CBS law enforcement procedurals certainly follow a formula, and it’s been pretty much the same one since Blue Bloods premiered 12 years ago: Central cases that may or may not make sense, but a much better sense of who the characters and their relationships to each other are than the previous, CSI/NCIS generation of procedurals the network continues to put out. East New York is a new procedural that has a lot of the feel of the Blue Bloods generation, taking place in a part of New York we rarely see depicted on TV.
EAST NEW YORK: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
Opening Shot: Scenes from East New York, a Brooklyn neighborhood on the east side of the borough, near the Queens border.
The Gist: Deputy Inspector Regina Haywood (Amanda Warren) is at a nail salon getting a touch up before her first day at her new job: She is now the commander of the 74th Precinct, in the neighborhood where she grew up. Right outside the salon, she sees a van service driver get robbed in what seemed to be a targeted attack, while she tried to chase down the robbers, a tourist and a security guard get killed. The driver is seriously injured.
An eventful first day, and she hasn’t even put her uniform on. Her boss, Chief John Suarez (Jimmy Smits), wants her to ease into the job in this working-class precinct, but she knows that if she doesn’t enable her reforms quickly and the crime stats don’t go down, she’s out. Captain Stan Yenko (Richard Kind) quickly volunteers to be her executive officer, while trying to bid on a 1979 Chrysler Cordoba. Haywood institutes a policy where she wants an officer to live in the local NYCHA projects to reconnect to the neighborhood, and Officer Brandy Quinlan (Olivia Luccardi) surprisingly volunteers. Haywood also wants cops to stop worrying about quotas on petty arrests and not be deceptive during interrogations.
Elsewhere, Detectives Tommy Killian (Kevin Rankin) — who comes oh so close to saying that Haywood was a diversity hire — and Crystal Morales (Elizabeth Rodriguez) work the van driver case while Killian and his girlfriend Corinne (Caitlin Mehner) look to buy the local cop bar. When the owner of the bar gets a higher bid, pricing Killian out, he resorts to desperate measures to make Corinne happy. Veteran beat cop Marvin Sandeford (Ruben Santiago-Hudson), who knows the neighborhood better than anyone, deals with some of the issues Quinlan is having in with her new neighbors, along with his rookie partner Andre Bentley (Lavel Schley) wanting to throw the book at a kid who stole his hat.
What Shows Will It Remind You Of? East New York is somewhere on the grit scale between NYPD Blue and Blue Bloods, probably closer to the latter than the former.
Our Take: East New York, which was co-created by Mike Flynn (Queen Sugar, Big Sky) and veteran producer William Finklestein (NYPD Blue, The Good Fight), is a prototypical CBS police procedural. It has lots of characters, so much so that they need to be introduced via some awkward, talky exposition at the scene of the van driver shooting. It follows a main case every week, that somehow gets solved by the end of the episode, while showing the continuing struggles of Haywood and others to make a difference in this neighborhood.
It’s one of those shows that seems to be critic-proof, to be honest. We can write about how many problems this show has until our fingertips go numb, but unless it falls completely on its face, it has the same built-in audience that made Blue Bloods one of CBS’s longest-running dramas and is making the FBI franchise such a bit hit for the network.
We think there are far too many characters to keep track of, that the depiction of a working-class neighborhood being slowly gentrified is too polished, and that the central case of the pilot, involving a developer played by Scott Cohen, is confusing and underdeveloped. The talent in front of the camera, especially Smits and Kind, either aren’t given enough to do (Smits) or are being underserved because Flynn, Finklestein and their writers just don’t have a handle on the character’s tone yet (Kind).
But that doesn’t really matter. The writers will get the time they need to shape the characters and setting, which is what is going to attract audiences to the show. The procedural part of the show will always be up and down; some of the cases will be ripped from the headlines and be interesting, and others will be a confusing pile of cop show cliches. There’s more than enough talent in front of and behind the camera to get this show going in the right direction. Warren is an especially strong, but warm, presence as Haywood, and that’s more than enough to build a decent show around.
Will it ever be great? Probably not. But it might eventually be okay, which is good enough for CBS and its primary audience. Are we damning with faint praise? Absolutely. But we also know what has worked for the network over the past couple of decades.
Sex and Skin: None in the first episode.
Parting Shot: Chief Suarez drives Haywood home on her first night; he tells her she did the right thing in the morning when the robbery occurred, and made the right call when she finally nabbed who was responsible. She goes into her house and brings out her German shepherd for a walk.
Sleeper Star: We are unabashed Richard Kind fans, but we really wonder if he’s there to be comic relief, actually play a serious cop, or a little of both. If Yenko was completely inept, he wouldn’t have reached the rank of captain, so there’s a good cop in there somewhere, right? His character will be the hardest one for the writing staff to pin down during the first season.
Most Pilot-y Line: Killian steals Roy Campanella’s bat from a bar where he moonlights as security in order to buy the cop bar. Not one person asks where the hell he got the bat from.
Our Call: STREAM IT. We’re recommending East New York purely on what we think the show can be, not on what we see so far. So far, it’s a mess that displays some of the worst habits of CBS procedurals. But with lots of talent on both sides of the camera, and a neighborhood that’s rife with true-life story potential, the show can become a solid, Blue Bloods-style staple for the network. And we’re pretty sure they’re going to get the time to make it into just that.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.com, Fast Company and elsewhere.