The male/female duo procedural seems like one of the last reliable network formulas in the era of constant disruption. The shows just sort of endure, like a third starter in a pitching rotation that posts 12 wins every year for five or six seasons.
Elementary did well for CBS this year; Bones will live long past anyone thought it would; Castle became a hit by attrition (“simply by not collapsing,” BuzzFeed’s Kate Aurthur noted, the show is now successful). This is the rock upon which USA and TNT have built the entirety of their fortunes (even their riffs on it, like Rizzoli & Isles, are basically the same thing), and it’s kind of interesting that even with USA and TNT’s reruns and increasingly original programming, the male/female duo procedural still does well in primetime on the broadcast networks.
We as a people just love bantering sexy people solve mysteries in 42 minutes. But why the hell not? There are few things as reliably satisfying as watching two sexy people banter while solving a murder. I personally like these things.
King & Maxwell, which premieres tonight on TNT, is the usual. A scruffy guy in a muted button-up and a hot woman are solvin’ crimes. Unfortunately, and this sounds cheesy I’m aware, but it’s true: The spark just isn’t there in the pilot.
The twist here is that Sean King (Jon Tenney) and Michelle Maxwell (Rebecca Romijn) were terrible Secret Service agents and now must work as private investigators. (That is actually the twist. King served in an assassinated presidential candidate’s detail, and Maxwell’s charge was kidnapped. They both had to “retire.”)
In the pilot, King and Maxwell find themselves entangled in the murder of a lawyer friend of King’s. The victim, a lawyer for hopeless causes, was defending an alleged serial killer at the time of his death. Sort of hilariously, this leads to a very topical plot involving an NSA surveillance program run by a defense contractor. As always, if you’re looking for the crucible of studied discourse on security, terrorism, ethics, and the intersections between them, TNT is it. So, King and Maxwell Nancy Drew around what is allegedly Washington, D.C., use their wiles and charms and proclivity for blackmail, and engage in a very unrealistic looking fight sequence. To King & Maxwell’s credit, the show delivers a little twist I wasn’t expecting, but the rest of the episode is largely expected from beginning to end.
And it’s, you know, fine. Inoffensive. They catch the guy who did it. But the formula requires one of two things to work: Chemistry or unique mysteries. You have to believe in the competency of the characters, and their begrudging or earnest ability to work together. Romijn and Tenney don’t really have it, at least in the very small sample of this pilot, and their characters don’t even have the crutch of being new acquaintances.
The script’s weird on this count, too. In some witty repartee, it’s suggested that Maxwell is the loose cannon, the one who improvises. This could be sort of a script malfunction—everything else here suggests the contrary. He loafs, she rows (in a boat, on the Potomac); he’s a little sloppy, she looks polished; he trusts, she verifies. If that is in fact the show’s intention, Romijn may be miscast. She’s casual, but she still has kind of a flinty hard-ass vibe here. Tenney isn’t bad, but isn’t especially memorable either as a man who we’re told has seen some dark days.
Just like the surprise twist, though, the show has one bit that pops, one bit of chemistry on display, as Maxwell and King share a radio while she talks to a mark. It’s simple—Tenney’s voice is heard over Romijn’s—but there’s a laugh or two in it. So, hey, there’s hope. Here’s to King & Maxwell, may their repressed sexual chemistry grow in the pursuit of justice.
- Okay, this didn’t really belong up top, but this show is allegedly set in D.C. If you’re from the D.C. area, you’ll get at least three flagrant laughs at how visibly it is not D.C.