(Premieres tonight on CBS, 10 pm ET/ 9 pm CT)
It would seem that generic hour-long cop dramas will always have a place on television. Specifically on CBS. And in the case of Flashpoint, late on Friday nights in the middle of summer, when the few people watching are looking for a safe bridge from the couch to their bed.
Produced in Canada as part of a writer’s strike contingency plan, Flashpoint takes place in Toronto and follows the SWAT-team-like Strategic Response Unit (SRU), which was inspired by the city’s own Emergency Task Force. But American viewers apparently can’t be roused by Canadian heroism, so Toronto is converted with minimal effort into a generic, unnamed U.S. metropolis. That’s the show’s ethos in a nutshell: Keep things simple and formulaic, and betray as little personality, style, or local color as possible. Creating a merely passable entertainment appears to be its highest ambition.
Sadly, it doesn’t even achieve those low standards and it drags at least one immensely likable performer in Enrico Colantoni down with it. Veronica Mars fans know Colantoni for his winning performance as Veronica’s stern yet honorable and sly-humored father, a private eye trying to raise an independent-minded daughter on his own. He’s perfectly comfortable in the authority figure role here, too, leading the elite SRU through various high-tech, high-tension operations. But there’s not much nuance to the part; if you were to ask me to define his character based on the first episode, I’d say he’s very “cop-like.”
Much of the focus in tonight’s hour is placed instead on Hugh Dillon, an SRU sniper and cop-on-the-edge type who finds himself caught in a moral quandary. The plot finds the SRU team dispatched to a heavily trafficked office complex, where a crazy-eyed Croatian man has shot his ex-girlfriend and taken another woman hostage. As Colantoni negotiates fruitlessly with the man through a remote translator, Dillon sets up for a shot atop one of the buildings above. The situation is complicated when the Croat’s son enters the picture and tries to help the authorities defuse the situation, but when things get out of hand, Dillon has to take the shot. Questions abound: Did Dillon allow the negotiation to go on long enough before pulling the trigger? Might the son have persuaded his father to lay down his lugar? How can he live with the guilt of taking another man’s life? Etc., etc.
It’s not that a situation like this one couldn’t lead to compelling drama, but Flashpoint doesn’t seem that interested in mixing it up. There are elements of more successful shows here—an independent police force given to closing rank around its own (The Shield) and sometimes neglecting their families (The Unit)—but none are drawn out with any potency. And for a debut episode, it does a terrible job of setting the table: Colantoni, the ostensible leading man, is relegated to feebly talking down a gunman; fellow SRU officer Amy Jo Johnson adds pluck but little else; and the addition of a young Army hotshot to the team seems to promise a note of contention that never arises.
Why should you tune in next week? Flashpoint doesn’t come with a reason.