It's rare that I have exactly opposite problems with two episodes of a show I'm covering within the space of a couple of weeks, but that's more or less what happened with The Good Guys. Last week, I didn't really think the episode took off until the episode circled back around to the scene from the start. This week, I think much of what came after the scene where we caught up to the first scene was worse than what came before. I also think this episode is the best argument yet for the show just going for broke and refocusing on the elements of the series that work, while playing down the stuff that doesn't quite work. Creator Matt Nix did a similar thing with Burn Notice back in the early days of that show, so I'm hopeful he can pull it off. And even if he doesn't, this is still a pretty funny show that's worth a chuckle or two, particularly in a long, TV-empty summer.
Now, the show caught up to itself remarkably quickly in this episode - after just 19 minutes (including one commercial break) - but there was some worthwhile stuff afterward, so it wasn't an entirely horrible episode or anything. That said, I do wonder if the story of the criminals this week had a few too many moving parts. The central appeal of the show is following around Bradley Whitford and Colin Hanks, yet by the show's design, we need to spend some time with the criminals (since it is, after all, a throwback and not a modern crime show where almost all of the scenes would involve at least one or two members of the ensemble). In the past few weeks, that amount of time has been increasing and increasing, and these scenes are often among the clumsier scenes of the episode. I spent some time complaining last week about how I thought the pimp in the week's episode was neither threatening nor especially funny. I'd say the same of the meth kings in this episode, but I think I'm getting closer to putting my finger on why this doesn't work.
For the most part, this show is fun when we're hanging out with Jack and Dan, even if they're bouncing off of other characters. Whitford and Hanks are good at making even the less funny lines they're handed sound amusing, and the show has a good eye for guest stars, who can usually grasp how they're supposed to play off these two crazy guys. That said, there are a lot of scenes in this show that are just based around the guest criminals of the week, and they're necessarily much harder to get into than the scenes with the regular characters. Tonight's meth plotline definitely suffered from this, not because I think meth is something that's not terribly funny (though my wife thought the show strained too much to make it funny) but because we had to cut away to three different criminal groups, including the Chinese crime boss and his translator, the home owner's association guy, and the meth lab sabotage guy. All of these elements could have worked in and of themselves, and all of them worked in bits and pieces, but in particular, when we spent a lot of time in the third act cutting between all of these other characters and not a lot of time with our main two guys, the show sagged a bit.
On the other hand, the episode rallied in the end, with Dan, Jack, and Steve getting into that shootout and Jack going against his code to let Steve escape. And there were plenty of nice, smaller moments around the edges of the main storyline, especially as the series figured out a way to use the Lieutenant character finally. Hearing her read the police report that Dan filed was hilarious, particularly as the two guys tried not to react as she did so. The other cops in the station work best when the show is using them as straitlaced foils to the two main characters, since even Jack is a bit off of the way things might work in reality. Here was a good example of that principle in practice, and it might have been nice had the show followed through just a bit more on this. And once the guys hooked up with Steve and started questioning him about why he was blowing up meth labs, there were some really good scenes, particularly when Steve broke down about what happened when his daughter got addicted to meth.
Instead, however, we headed back to the three plotlines of criminal doom, almost incessantly, and it was like the episode ground to a halt every time we went there. The goofy music would get cranked way up to remind us that we were watching a comedy and not a serious drama about meth peddlers and the cops who catch them. The actors would head way over the top to make sure we didn't get too drawn in. And the exposition would get layered on fairly heavily, just to make sure we didn't miss anything. As a comedy, The Good Guys is working pretty well. I laughed more at this episode than I did at any other episode of the show so far. But as a cop show, it's having a real crisis of confidence. It doesn't know if it's actually a cop show or if it's a goofy riff on cop shows, and it tends to get caught in the middle.
Again, this is probably a show that can handle being a little rough around the edges. It's not a show that necessarily needs to be absolutely perfect week after week, though the clockwork plotting of it wouldn't suggest this. The simple pleasures of the show - like watching Dan rant about how awful it is that someone would poison a dog - and the fact that it keeps switching up its template - this week, the initial crime was solved remarkably quickly - suggest this is a show that's going to find itself sooner, rather than later. But it is a bit trying to watch that process unfold.
- Breaking Bad has just ruined meth-cooking scenes for all other shows, hasn't it?
- How many times are we going to get this plot where Jenny Wade tries to get Jack to go on a date with someone else and then he doesn't and then there are flirtatious looks and stuff? It's fine if the show wants to have this offhand romantic element, but it needs to be better executed than the same story week after week.
- I wonder if the show would ever be OK with the guys ending up working on more important cases? It might make it harder for the show to remain essentially an action-comedy, but I think the series could stand to have a little career advancement. It might be funny to see Dan, especially, in new contexts within the precinct.
- Was that Keamy from Lost, or am I just insane?
- "I know where we can get a tiger if you want one."
- "While you were trying to outrun the car, I wrote down the full plate number."
- "The burning chemical smell turned out to be burning chemicals."
- "Our dog poisoner isn't a dog poisoner. He's a meth lab exploder man."
- "We did not. Make. Lieutenant."