I suspect that some fans of The Good Guys aren’t going to much like “Old Dogs,” the first show produced after Fox unexpectedly picked up the series for an additional episode order before very much of the original order had even aired. Thus, it’s the first episode to really benefit from whatever network and producer notes the original episodes received, and that means it’s maybe the most pared down episode of the series. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that part of the series’ charm, initially, was the fact that it was an overstuffed turkey of a cop show, with plotlines spinning off in all directions and episodes ending up messy sometimes and weirdly ambitious other times. Plenty of fans of the show love episodes like this. I’ve loved a handful of them as well.
The new version of The Good Guys is even more streamlined than the last handful of episodes, which had already tried to simplify a complicated episode formula. The scenes where we follow around the bad guys as they go about their plotting? They’re almost completely gone from “Old Dogs,” except for when Dan ends up hanging out with an arsonist and a con man for a while. There’s a pronounced focus on the cops, starting with Dan and Jack but then bringing in Liz and a few other cops in the office, like a new female character named Samantha. There’s an effort to make Julius a stronger part of the ensemble by giving him a bar where the guys can hang out and talk to him. In every way, this feels less like an indie film cop comedy squeezed into a single hour and, thus, made a little more chaotic and more like a bland TV cop drama with jokes. The question, then, is how well it works, at least in this episode.
One of the things I do like about The Good Guys is that it doesn’t limit the types of stories it tells. It has a formula, sure, but it’s not always predictable just what kind of episode it’ll do in any given week. These efforts at unpredictability make the show a lot of fun when it works well, but they also mean that there may be given episodes that incorporate so many elements that they feel essentially centerless. Some weeks, the show probably didn’t need complicated storytelling; some weeks, it made more sense to cram in as many elements as possible (I’m thinking of that episode where Dan and Jack end up trapped in the back of the truck here). I’d argue that this episode didn’t need as many elements to be a successfully told story, and that’s why I liked it for the most part. But, yeah, it felt a little more like an episode of some cop show – with jokes!
If this were a typical episode of the show, we probably would have spent a good amount of the running time with Kenny and his fellow arsonists. That, or we would have found out that Samantha (who seemed weirdly psyched about the arson) was in on it with Kenny. Instead, Kenny only enters the story once Uncle Nate gets in touch with him and puts Dan in the same room with him. Some of this might be from casting Method Man, a bigger name guest star than the show usually gets in the bad guy parts (thus leading it to promise him fewer work days or something). But I suspect it had more to do with trying to get the show more focused on the regular characters than anything else.
This shifts the burden of things to Bradley Whitford and Colin Hanks even more than it had been in the past. Obviously, the guys are the chief appeal of watching The Good Guys, but this episode gives them lots of good lines and moments. In particular, I’m thinking of the way the story finally starts to get into Jack’s back story in the same way it’s gotten into Dan’s back story. Consummate guest star Ed Begley, Jr., turns up as Jack’s Uncle Nate, a con man who fleeced Jack’s parents out of a bunch of money back in the day. When Jack comes across him for the first time in years, he arrests him, but this just places him on the trail of a man who’s been burning down a bunch of houses, all the better to clear the land for more development. Uncle Nate just happens to have some information on the case (and the nature of this coincidence is explored as the episode goes on), while one of the women whose homes are threatened turns into a romantic match for Dan (and may be another recurring player as the show goes forward, I’d imagine). Soon, Uncle Nate and Dan are using Julius in their complicated con to catch Kenny, the arsonist, in the act.
Now that I look over all of that, it seems more complicated than it seemed in the moment. I’m surprised at just how much the episode worked in as it made its way toward the conclusion. Hell, this was even a pretty good Liz episode, as she got a chance to be more involved in the case and get drunk with Jack. The show’s made so little use of Jenny Wade’s comic talents that it’s a relief to see it remembers she has them, as the scene where the two drank together was warm and funny, suggesting there may be hope for getting the two together into a relationship that doesn’t feel all that forced yet. And yet with all of this going on, the episode didn’t lose track of the story thread or the laughs.
Good TV shows go out of their way to try out many different kinds of episodes. I’ve kept covering The Good Guys because it was trying something new and different in just about every episode. But the really great TV shows are the ones that can do this and also make all of those episodes equally compelling and interesting. I don’t know that I’d say The Good Guys has been capable of that, but I’m heartened to see in this episode that it tailored the storytelling for the episode to the story it was trying to tell and didn’t try to force a formula on it. If this just means that the show has a new formula, then that, obviously, won’t be optimal, but I’m hopeful this indicates a show that doesn’t try to stretch things too far when they don’t need to be.
- There’s been some talk about whether or not this show could be saved by a cable network. And while I suppose there’s some possibility of that happening, the show, even though it’s cheap, would likely be too expensive for most cable networks to pick up. On the other hand, I can’t imagine just how much the show is spending on music week to week, so cutting back on that would be a quick and easy way to save some money.
- Is Begley TV’s quietest frequent guest star? It seems like he’s guested on two-thirds of the shows out there.
- I like what they’re doing with the in-episode text by spreading it out across the faces of the buildings. I know it’s not a new trick, but it’s one that still looks pretty flashy, years after the first time I saw it.
- I actually know we'll be seeing Samantha again, since she turns up in future press art. The actress who plays her is a lot of fun, too, so that's cool. Less certain if we'll see Dan's new girlfriend again, or if she and the dog will wander off into the sunset.
- Speaking of the dog, that was the one story thread I just didn't care about whatsoever. It felt really forced, like one of the writers watched an old episode of a cop show where one of the cops got a dog and then thought it would be fun to do a riff on that.
- "Ankle bitin's one of nature's best defense mechanisms."
- "If that isn't a Hallmark card, I don't know what is."
- "A month later, we found out that the dog died. A cow fell on him."
- "I enjoy hunting. I own a katamaran. I once met Chuck Norris in line to get some gelato. He was gracious and fancies a waffle cone."
- "This is a violation of my rights, OK? My right to privacy, and my right to not get burned alive."
- "I'm trying to say this with as little sarcasm as possible: You know what? You terrify me."
- "The price just went up a hundred thou." "Can you make change?"
- "We're trying to save the wetlands. The turtles are dyin', bro."
- "I'm not wearing a watch. I don't know where you are."
- "Well, y'know, face pain."
- "The one good thing about this dog is that I now know how to bite a man on his ankle."