Drama Club: Is ‘Rookie Blue’ Too Nice?

by | June 24, 2010 at 3:04 PM | TV News

'Rookie Blue' (Barbara Cole/ABC)

'Rookie Blue' (Barbara Cole/ABC)

ABC is having a bit of a cruel summer.  The network has launched an ambitious schedule, debuting as many new series as it did at mid-season, ranging from two engaging Sunday night dramas ‘Scoundrels‘ and ‘The Gates‘, to the bizarre game show ‘Downfall.’  So far, the results have not been promising.  The audience is not tuning in in large numbers. Thursday night, ABC debuts its latest attempt at a summer hit, ‘Rookie Blue.’   As its title suggests, the show is ‘Grey’s Anatomy‘ with cops, as a group of young, improbably hot police cadets realize they have much to learn about their chosen profession.  Scheduling it during ‘Grey’s’ time period seems like a savvy move. As rip offs go, it is far more entertaining than ABC’s earlier attempt to do ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ with lawyers, ‘The Deep End.’ This is because rookie police officers can be believably thrown into tense, dangerous, high stakes situations, while first year Big Law associates only risk getting yelled at if they make a typo.

‘Rookie Blue’s pilot borrows key elements from ‘Grey’s.  The narrator, Andie (Missie Peregrym,’Reaper‘) is the child of a well known cop who has fallen on rough times.  The other police officers are familiar types: the cutthroat, the by-the-books guy, the single mom. The cast is ethnically diverse. The characters and situations tend towards the quirky and the cute.  A hot guy strips down to his underwear in a coed locker room. By the end of the episode, the rookies have found themselves playing key roles in an investigation despite their inexperience.

However, as I watched the episode, a few things struck me as off.  Everyone seemed to have a bit of an accent.  The police seemed unusually respectful of not only each other but the suspects.  It was like everyone cared more about the principles of justice and serving their communities then taking vengeance on criminals.  The female officers felt no need to prove their toughness. The non-white characters felt no need to make witty remarks that cleverly deflected the stereotypes about their ethnic group.  An officer had to apply for permission to take his gun home with him.  Even the crackheads looked like they had access to affordable medical care on a regular basis.  The familiar looking setting was referred to only as,”the city.”  Yes, like CBS’s  ‘Flashpoint‘ this is a Canadian television show in disguise.

Catch a Sneak Peek of ‘Rookie Blue’:

Once I realized what was going on, it all made sense.  ‘Rookie Blue’ is a joint production between ABC and the Canadian company E1 Television.  All of the writers and producers are Canadian.  The cast is cleverly filled with Canadians who have appeared on American shows, most notably ‘Everwood’s‘ Gregory Smith, who plays an officer named Dov Epstein.  Yes, really.   In Canada, it is not a shanda (Yiddish for shame) if a nice Jewish boy becomes a cop instead of a lawyer.  The show’s working title was Copper, which would have made us Americans think it was a series about a semi-precious metal mine.

There is only one measure that really matters when it comes to Canadian television: the ‘Degrassi’ meter. Every product of our beloved neighbor to the north should have at least one alumni of the long-running teen soap in the cast.  Sadly, this show scores a zero in this category, with no trace of Jake Epstein, Lauren Collins or any other likely suspects.  Perhaps this is because in the past two years the Degrassi cast has been so successful in its insidious plot to infiltrate the United States from within– yeah I am onto you Nina Dobrev (‘Vampire Diaries‘), Shenae Grimes (‘90210‘) and Aubrey Graham — er Drake.  I am counting on guest starring roles in future episodes to fill the Degrassi void.

I enjoyed ‘Rookie Blue’ for the fluffy entertainment that it is, but I suspect ABC will have another summer series on its hands.  The script has a simplicity that will be familiar to other viewers of certain Canadian shows.  There were not the three hundred twists and turns that are typical in American procedurals.  Everything works out too neatly.  There is also a lack of the grittiness we expect on a series about urban street cops.  The rookies are unbelievably naive.  One does not even know the difference between different grades of heroin, meaning she knows less about drugs than the average ‘Law & Order‘ viewer. The mean streets of Toronto seem to be more accurately described as unkind.  Even the crack house that appears in the pilot is aesthetically pleasing.  So far, there are not any real villains or even antagonists.  The experienced officers who are assigned to partner with the rookies are more laconic and amused about their new charges’ mistakes than angry. Even the undercover cop whose cover is blown is pretty laid back about his frustration.

In the U.S., cop shows are all about anger. We are a paranoid nation convinced that if we let our children walk two blocks to soccer practice they will be molested and dismembered by a pedophile. We support three strike laws, and other draconian measures.  We choose to believe that most people who break the law — unless they are the people we know who occasionally drive too fast or indulge in illegal substances or buy a stock based on some insider knowledge — are subhumans who are unfit to live in society.  So on our procedurals, we like our criminals to be twisted psychopaths or conscienceless gangsters who deserve to have all their constitutional rights violated. We like watching Stabler tell perps how disgusting they are.  I am not sure that a show that portrays a functional system that strives to treat everyone, even the bad guys, with compassion will hold the interest of too many people in the U.S.

Watch the Trailer Here: