"Broken Door Theory" was clicking along at about a C/C+ for the first half of its running time, but once it "caught up" to the initial scene (of Dan sneezing on Jack in the hotel bathtub), it started to win me over, slowly tugging together plot threads that I didn't think would work together as well as they did. The Good Guys seems to take place in a kind of clockwork universe, where every action has an equal and opposite reaction and everything is tied together in a way where all of the moving pieces fit together. This isn't my favorite way to do a narrative, nor is it my favorite way to do a TV series, but it can be a lot of fun, and there's something in The Good Guys that is making it quite a bit of fun right now.
But first let's talk about tone. The hardest thing The Good Guys has to do is make sure that its tone is appropriate to what it's trying to do. I'm not one of those people who thinks there are certain subjects you shouldn't joke about, but I think that the tone of the comedy generally has to match the seriousness of the subject matter. A dark, dark comedy about the Holocaust? Fine. A goofy, whimsical fable where a guy is making up fairy tales to protect his son from its horrors and there's a treacly, sad ending? Less defensible, though I can get where the fans are coming from. A slamming-door farce about the same subject? I have a harder time seeing how that's going to work.
The Good Guys comes at its storylines as a straight parody of action-oriented cop shows. It is, first and foremost, a broad, goofy comedy. But it also functions, more or less, as a classic cop show, with all of the things that implies. The problem comes when the show tries to push the crimes the guys are pursuing beyond that level of deliberately heightened reality and into some more realistic places. Having the guys overreact when trying to solve an act of vending machine vandalism is funny, as it was when they wandered into a world of elite assassins and over-the-top gunplay in the pilot. But I'm less certain that the show can make, say, sex trafficking amusing. In its attempts to turn Gemini, the head of an escort service, into a laughable figure, the show (and the performance by character actor Jon Sklaroff) felt as if it was uneasy about really coming up with a funny and ineffectual pimp, trying to have it both ways. It didn't really work, simultaneously undercutting Gemini's menace and finding nothing all that funny to say about prostitution.
Sadly, this took up the bulk of the first half of the episode's running time. I've decided I don't mind the time-twisting narrative gambits the show has, simply because they're a part of its style, but it's never a good sign when I'm impatiently waiting for the show to catch up to where it was at the episode's beginning. Since the show hasn't caught up with itself until the end of the episode in the prior two hours, I was just about ready to write this one off as a curious misfire, with some funny lines and some good bits between Jack and Dan but nothing that pushed the whole thing over into being wholly successful. In particular, I could have cared less about the guys tracking down Gemini via one of his most prominent clients and the marital strife between said client and his wife.
But by the time the two and escort Holly (meeting with Jack as part of a sting she didn't know she was involved in) are laying in the bathtub, bullets flying around them, the episode started to work for me. As an example, the scene where the two "serious" cops are interrogating Holly in the precinct office, in a parody of every hard-hitting cop drama of the '90s made me laugh. Sure, it's kind of a TV-insider joke (in that the more realistic approach of the cop shows of the '90s was just as unrealistic when you really think about it), but the contrast between these two mismatched partners and the two mismatched partners we follow week to week was well-executed, as was the beat at the end of the scene where Dan revealed that, yeah, he'd managed to get the information through his deliberately old-fashioned methods.
But there was other funny stuff going on around this as well. Dan and Jack running across Gemini (or Eugene, I suppose I should say) in the pharmacy was a great nod to the way Dan's choice to live his life like he's in a cop show is actually the right choice since he does, indeed, live in a cop show. The flashback from the guys learning about Gemini owning a vending machine company to 32 years ago was a great way to prove the central time-bending idea of the show is more flexible than it seems at first glance. And the final encounter with the guy who actually vandalized the vending machine put a better cap on the initial storyline than the previous two episodes have with their storylines. And, hey, we got another shoutout to Julius, as the show continues to build its seedy little Dallas world.
Other good stuff included that fistfight between Eugene and Jack as a passed out Dan was handcuffed to Eugene. I admire the show's ability to come up with fun action sequences you haven't seen a million times before, yet do them on a TV budget. It's something that Fox shows (including Human Target) have gotten very good at, and it's something The Good Guys seems to be really pulling off on a week-to-week basis. Hell, I even kind of liked this week's fight between Dan and Jack where the two talk about how their METHODS ARE SO DIFFERENT, mostly because I like the chemistry between the two actors (though the show needs to stop going to this well fairly soon).
I don't know that the latter half of the episode was so exemplary as to completely redeem that meandering first half, but it still suggested that the show hasn't run out of tricks to show us just yet. The Good Guys is figuring out where it's going to go from here, and I like some of the evidence we've gotten of its direction in tonight's episode. If the show's going to be a comedy, though - and that's probably the right call - then it'll need to figure out a little better how it's going to take serious subjects and bring them down to its cartoonish level, at least a little better than it did tonight.
- And, yes, we're adding The Good Guys for at least a few weeks here at TV Club. It's a strangely slow summer, and this show is one that intrigues me, so get ready for more cop show hijinks.
- It's fairly obvious that the two female characters were shoehorned into the script that Matt Nix wrote a decade ago at the network's insistence. Neither character has anything to do, and even 15 years ago, this show would have been OK going forward with just the two leads and a variety of recurring players. I get the need to have some sort of ensemble, but both women need something to do other than be scolds.
- I liked Dan's flu passing around among virtually every guest character he came in contact with.
- "I think I puked my pancreas this morning."
- "They were talkin' about it on this cop show I was watching. The one with the leprechaun who never takes his sunglasses off?"
- "The work we're doing here could save someone's life. Maybe a woman. Maybe even a hot woman."
- "Sometimes, God gives you lemons, you gotta make sewage."
- "Only cops and porn stars have mustaches like that."
- "You know what I love about owning a vending machine company, Eugene? It's the only cash business left. Well, outside of prostitution."
- "It's not a toy! It's an orange gun!"
- "Legally, could I just punch this guy in the face?"