Rookie Blue debuts tonight on ABC at 9 p.m. Eastern.
There are a great many things Canada does as well or better than anyone else in the world. Despite most Americans' fondness of mocking our neighbors to the north (a fondness I am all too happy to share), Canada has better hockey, cleaner streets, and miles upon miles of unspoiled wilderness. Also, moose. But one of the things Canada does not do as well as anyone else in the world is make television shows. Oh, sure, you'll have your occasional Slings and Arrows, but the vast bulk of Canadian series seem as though someone at CTV or the CBC found a box full of unused pilot scripts from CBS in 1994, scratched their heads, and said, "These? We can USE these." Canadian TV, like Robin Sparkles, is perpetually about 15 years behind the times.
Which is all an elaborate preamble to introduce you to Rookie Blue, the latest series one of our broadcast networks has purchased from (or co-produced with) a Canadian network. In this case, it's ABC, and the show is an utterly generic cop show with Grey's Anatomy trappings that mostly doesn't try to upset anyone. It's every cop show ever, tossed into a blender and set in a non-specific Canadian city that tries to stand in for the United States if you aren't paying that close of attention. Now, passing off Canadian cities as our own is a long-standing tradition in American TV, but everything about Rookie Blue is as generic as can be, which makes the generic Canadian streets feel even more generic than they probably should. Everything about this show feels like an off-brand medication.
Honestly, I don't know what I can even say about Rookie Blue. It's not bad. It's not really good either. It's just kind of there, taking up an hour of your television time, probably when you could (and should) be doing better things. It's obvious ABC bought the show because it sort of fits in their wheelhouse but also is non-threatening enough that being burned off for the summer won't hurt anyone's feelings. Before I watched the Rookie Blue pilot, I watched the pilot of Hill Street Blues, the seminal 1981 cop drama that basically rewrote the rules of TV drama. Hill Street Blues is showing a little wear and tear around the edges, since so many shows have taken its innovations and run with them. So it's not really a compliment to say that Rookie Blue sort of feels like it could be HSB's second episode.
The central conceit of the show, which should be utterly unsurprising, is that it follows five rookie cops on their first few days on the job. In the pilot, we mostly spend time with main character Andy, played by Missy Peregrym, a winning screen presence who seems fated to either play roles well beneath her charisma or characters named Andy. Here, she plays both, and she's the series' Meredith Grey, the person who will be our view into the tough life of a rookie cop. She gets all of the bland narration this would suggest, and on her first day on the job, she both makes a mistake that gets everyone mad at her AND gets into a life-threatening situation on the job. Andy, a second-generation cop who seems to know surprisingly little about police work after having grown up around it her whole life, just isn't going to let anybody else on this show get any plots.
For the most part, actually, that's true. This isn't a bad thing because, as mentioned, Peregrym is crazy-winning, a big, breakout TV star just looking for the right part. But it is a little odd that the show purports to be about five rookie cops and then barely has any time to show two of them in the pilot. (In fact, I would wager one didn't appear at all, though this is the kind of show where a relatively major character might be consigned to a blink-and-you'll-miss-it walk-on cameo.) Outside of Peregrym, you also have Gregory Smith, formerly the ever-so-earnest Ephram Brown on Everwood (a show I greatly enjoyed), playing a guy who gets made fun of for looking young and bristles at being asked to sit behind a desk and stay in radio contact with everyone out on the job. Enuka Okuma plays Traci, whose character traits consist almost entirely of "black" and "sassy" (though there's a late twist featuring her character which you can probably guess just by reading those two adjectives). And, as mentioned, there are two others. Charlotte Sullivan gets very little to do as Gail, but she does give Gregory Smith a hard time now and then. And then there's Travis Milne, who may or may not be in the pilot.
Anyway, all of these kids get into wacky situations and learn about just how hard it is out there on the streets and all of the sorts of things you'd expect from this show. There's a drug bust that turns into so much more. There are big mistakes made and big danger from a kid with a gun. A little kid asks Andy about her gun. There's sexual tension between Andy and some of her superiors. (Though, to be honest, it's Missy Peregrym. She probably has sexual tension with every straight male she meets.) It's all a bunch of stuff that's so tired at this point that it almost doesn't matter if it's executed well. What's there is already regurgitated, and the show doesn't seem to realize this, which makes its warmed-over feeling all the more obnoxious. If you're going to regurgitate a pre-digested meal, at least be cognizant of that and find something fun to put on top of it.
Shit. Only 965 words? Hm. Well … Peregrym's hair looks nice. She's probably using a good conditioner at this point. And the show is mostly competently filmed, something you can't say for at least one of ABC's other summer scripted series. The camera is pointed at assorted images, and it mostly captures them in an aesthetically pleasing fashion. And it's always fun to spend a little time with Peregrym and Smith, who must know they're slumming here but find a way to pull both of their very average and generic and overdone characters with panache. There's a moment at the end when the rookies are all enjoying a drink after a hard day's work (spoilers: NONE OF THE ROOKIES DIES IN THE PILOT), and it almost feels like a show with interesting and fun chemistry because of the two.
But that's not enough to save the show, unfortunately. And most of it stems from Canada, which seems, increasingly, to be haphazardly trying to do things that have worked on U.S. television screens without any real sense of what made them work. Rookie Blue could be worse, but it could also be a lot better. The whole thing feels like it takes place in a weird, alternate reality, where the only TV show that anyone has ever seen to bother trying to understand the mean streets of our world today was one that starred Michael Chiklis but was also, sadly, The Commish.