It seems, anymore, like a good 75% of what’s on TV is cop shows. Which isn’t to say, of course, that all of them are bad, because that’s true, not at all. After so many, though, it’s grown old when the most advertised show on any given network is about yet another police department, presumably so innovative, when in reality, it’s just like every other one there is. When not even Ben McKenzie could compel me to make it through more than two episodes of Southland, I figured that was it, I really was done.
Dark Blue, from the ads, looks barely differentiable from all those other aforementioned show, with Dylan McDermott muttering a few snarky one-liners (referring to the FBI as the “Federal Bureau of Intimidation” seems to be what they’re using to sell the show), some appropriately dark colors, people in danger. TNT, as they say, knows drama, and based on this, they know it a little too well, heading from drama into pure cliché. Were it not for the actors — McDermott, who I’ve liked since his days on The Practice, and Logan Marshall-Green in particular — I likely wouldn’t have tuned in at all.
Man, was I glad I did.
On the surface, it only fulfills the requirements set by every other program like it. For a show about an undercover cop division, all of the characters have appropriately unpleasant pasts, whether they’re revealed yet or not; there’s the smart rich boy who could have done anything but chooses instead to endanger his life to make a difference, and, of course, the one who has trouble balancing personal and professional life. And yet it kept me hooked. Something about it, and its energy, made me want to continue watching, to find out what would happen, to the point that I found myself honestly invested after forty minutes of television in these people and their lives. Episode two was engrossing enough to keep me on the edge of my seat, too wrapped up in it to do anything else. At first, I didn’t get it, couldn’t see why this show held me when others didn’t.
What Dark Blue has, that shows like Southland with its bleeped-out cuss words don’t, is a lack of pretension. The world created here is one that’s gritty, with no holds barred, just as it should be when detailing stories about people going undercover and working with criminals. The opening scene of the pilot is of an FBI agent being tortured, his body then dumped on the sidewalk; that itself gives a pretty good idea of where this show is willing to go. Add to that compelling performances from McDermott and Marshall-Green, Supernatural‘s Nicki Aycox, and most notably Omari Hardwick, who I’d never heard of before, as a cop who has trouble leaving his wife behind to go on jobs. To say any more would be to give away what is better seen for itself, and I highly recommend you do. In Dark Blue, I would say that TNT has made itself a winner. Its only tests now will be not falling prey to the clichés of the genre — and making sure other people don’t just dismiss it as one of many.