By ROBERT PHILPOT
If you believe there are too many depictions of torture on TV dramas, you might not get past the first two minutes of Dark Blue, TNT’s new undercover-cops series. If you believe there’s too much bad dialogue on TV, you might not get past the first four minutes.
Eventually, the show gets past all that and reveals itself to be a fairly generic drama loaded with unfulfilled promise. Dramas about undercover operations are nothing new, of course — the show immediately calls to mind such movies and TV series as Wiseguy, Deep Cover, The Departed and a number of others that featured plots or story arcs involving undercover cops. The "will they get caught?" suspense is built in, and in the best of these dramas, there’s a sense that the person undercover has gone so deep that he or she gets tempted by the criminal life and begins losing any sense of real self.
That sense is hinted at but largely missing in the first two episodes of Dark Blue, which features Dylan McDermott as Carter Shaw, the jaded head of a Los Angeles undercover unit. McDermott, artfully disheveled and unshaven, barks his lines with the same righteous conviction he had on The Practice, except now he’s saddled with saying such hackneyed things as "This better be good — I haven’t seen 7 a.m. since 1992," and "What can I do for the Federal Bureau of Intimidation?" Shaw, whom the series treats as a Dark Knight sort, is a maverick, an authority figure who has a problem with authority, and you know that if people are going to do things, they’re gonna do them his way.
Shaw’s team includes Ty (Omari Hardwick), whose flaw as an undercover cop is that he deeply loves his wife — so much that he’ll put an operation in jeopardy to celebrate her birthday; Dean (Logan Marshall-Green), the guy who shoots first and bends and breaks department rules; and Jaimie (Nicki Aycox), a new member of the team recruited by Shaw despite (and because of) her shady past.
To the writers’ credit, they don’t spend an inordinate amount of time introducing us to these characters; they get to the plots quickly, trusting us to learn more about the characters as the show goes on. But although the first two episodes feature a couple of strong guest bad guys, what the show lacks is an übervillain, someone who’ll stick around for several episodes and really put the team members to the test.
The writers need to increase the feeling that everything’s on the line for the characters, and the directors need to heighten the claustrophobic sensibility that’s only alluded to in the first two episodes, both directed by series co-creator Danny Cannon, who is a producing/directing vet of all three CSIs, which also share Dark Blue’s executive producer, Jerry Bruckheimer, a man who has become very rich by emphasizing style over substance.
Dark Blue is certainly stylish; sometimes the title seems to refer to the lighting scheme rather than to cops who are under such deep cover, their unit doesn’t technically exist. But you know the drama isn’t quite working when you start wondering why the characters’ homes seem lighted not by electricity, but by whatever can come streaming through Venetian blinds or under window shades. With The Wire and The Shield over, there’s a space out there for another challenging crime drama, and Dark Blue has the potential to be that show, but early indications are that it’s going to slide by on its own slickness.
Dark Blue 9 p.m. Wednesday