Tonight, we got a chance to see what The Good Guys would be like if it were essentially a straight-up cop drama. The answer to this question is: Fun in places but generally not worth going out of your way to watch. I'm not going to lie and say there weren't funny bits here. There was plenty of Dan mischief and malfeasance. Jere Burns is always a good guest star to have on, and he managed to make a few of his lines funnier than they probably were on the page. And there were nice character moments scattered throughout, like that final moment between all of the characters at Dan's trailer (now parked on the Lieutenant's front lawn). I don't feel like I wasted my life watching this episode or anything, and I'm actually impressed that after a week when it seemed like network retooling had taken a lot of the weirdness out of the show, the series was right back to episodes with scattered plotlines that don't always come together.
But The Good Guys is an action-comedy, and it's been weirdly lacking in action in these last two episodes (probably for budgetary reasons) and it was lacking in comedy in this episode. For the most part, the moments in the episode that stuck with viewers were essentially dramatic ones. And on that score, The Good Guys has trouble competing with any number of other cop shows (or even character-based procedurals), where the dramatic moments feel more earned. Jack's pursuit of Liz has never been as interesting as the show wants it to be simply because Jack is less a fully rounded character than a perpetual foil for Dan and Liz is barely a character at all. That means the scenes between the two often just kind of sit there, and they certainly did in tonight's episode.
But the show also made the odd choice to play the criminal conspiracy at the episode's heart essentially straight. There were laughs around the edges, but the center of the story was taken seriously. Liz's boyfriend works for a company where key safety tests have come up with failing grades. There's a group of men who wish to bring this to light, until they start ending up dead, the trigger pulled by a hot blonde who's working for Jere Burns, a golf-happy executive (and this is seriously the entirety of the characterization we get for him). In the past, I've said that some of the episodes of this show take the criminals at the center a bit too lightly for my tastes, and I think that's been misconstrued as a wish to have all of the criminals be dead serious. I certainly don't want that to happen, and this episode is proof of just why that would be a terrible idea. I merely think that if you're going to deal with drug crimes or murder or rape, then your jokes had better be funny enough to remove the essential darkness at the heart of the story (or enhance it, if you're really skilled at writing black comedy, and I don't think this show is).
To be fair, this storyline involves murder, so I can see why the writers might have wanted to cool down on the jokes. But when you remove the jokes from these scenes - even the ones that don't really work - something becomes readily apparent: The crime stories on The Good Guys aren't terribly original. This isn't such a big deal, most of the time, because the show IS an homage to other works. But without the jokes, this just turns into another fairly lame story about a "murderin' Jane" who stalks a bunch of corporate types with Dan and Jack mostly reacting to whatever she does and Liz's boyfriend getting into the middle of things. There are individual scenes that work - like Jack finding a pig-shaped corkscrew he and Liz bought at Kyle's house - but the choice to go almost wholly dramatic removes one of the show's most effective weapons.
The storyline also relies far too much on coincidence. Think of it this way: Everything opens with Lieutenant Ruiz learning she has a peeping Tom. While staking out the neighborhood, Dan catches sight of the assassin taking out one of the whistleblowers. This is all well and good and in keeping with the series' "little crimes lead to big ones" formula, but from there, we're ALSO expected to buy that Kyle works for the same company as the dead whistleblower, and that just doesn't work. It makes the show's world far too small, and it's too obviously a blatant ploy to get some Liz and Jack drama into the middle of the mystery. Not every episode can be carried by Dan Stark, and I'm glad the show is giving Jack more material to flesh out his character, but the Liz and Jack scenes were largely deathly here.
There was stuff that worked here. I liked the little suspenseful touches around the edges, the Hitchcockian lighting of some of the scenes with the murder victims. I liked the bit about the drawing of the assassin in the hot nurse's uniform. Burns is always a pleasure to see turn up in something like this, and I think the show has integrated the new forensics girl pretty well (even if it's pushing the "possible love interest for Jack" angle a little too hard with her). I also liked some really small stuff, like how the corkscrew re-entered the story just when you'd forgotten all about it or how Dan's car pulling up to the house was accompanied by a 36 second countdown CGI-ed across his bumper.
But there was too much here that didn't work. Dan attending a yoga class to warn of the dangers of the peeping Tom was a long joke that didn't go anywhere for too long (though I liked the guy saying he felt safer already), and when the whistle came back at the end, it felt like an afterthought. The show really strained to involve Julius in the action, seemingly as the result of a network note or something. And everything with the whistleblowers essentially just sat there, at least until Burns turned up to go nuts. But by far the greatest problem with the episode was the fact that it took much of what makes the show fun when it works and defanged it. The back half of season one increasingly feels like attempts to figure out if any of the elements present in the first few episodes can be removed entirely and still have the show work. Tonight felt like an experiment in that regard to the show's comedy, and it didn't really work.
- That said, some of the bigger laugh lines were given to characters other than Dan in this week's episode, like Liz, so that was a nice development.
- There were some interesting attempts at creating suspense in tonight's episode. If I didn't know it was filmed months ago, I'd say it was a deliberate attempt to do a different kind of Halloween episode.
- Next week looks like a fairly classic bottle episode. Those are always fun.
- Finally, the soundtrack seems to be back on its big-budget course, with "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap" and "Listen to the Music," both from fairly expensive groups, popping up prominently.
- "A man always does his best work when he's too invested, and I'm WAY too invested."
- "I'm just gonna go ahead and assume that makes sense in another conversation."
- "You can't imitate his voice. You haven't even heard him speak."
- "Shoot him in the head! It's the only way."
- "The cops literally have a picture of you. In a nurse's uniform, for some reason."