Bear with me. This is gonna get all pretentious and literary theory-heavy up in here.
The central conflict of The Good Guys isn't between the good guys and the bad guys. It's not even between Jack and Dan, per se. The central conflict of The Good Guys is between fiction and reality. Obviously, there are plenty of stories where there are two cops and one plays by the book and one plays by his own rules, but there seems to be that extra layer of insanity on The Good Guys to make things even more over-the-top. Creator Matt Nix loves the television of his youth, and his favorite way to make shows is to toss those older shows into a blender with a few items from current TV and a sense of ironic detachment, then make a smoothie out of them.
But let me get back to my thesis statement. Dan is a collection of every single possible tic and trope that would add up to the star of a '70s or '80s cop show or movie. Jack, meanwhile, more or less plays by the rules as we might understand them in our own world. But Jack doesn't realize that he's living in a fictional world, much less a fictional world that's specifically constructed by Matt Nix to play to Dan Stark's strengths. Dan doesn't realize that he lives in a fictional world, but he sort of feels it in his gut. He plays by '70s and '80s cop show rules because that's the way it's always been for him, and when his gut tells him it's the right idea to, say, hatch a scheme with an incompetent getaway driver, well, that's what he's going to do. Jack is making the difficult transition to living in this fictional world, to giving up on his long-cherished truths and becoming another Dan. That, I guess, is the arc of the show, and it's arguable that the character only needs to make this transition because of the fact that he was paired with Dan. Pair him up with any of the other cops we've met over the course of the season, and he'd probably be happily playing by the rules of actual reality.
But, yeah, that's all rather high-minded. I highly doubt that Nix sat his writing staff down on the first day of production and angrily pointed at a whiteboard with the words "FICTION" and "REALITY" written on it and shouted, "THIS IS WHAT THE SHOW IS ABOUT!" I don't think the show is consciously about this or anything, but I do think that this vaguely philosophical bent (which, let's remember, is buried beneath lots and lots of fun action sequences and jokes) may be what is keeping the show from being a hit. I think that level of ironic detachment, the ever-prevailing sense that these are characters in a story and not people whose lives we should be getting swept up in, is just what's keeping the series from breaking through in the ratings in a big way. When I first saw the premiere of this, I figured it was another surefire hit for Nix, but the road it's traveled has been far more difficult.
To put it another way, look at that scene where Jack goes racing to kiss Liz at the end of the episode. This is obviously a scene where we're supposed to be swept up in the emotion of the moment (and Fox has been promoting it as such). But because this is a moment where two characters are forging something like a real emotional connection in the midst of all the ironic detachment, it falls flatter than I think anyone involved wants it to. I'm not saying it's a bad moment or poorly played by Jenny Wade and Colin Hanks. And it certainly doesn't help that Liz is such a nothing character up until this point (mostly just there to be an obstacle for the guys and a love interest for Jack). But there's not a lot of room for connection in a world that's obviously fictional to those living in it.
On the other hand, I feel like a lot of this is just stupid bullshit. Because most of this was a fun episode, and I don't know what it is I'm complaining about. I guess the problem is that I'm having a good time with The Good Guys, but I'm not feeling the attachment to it that I feel to other "fun" shows of its ilk, even something like Burn Notice. I like the characters, but I don't feel particularly passionate about them. They're just joke machines and action sequence catalysts. Again, this isn't a bad thing for a few chuckles, particularly on a summer's night, but it does mean that the show's quality tends to be pushed by the quality of the guest cast brought in that week. With Bradley Whitford and Hanks, you know what you're going to get, more or less, and that places a lot of emphasis on the bad guys from week to week.
Fortunately, this week, the getaway driver, Walter, was played by Dan Castellaneta, who seemed to be having a hell of a time playing one of the most incompetent criminals ever (not to mention spending time hanging out with Whitford). And there were some great runners throughout the episode, from Dan being amazed by the quality of the dry cleaners to the sad, stressful life of Ninja construction worker Tommy. Hell, I even liked Jack and Dan eating ribs together and continually staining themselves. And pretty much every scene with Walter driving a car - particularly when going over a bridge that was blowing up behind him - was very funny.
But at the same time, that's not enough. I like the show, but I don't love it, and I don't see it taking steps to become different enough from what it is for me to love it. I get that "just" being entertaining is something many, many TV shows never manage to achieve. And I understand that not every show can be one of the best shows on TV. But I was hoping that this episode might show the show taking a step up to another level after six episodes seemingly designed to lay out the show's universe and its world. And, instead, we're repeating the same ideas and conflicts over and over again. That's fun, sure, but I'm wondering if the show is going to risk anything, or if it's just going to be content to goof around all summer. I think the series thinks it's Dan, but I'd like it to try a little harder to be Jack.
- Sorry for the lateness of this. I was out doing other stuff tonight and only caught up with the show after returning. Fortunately, the other stuff was worth it, as I'm sure you cared to know.
- "God, VanDerWerff, stop taking this so SERIOUSLY. IT'S JUST A TV SHOW!" Just thought I'd get that out there preemptively.
- Anybody think the whole criminal plot rather fell apart at the end? I wasn't sure that dispatching of that guy via his medication was the best idea ever. After a fun episode, it was a disappointing ending.
- Bradley Whitford's Italian accent from the "next week on" was IMPECCABLE.
- "My shirt's undergoing some minor repairs. Sauce-related repairs."
- "A ninja named Tommy."
- "You're always wrongest before you're right."
- "Solid destructive reasoning, my ass!"
- "Baby! Baby!"
- "Not a lot. Maybe like 50 percent of the time."
- "Not Easter Bunny fake, but, yeah, fake!"