistic conclusion. But I can forgive this, given the difficulties of finding the right balance of exposition, character, and depth of plot in pilot episodes. There’s a lot to accomplish, and a short climactic scene to explain it all may not have been such a bad choice, considering that making too many demands of an audience off the bat risks driving viewers away. Let’s hope they don’t go this route too often though.

The show comes from executive producer/writer Graham Yost (Speed, Band of Brothers). He and NBC have given us an exciting, original cop show. The multiple-perspective format may be gimmickry, but if they can keep it fresh and un-repetitive, this comes much closer to “Must-See TV” than anything on Thursday night.

Channel Hopping
  • You may have missed the season premiere this week, but it's not too late to join the fun on "The Amazing Race 3." This slickly-produced reality series follows twelve teams of two as they compete in a highly entertaining and often suspenseful race around the world. On most legs of the trip, the last team to arrive is eliminated. Among the engaging contestants this time around is father-son team, Dennis & Andrew: the father is a conservative Baptist, the son a gay college cheerleader. The rules are repeated each week, so it's easy to jump in mid-season. The show is fast-paced with exotic locations and interesting people. Go along for the ride! Wednesdays, 9/8c on CBS.

  • One of the funniest series ever made aired on HBO in the mid-nineties, back when I had access to that network, and is now being rebroadcast by cable's Bravo Network. "The Larry Sanders Show" stars Garry Shandling as the insecure host of a late night talk show, Jeffrey Tambor as the loser sidekick, and Rip Torn as the charismatic producer. Known as a painfully accurate look behind the scenes of the competive talk show world, "Sanders" features a talented cast, hilarious insider humor, celebrities guest-starring as themselves, and sharp writing. It had a little more edge as it played off the headlines and hot stars of the day, but it's still a classic. Bravo has slightly edited the show from an 'R' rating equivalent to a 'PG-13' equivalent. Airing weekdays at 10/9c.

  • Over 30 million people tuned in last week to a very mediocre first episode of the "last season" of "Friends." Look for more comments on television's number one show in the weeks ahead here in Program Notes.



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