Of the many dry, derivative scenes that stretch out the interminable pilot episode of The Good Guys, there’s one that perfectly captures the entire show: By-the-books cop Jack Bailey (Colin Hanks)—believing his gung-ho partner, Dan Stark (Bradley Whitford), has been killed by an assassin—wildly fires two clips at the bad guy (as if in a John Woo movie) and misses completely. Retorts the hit man: “Not as easy at it looks, is it?” No, it isn’t, and creator Matt Nix, who has done much better with the sexier, campier, and more charismatic Burn Notice, should have heeded that warning. After all, there is nothing worse than a show that goes over the top—and fails.
You see, once you’ve plunged over the edge, you might eke out a few Wile E. Coyote moments where—if you just don’t look down—you stay afloat, but eventually, fall you will, and that’s precisely what’s happened here. Propelled by childhood memories of buddy-cop shows, flashy yet sloppy action sequences, and a 1980 T-top Trans Am, Nix has taken a leap of faith that people will be enamored by his retro kitsch. But in an age of flashier procedurals (CSI), shows with funnier banter (Dexter), and ones with darker, more substantive content (Justified), The Good Guys pales in comparison both to modern programming and the classic shows of which Nix seems so enamored.
Never before have stereotypes been so proudly strutted about. The pilot opens with a shot that might as well have been stolen from a Brinks Home Security commercial. Julius (RonReaco Lee), mid-robbery, gets a phone call from his wife: “I’m just getting into work now,” he tells her. After fumbling with a bulky, old television (one of many “subtle” reminders of the old-school-in-the-new-day style), he hears sirens and flees, making off with a mere humidifier. After that, we get establishing shots of Bailey, a prig who can’t keep from correcting malapropisms like “statue of limitations,” and Stark, a slob who nonetheless carefully grooms his “for the ladies” moustache. Nix could be more obvious only if he slapped subtitles on the screen, but he already does that with Burn Notice, on which he’s obviously exhausted all of his cleverness. Instead, we get “gems” like the scene in which a witness saunters up to Stark, swinging a pair of handcuffs and inviting him to come back and “do so more investigating.”
Though their routine case turns into a million-dollar career-maker, this only serves to make it all the more routine for this genre of coincidental connect-the-dots TV. In fact, the show is littered with hyperkinetic flashbacks that help to explain the more absurd moments—only a good thing if you’ve been craving the opportunity to watch a crazed criminal attempt to get plastic surgery at gunpoint to look like Erik Estrada and burst out of the trunk of a poorly disposed-of car. There are also plenty of scenes with the bad guys—not because they’re badass, clever, or fun to watch, but because they’re an easy way to spit out exposition. The same goes for bits with Bailey’s ex-girlfriend, who is now an assistant DA (Jenny Wade), and his boss, Lt. Ana Ruiz (Diana Maria Riva). They’re the only straight men in the show, and it’s a poor fit: The last thing Nix should want is for the audience to start thinking clearly.
There is, at least, one promising part, and that’s Stark. Whitford’s a game actor, and he’s clearly relishing this opportunity to play against his normal brainy, neurotic type. His lines are filled with such gusto that you can see the spittle fly, and there are times when such recklessness can actually carry the audience away. (Keep an eye out for Stark’s crime-scene-clearing tactic “Good Cop/Sick Cop.”) But by the end of the first episode, the role was already starting to spoil; how many times can one watch an out-of-shape cop fly through the air while firing in slow motion? There’s always Hot Fuzz for that. One suspects that every forthcoming episode will just be more of the same: two cops, one washed-out show.