Rookie Blue—“First Day Of The Rest Of Your Life”

Rookie Blue—“First Day Of The Rest Of Your Life”

Rookie Blues third season premieres tonight at 10/9c on ABC.

In an era of cable television, new television in the summer is hardly a novelty: USA, TNT, AMC, HBO, and Showtime—among others—have made summer a key space for original scripted programming, However, new television on the broadcast networks (ABC, FOX, NBC, CBS, The CW) is considerably rarer when it comes to scripted fare. While major reality franchises like Big Brother or America’s Got Talent thrive on the networks in the summer months, none of the major networks have taken a chance on programming scripted content year-round.

Although the rest of ABC’s summer schedule relies on reality fare—see: tonight’s debut of Duets—cop drama Rookie Blue stands as the rare summer success story. It is the first scripted program in recent memory to air exclusively in the summer months on a broadcast network over three consecutive seasons (an obscure record, perhaps, but not an insignificant one), weathering the nine-month hiatuses and returning to consistent, “strong for summer” ratings. Its lot in life even seems to be improving this year, with a plum spot following the Duets premiére and still within spitting distance of May sweeps.

Of course, I am bound by my nationality to note that one of the main reasons Rookie Blue has lasted three seasons on ABC is because it’s a Canadian co-production. The shared costs between ABC and Global mean that ABC carries less of the burden, which make co-productions like this one perfect for the summer months where viewers and the advertising revenue tied to them are scarcer. This is not to say that Rookie Blue hasn’t also survived through connecting with viewers and developing a fan base, but I feel pretty safe in my suggestion that ABC would not be commissioning a show like this one during the summer were it not for the cost-sharing involved.

As a result, Rookie Blue is somewhat strange, as it walks and talks like your basic run-of-the-mill workplace/soap opera/procedural combo ABC programs during the non-summer months, but airs in a slightly different context due to the circumstances of its distribution. It has been nearly nine months since Rookie Blue finished its second season, and so it’s tougher to transition smoothly from one season into another when compared to similar shows like Grey’s Anatomy that return within four months’ time. Knowing this, “First Day Of The Rest Of Your Life” goes for a fairly traditional solution, leaping forward three months and letting the past become a collection of expository whispers rather than a specific series of events. The première never explains exactly what happened at the end of last season, because ultimately it doesn’t matter: all that matters is that we know things got complicated, relationships were threatened, and now the characters have to start over under a new set of circumstances.

More than simply serving as a season première, “First Day Of The Rest Of Your Life” serves as a pilot for an existing television show, a great entry point for viewers seeking out a new show to fill out the lean summer months. It is possible for someone with no knowledge of these characters or situations to sit down and understand everything that’s onscreen, because the episode never asks us to know more than what we’re being told. There are moments that refer back to now severed relationships, but those are throwaway moments the writers refuse to dwell on. Instead, there are moments where new information is revealed to both new and old viewers alike, providing new starting points for characters that might hook new viewers while adding to the pleasure for existing fans. The fact that a character is pregnant means less if you don’t know who the character is, but you don’t need to know who the character is to understand the implications of her pregnancy on her future; to new viewers, it’s just a generic life-changing event, which is all the information you need to decode the season that follows.

The première is largely focused on Missy Peregrym’s Andy, who is coming off of a three-month suspension for “conduct unbecoming,” which is all the information the show provides beyond confirming that her would-be boyfriend, Sam, was involved. The vague details allow the show to focus on their attempts at a fresh start, and the script doesn’t waste any time with subtlety: the episode title all but explains the central theme, the opening skydive turns it into a metaphor (“I don’t want to jump! I’m too scared! … Oh, I might get my old job back? Okay, I’ll jump now!”), and the return from the airport brings an overly literal baggage metaphor into the equation that the show returns to in the episode’s final scene. And yet, without seeing the end of last season (and only seeing sporadic episodes beyond the première, which I reviewed for the site last year), I completely understood where these characters stood as the episode began, which is what the writers seem to be going for.

The takeaway from the première that follows is that rebooting your own life is not as easy as you might want it to be (and harder, it seems, than temporarily rebooting a television series for new viewers, which the episode manages successfully). Andy can’t even get home from the airport without running into a crime scene, her reinstatement brought into jeopardy by her inability to avoid doing her job—from which she is suspended—when crisis arises, while the idea of restarting a relationship with Sam after a three-month exile in North Bay is a suitably complicated proposition. This dovetails nicely with the story that emerges from the crime scene in question, as William Shatner’s drunk driver is revealed to be a man whose granddaughter was abducted while in his care, and who has struggled to piece his life back together amid the guilt over both her abduction and her mother’s suicide.

That story provides the narrative thrust of the episode, although it’s little more than a Scooby-Doo mystery given its reliance on narrative shortcuts. However, it’s a Scooby-Doo mystery with the presence of William Shatner, who remains a tremendous actor when given solid material and is well-cast in the role, and it’s a Scooby-Doo mystery that leaves plenty of room for the show’s characters to get involved. Whether it’s Noelle discovering a personal connection to the case (having worked the initial abduction), or new rookie Nick Collins asserting himself during the story’s climax, or Andy being torn between solving the case and preparing for a hearing regarding the end of her suspension, the storyline works to provide a structure around which we can be introduced or reintroduced to the characters and their relationships with one another and their job.

The functionality of Rookie Blue can be off-putting, but it works. Sure, it’s convenient for the new rookie to have a pre-existing relationship with one of the established cast members, but that convenience creates immediate narrative interest that the première can play with. “First Day Of The Rest Of Your Life” isn’t interested in making a grand statement about its genre or its characters, choosing instead to lay some groundwork for a typical, familiar, and seemingly solid season of police-procedural soap opera in the weeks ahead.

Would Rookie Blue be a better show if it embraced serialization more, or tried to achieve a more complex narrative within its procedural structure? Probably. However, that would also make it a tough sell as a summer series. With viewers’ favorite shows ending, they’re looking for something to fill the holes in their weekly schedules; the whole reason reality shows are so successful is that they are completely contained, with no penalty for those who haven’t seen previous seasons. Following this mold, Rookie Blue begins its third season with an episode that you can follow immediately, with the past downplayed in favor of the future. However, at the same time, Rookie Blue is most notable for the fact that it has a past, the rare network summer series that has been given the time to build characters and storylines over time. While those elements were efficiently and effectively marginalized here, I am hopeful they’ll emerge more readily in future installments, if only to allow the show time to revel in what is—in this era—an impressive accomplishment.

Stray observations:

  • This really does play like a pilot, especially given the lack of opening credits and the title card being integrated into Andy’s skydive—I’d be curious to know if this was something that ABC requested, or a choice by the writers.
  • While rarely subtle with its plotting, Rookie Blue remains subtle in its Canadian identity: Beyond the reference to the Rochester Fast Ferry, any and all references to Toronto are obscured. In particular, Nick Collins’ military history seems purposefully ambiguous so as to enable readings from an American perspective, furthering the show’s trend to avoiding outright performing its Canadianness.
  • This is my first time watching the show since seeing Hobo With A Shotgun, so I found myself reading considerable subtext into Gregory Smith’s performance (especially since he’s largely marginalized here in favor of Peregrym).
  • The episode mostly focuses on the A-story (which swallows up most of the characters over the course of the hour), but there’s a small B-story about a new promotional campaign that touches on some fairly simplistic but not unwelcome issues regarding race that I’d like to see the show explore more.