"Little Things" S1 / E12
- B Community Grade
"Little Things" as an episode leaves plenty to be desired, but it's another example of just how good The Good Guys is at figuring out fun ways to enliven the proceedings through direction. When Dan and Jack open the episode by diving into a pool of water and waiting underneath the surface, having a conversation about how long it's been since they did something like this, the bullets whizzing around their ears, it's just a lot of fun to watch. It's certainly a more interesting way to visualize some of the episode's main themes - like how Jack is disconnected from his inner child or whatever - than most shows would come up with, and it looks damned gorgeous, with the light filtering down through the chlorinated water and Dan's jacket billowing around him like a pair of wings. Even the little bubble trails the bullets left in the water added to the visual variety.
Or take another sequence: this week's car chase. Theoretically, having a car chase every week should be getting old by now, but there hasn't been an episode of The Good Guys where the chase isn't a highlight. Even the really good episodes of the show are made more enjoyable by the rapid cut to a completely preposterous action sequence. Obviously, the car chase is a part of The Good Guys' formula and the formula of the shows it rips off, but the direction and editing every week take what could feel tired (because it happens every week and it's not like car chases are a new phenomenon in TV) and make it feel like a lot of fun.
Tonight's involves Dan and Jack being on the run from two Mexican drug dealers (one played by Danny Trejo) who've crossed into the United States using the greatest fake IDs ever - because they're not really fake. As they run from the bad guys down the quiet streets of Dallas - I realize that having other cars on the road would add to the budget for these things, but it does feel a little ridiculous when there are only two cars on the road - Dan reveals that he called in a secret weapon: a band of "junior officers" (children) who loosened the nuts on the dealers' SUV's wheels, leading to the wheel flying off and the SUV flipping up over a parked car. The whole sequence - cutting from master shots of the cars roaring around corners to close-ups of the wheels of the respective cars (with one wobbling) to Dan and Jack in a medium shot, talking to each other - features some terrific editing. Even when an episode isn't working, these technical aspects are, and fans and critics who talk about The Good Guys pay too little attention to them. (As the only critic still writing about this show, I apologize.)
It's a good thing the episode had these elements because "Little Things" was messy in a number of other aspects. A large part of how well you liked the episode is going to hinge on how much you enjoy watching Bradley Whitford shout inappropriate things at children and chuckle at how the kids are learning the wrong lessons from the drunk cop. And I actually did like this, to a point, but it also felt kind of lazy. At its best, The Good Guys celebrates the cliches, but it also finds ways to subvert them. This was pretty much just an episode where the cops had to hang out with some kids, without anything really new to it. The kids were cute, and Whitford was a lot of fun as he yelled at them, but the storyline didn't do enough to distinguish itself from the storylines it was paying homage to.
Yet these scenes were the highlight of the episode, because the rest of the episode felt rather empty. There's a pleasure in the best episodes of this show, as all of the plot points click into place at the end, with a helpful flashback or two to let us know how Dan's been ahead of the bad guys all along, but here, there was just so much going on that the ending took on the labored feeling of a series of boxes on a checklist being checked off. The way that the story cut between Trejo and his pal, Wayne Knight and his pal, Jack and Dan, and all of the kids meant that individual story threads would disappear for long periods of time and then return abruptly. (Trejo, for instance, was offscreen for much of the episode's first half, despite appearing relatively early on.) When the kids returned to the storyline at the end, it wasn't with the triumphant feeling of everything clicking into place. It was with the sense that the writers felt the need to incorporate the kids somehow.
To some degree, I think the writers on the show overcomplicate their storylines. I don't mind a complicated story, but the elements of every episode here feel like busywork, more than anything suitably complex. The bad guys are rarely anything beyond garden variety bad guys, so hanging out with them is never as fun as hanging out with Dan and Jack (who are, in their own ways, developed characters), and when there are as many bad guys as this episode had, then there's less for the audience to hang its hat on. I understand that Whitford and Colin Hanks probably physically can't be in every scene of a demanding show like this one, but the constant cutting to the villains works less and less as the season goes on, particularly as every episode of the show feels closed off from every other one. (Someone in comments a couple of weeks ago was hoping the show would bring back some of the old villains, like the assassin from the pilot, and I agree completely.)
All of this is just a long way of saying that "Little Things" was all right, but it didn't make me laugh all that much. I smiled at a couple of the lines - particularly as Whitford delivered them - but the episode felt like it was rushing from place to place and struggling to incorporate the kids into every plot point that it could. This had the effect of making everything feel hurried, and hurrying things along is often the antithesis of comedy on an old-fashioned show like this. I realize that The Good Guys is trying out some new things to see what works, but I do hope that the show doesn't take too many lessons from "Little Things."
- Next week's episode, however, can't miss. Gary Cole as Dan's old partner? That's almost solely the reason I'm still covering this show.
- The attempt to make Jack's inability to deal with the kids be part of some larger storyline about how someday, he's not sure if he wants to have kids was a pretty lame way to make the episode feel like it had some sort of emotional hook.
- Wayne Knight is a funny, funny man. Why doesn't he do more TV? TV, cast Wayne Knight more!
- Little touch I liked: The on-screen text being replaced by childish scribbles when the kid was taking notes on the crime.
- "Being a cop is just like being a kid, except the guns are real, the cars are fast, and you get paid to do it."
- "Unlawful violence to a bike."
- "The guy knocked over a kid's bike. I think the time for being polite is over."
- "You scratch my back, I eat your cheese, maybe sleep in your bed."