My TV

08 July 2011

Playing Catchup on Rookie Blue

By // TV

I always meant to watch Rookie Blue. I’ve been making a concentrated effort to watch more Canadian TV and Rookie Blue‘s Toronto setting makes it a prime candidate. I also knew it marked Gregory Smith’s highly-anticipated return to TV after Everwood‘s sad departure in 2006. But I wasn’t sure about leading lady Missy Peregrym (whom I only remembered from the ill-fated Life As We Know It) and cop shows fall low on my priority list, so I never got round to it. Then a text message informing me that an old high school acquaintance made an appearance on the show somehow got me thinking about it again, so I bumped Rookie Blue up the list. It only took 15 minutes of the pilot episode to sell me and I sped through the entire first season in 2 days. Now, fully caught up, I’m enjoying it more and more as season two unfolds on Thursdays at 10pm on Global (ABC in the States).

Missy Peregrym, it turns out, is a pretty solid lead. As Andy McNally she’s sympathetic and believably ballsy- if maybe a little dull- a good anchor for the other characters. Andy’s downfall comes when the writers play the self-righteousness card a little much. Nothing’s quite as obnoxious as the hero lecturing her comrade that following procedure means she doesn’t care about the victims. It’s procedure, it’s there so you don’t die and therefore have a better shot at actually helping people. Here’s where the tricky line of the police drama kicks in- good TV and good police work aren’t as mutually inclusive as they may seem (just like good psychiatry is impossible to find in primetime). But Rookie Blue does a fairly good job of making sure we see the methodical tedium as well as the adrenaline-fueled bits. We’ve seen the rookies tracking down speeders with the radar gun and filling out reports, handing out water bottles during a heat wave and sifting through bogus tips. Which isn’t to say we haven’t seen them go undercover for a prostitution bust or take down a masked vigilante or get shot (3 major characters so far, if my numbers are right). It’s all about balance.

But no matter how exciting the action may be, without a solid ensemble, Rookie Blue would be nowhere. Luckily, creators Tassie Cameron, Morwyn Brebner and Ellen Vanstone developed a cast of characters full of wonderfully engaging personalities. As the titular rookies, McNally, Dov Epstein (Smith), Chris Diaz (Travis Milne), Traci Nash (Enuka Okuma) and Gail Peck (Charlotte Sullivan) make for a fun group. Peck’s intensity and friend-less insecurity make her an intriguing character, terrified of the very pedigree that’s supposed to put her ahead. And though her makeup job is never anything but completely inappropriate for work, she grew on me the most of all the characters (mostly because she was my least favourite in the beginning). The only other character I wasn’t (and still might not be) sure about is Nash. She was introduced mostly as the rookie with a pre-existing relationship with her former instructor. Then they gave her a kid, and a history with boxing, and developed the aforementioned inappropriate relationship into something I’m rooting for. But I still don’t really have a sense of who she is or what makes her tick. The two male rookies are much more clearly developed, if still a little underexplored (as they all are): Epstein, a yappie yuppie startup who’s thrilled to be a part of the force 1) because he wants to fight crime and help the innocent and 2) because it’s badass and impresses girls. And his best friend Diaz, the rule-following traditionalist with a heart of gold and knack for seeing past peoples’ rough edges. As of yet, that “best friendship” is little more than a roommate situation wherein they remind the audience regularly that “we’re best friends!” instead of really proving it, but I see the potential.

It’s actually the senior officers who steal the most scenes. Mr. Perfect, Det. Luke Callaghan is side one of McNally’s predictable and forced (but still plenty of fun) love triangle. In the hands of Eric Johnson he’s a little too perfect, just perfect enough to make him an easy victim of literally anything the show feels like doing to him (heartbreak, gunshots- whatever!). The other side of the triangle is training officer Sam Swarek, the darker and therefore sexier (if less good looking- does that make sense?) guy that McNally knows is a bad idea. Introduced as an undercover drug agent who McNally accidentally arrests, Swarek  enjoys the most interesting dynamic, most screen time and best chemistry with the girl in question. He’s also not, by any normal standard, a bad idea. It’s just that everyone’s a bad idea when compared with the eternally good idea that is Det. Callaghan. The excellent Ben Bass betrays all Swarek’s schmoopy longing and depth then covers it up with a superbly nihilistic tough guy shtick. It’s kind of brilliant. Then there’s the endlessly charming Noam Jenkins as Det. Jerry Barber (Nash’s bad idea/excellent idea) whose detachment lends some heft to the “Ds”, making up for softie Callaghan; Matt Gordon’s Oliver Shaw and Melanie Nicholls-King’s Noelle Williams round out the training officers with even splits of sympathetic character work and whip-smart comedic skills.

The whole thing shakes out to what is essentially the Grey’s Anatomy formula in cop show trappings. Which is fine by me. The usually-procedural genre could use a touch of the soap-operatic, a little serialized humanity to go along with the blood-steeped sleuthing. Young, sexy upstarts and their fraternizing superiors try to cope in a job where life and death are on the line daily? Sounds familiar. But as long as Rookie Blue is channelling the best of its predecessors, it will remain at the top of my list. The grounding in all (yes, I said “all”- that’s new) its character is the secret to keeping Rookie Blue from frivolity, that and they’ve gotta stop shooting everybody willy nilly.

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