NYC 22

NYC 22 debuts tonight on CBS at 10 p.m. Eastern.

New York City has been crying out for a good cop show for years—at least since NYPD Blue wrapped up, if not before (its latter seasons were not quite at the same level as the show at its peak). Since then, along with the interminable iterations of Law & Order, we’ve gotten a whole lotta nothing: Blue Bloods, The Unusuals, and the Mario Bello Prime Suspects showed flashes of promise, but were either swiftly canceled or, in the case of Blue Bloods, established a reputation as a show not watched by a single person under the age of 50.

NYC 22 has something big going for it: The show was created by Richard Price, who wrote Clockers and Lush Life, two strong portraits of crime and cops in New York City. He also wrote for The Wire. The cast includes the great Adam Goldberg (who was also in The Unusuals), the flinty Leelee Sobieski, Stark Sands of Generation Kill and, most intriguingly, Terry Kinney, who has been in search of another great role since Oz wrapped up nearly 10 years ago. (Weirdly, he was on The Unusuals too. Man, that show was stacked.)

But despite Price’s involvement and a fairly tight ensemble, NYC 22 can’t help feeling like an extremely ordinary CBS cop drama. There’s no doubt this show is being shot in New York and there’s some effort to give the show that local spirit—there’s not a lot of specifics about the fictional upper Manhattan precinct setting, but there’s a definite sense that NYC 22 is trying to take advantage of its surroundings.

But for all that, the show could be set pretty much anywhere. It’s about rookie cops chasing bad guys, making mistakes, getting reprimanded (with an occasional dash of subtle praise) by their scary mentor, flirting and/or fighting with their partners. If things get too light, don’t worry, there’s a tense situation around the corner. Don’t worry about that either, though—if it a case gets too tense, it can be shut down and resolved as we’d expect from a CBS procedural.

I don’t know whether the constraints of network television are the problem here, or if Price was just phoning it in from the get-go. Either way, there’s not a lot to make NYC 22 feel distinct from any other cop show. Characters’ nicknames are shoved down our throat: Kinney’s bossman Daniel Dean announces to the newbies that he’s often called Yoda, but he doesn’t like that. Sure ya don’t, buddy.

Adam Goldberg is a former beat reporter who was shitcanned (because of the economy, and newspapers, you know what I’m saying?) and somehow talked his way onto the force. He basically insists that his something-to-prove partner Tonya Sanchez (Judy Marte, remembered fondly from Raising Victor Vargas) call him “Lazarus,” which is probably the least catchy nickname ever, and barely related to his life story, unless he was killed and revived at some point (he doesn’t mention that).

We’ve also got Jayson “Jackpot” Toney (Harold House Moore), a former basketball player who crashed out of the NBA and lost his big entourage and so on. I can handle one implausible example of someone leaving a chosen career with an entirely different skillset for a job with the NYPD—a process that takes years in the real world. But two is perhaps a bit of a stretch, and Toney is given a lot of awkward scenes where neighborhood folks castigate him and call him a loser for giving up on them. Or for crashing out of the NBA. Sometimes it’s both. No matter what it is, it’s hard to relate.

Sobieski is the standout of the episode as Jennifer “White House” Perry, so named because she served in Iraq and then as a color guard outside the White House. We don’t see enough of Sobieski in general, but her unique brand of intensity is very well-suited to a cop show, and Perry ended up intriguing me the most, perhaps because her personal life is explored the least. She gets her share of plodding exposition, but is spared more emotional dialogue later on in the pilot, something which affects most of the other characters.

The plot of NYC 22 doesn’t really suggest a lot of big arcs on the horizon, not that it needs to—this is CBS, and procedurals tend to do very well on this network. Plus, there’s a procedural nature to this job, and Price is doing his best to get some of those details (the morning meeting, the posting of newbies on street corners just blocks away from each other) right. But by the end of the pilot, you’re wondering just what’s supposed to hook you back in for next week. It got to the point where I expected some shocking twist even though that would have been jarring as hell—but without one, you’re left with a competent, rather airless depiction of life as a rookie beat cop in New York. NYC 22 isn’t horrible, not in the least. But there’s nothing to recommend about it.

Stray observations:

  • Rounding out the cast: Sands plays Kenny McLaren, an Irish kid who has a million relatives on the force to live up to. Tom Reed makes more of an impression as Afghani Ahmad Khan, taunted as “Kite Runner” by his co-workers, a surprisingly literary (and highly dated) slur.
  • We might add this show week-to-week if there’s a lot of interest, although I might not be the one covering it. Speak up if you see a future in NYC 22.