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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2010-2011 season. Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere next season (or one that didn't make the cut) and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. Keep in mind that a lot can change from what's being screened right now - recasting, reshooting, etc. - but we still want to give you a heads up on what you should (and shouldn't) keep on your radar in the coming months. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
[IMPORTANT NOTE: The following is based on the original sales presentation which was screened to us privately or supplied by a third party NOT an informational, not-for-review screener provided by the network in question.]
DETROIT 1-8-7 (ABC)
(written by Jason Richman; directed by Jeff Nachmanoff; TRT: 42:57)
The network's description: "What does it take to be a detective on America's most dangerous streets? Get ready to be part of the action when a documentary crew rolls with some of Detroit's finest, offering an insider's glimpse behind the curtain of a Homicide Unit. The cameras unearth the crisis and revelation, heartbreak and heroism of these inner city cops -- moments of raw exposure when they address us directly, as well as private moments when they forget they're being filmed. There's the damaged but driven Detective Louis Fitch, a wily homicide vet who is the most respected -- and most misunderstood -- man in the division; Detective Damon Washington, Fitch's new partner, who finds the first day on the job is a trial by fire, complicated by the imminent birth of his first child; Detective Ariana Sanchez, sexy, edgy and beautiful, who has emerged from a rough background to become a rising star in the department; Narcotics undercover cop John Stone, a streetwise smooth talker, clever and quick with a smile made for the movies, who is teamed with Sanchez -- a combustible pairing rife with conflict and sexual tension; Sergeant Jesse Longford, a 30-year veteran struggling with his impending retirement from the force and the city he loves, who, together with his partner, Detective Aman Mahajan -- a fully Americanized son of Indian immigrants -- form an amusing mismatch of experience and enthusiasm, intellect and instinct, old school and new world, but whose combined skills have never encountered a case that couldn't be cleared; and all are headed by Lieutenant Maureen Mason, a strong-willed single mom struggling to balance home and work. The men and women of Detroit Homicide are as smart and tough as they come. They have to be, working the neighborhoods of the once and future Motor City, a rebounding bastion of middle America still saddled with the highest murder rate in the country."
What did they leave out? That about covers it.
The plot in a nutshell: "We might be the last assembly line in Detroit," Lt. Maureen Mason (Aisha Hinds) sardonically notes to the camera about her squad's ever-growing list of unsolved murders in the city. And with that we meet the rest of Detroit's finest, all of whom - some more reluctantly than others - are participating in a documentary about their experiences. Rookie/expectant father Damon Washington (Jon Michael Hill) and his exasperated partner Louis Fitch (Michael Imperioli) are tasked with a double homicide at a pharmacy; while veteran Jesse Longford (James McDaniel), who's looking forward to his upcoming retirement in Italy, and his world-weary partner Aman Mahajan (Shaun Majumder) deal with reports of a deceased vagrant in a train yard.
Title cards bill the cases as "Pharmacy Double" and "Bullet Train" and we follow their respective investigations. The former initially appears to be a drug robbery gone south while the latter uncovers the victim to be divorce lawyer who was shot to death. The ensuing mechanizations see our heroes hold the hands of the victims' loved ones, tackle fleeing suspects, muse that it "never gets any easier," put the squeeze on those in custody in the interview room and every other police procedural touchstone, including having the rookie vomit after seeing a gruesome murder scene. Also along for the ride is fellow detective Ariana Sanchez (Natalie Martinez), whose partner recently passed, and John Stone (D.J. Cotrona), an undercover cop plugged into the local scene.
What works: The show is surprisingly funny at times as Fitch, frustrated with his partner's green streak, will only speak to him via the phone, even if he's a few feet away; a suspect, after being cuffed to a playground slide, literally tries to escape by carrying it with him; Longford and Mahajan, which searching for a shell casing on a bridge, stumble across a seemingly endless supply of unrelated ones; and Sanchez explains that she prefers prostitutes over drug dealers since they're at least on time. And to its credit, "Detroit" is strongest when it sticks to its quirkier tendencies (the medical examiner is covered in bruises due to her roller derby league) and cynical commentary ("I've been a cop in Detroit so long when I started half the suspects were white," Longford notes).
What doesn't: The documentary aspect can get distracting - title cards incessantly remind you which case you're following, even if it's obvious - not to mention feel very scripted. Things like Fitch asking an intrusive cameraman to back up at a crime scene, a camera being used as an impromptu sledgehammer or how the operators always "just happen" to stumble across every critical, character defining moment give the proceedings are artificial flavor rather than the raw, in the moment vibe it's ultimately trying for. Even worse, Nachmanoff's direction proves to be a little too slick as scenes are covered in a way that frequently makes its intended intimacy feel more like an episode of "Law & Order" or "NYPD Blue."
Said developments make for an odd viewing experience as the show clicks in one moment only to fall apart a few seconds later only to regain its footing shortly after that, developments which don't let the show earn its bigger bets. It's a herky jerky roller coaster in which the hills are the boilerplate cop show elements and the valleys are those brief respites of true drama or comedy - with only a tepid sense of movement. I definitely applaud the show's ambition - and its often amusing stable of characters (the more Mason and Fitch the better) - but I can't help but be frustrated by its lack of a cohesive reality. Either it should constantly push forward as a truly raw documentary or take a step back and play as a traditional single-camera drama as trying to have it both ways...
The bottom line: ...leaves it lacking on both fronts.