If I had the pocket change in Jerry Bruckheimer's tailored slacks right now, I'd be livin' way too large to write this column.
It's no exaggeration to suggest that few people in the history of TV have had more impact on its history than our impossibly successful Mumford High alum (an alma mater he immortalized on Eddie Murphy 25 years ago while producing Beverly Hills Cop). When it comes to episodic crime dramas, Bruckheimer nearly owns the genre. He's behind TV's leading franchise of the 21st century, CSI, and its spin-offs CSI: Miami and CSI: NY. He's responsible for Cold Case, Without a Trace and Eleventh Hour. Throw in the Emmy-winning reality series The Amazing Race. Even his failures, like Close to Home, have been noble and interesting.
Those shows, however, have one thing in common: They're on CBS. So when Bruckheimer's embarrassment of production riches offered a pilot to TNT, what did the cable network do? What would you do? They snatched up Dark Blue, premiering at 10 tonight (July 15), faster than a city council member accepting a bribe. And with all due respect to his other outstanding series, I think TNT got one of Bruckheimer's best.
I likes me some Dark Blue. To television's pantheon of classic "blue" cop shows – NYPD Blue, The Blue Knight, Hill Street Blues — we may add a powerful contender. I thought this edge-of-your-seat drama, starring Dylan McDermott (The Practice) as leader of a small undercover unit so anonymous even most of the LAPD don't know they're cops, might be more appropriately named Deep Blue. Silly critic; Jerry knows what he's doing.
Visually, Dark Blue is the darkest program I can ever remember. Dark alleys, dark rooms, dark strip clubs. Dark men doing dark deeds. You almost feel like squinting to see the screen. But it's a faultless atmosphere for a storyline where everybody, heroes as well as villains, has something to hide.
Early episodes I've seen have focused on officer Ty Curtis (Omari Hardwick, Miracle at St. Anna), recently married with career ambitions, who's struggling to balance home life against his shadowy job. As it progresses, we'll get to know the silent, smoldering Dean Bendis (The O.C.'s Logan Marshall Green) and rookie Jaimie Allen (Nicki Aycox), whose past is so shady she had to lie to become a cop.
The only Dark Blue hangup I have is with McDermott as team leader Carter Shaw. I understand the need for a recognized lead actor to draw fannies to the TV set, but he's too damn handsome to be completely believable as the scruffy, obsessive honcho of a renegade squad. This role demands Nick Fury, not Nick Jonas. According to the script, Shaw rarely sleeps or eats while his people are in the field. If you can go without food or rest and look like Dylan McDermott, there's going to be a lot of starving insomniacs in America. While his character may have trouble blending in, even in darkness, the same can't be said for Dark Blue. It's a standout.
In a family way
Nancy Travis admits the first time she heard about The Bill Engvall Show, she had no idea who Engvall was. "When they sent me the script, I thought The Bill Engvall Show was the guy who wrote it and they hadn't thought of a name for the show yet," laughs Travis, whom you may remember as Ted Danson's tart-tongued girlfriend on Becker but I adored as the lunatic lover in Robert Downey Jr.'s best film, 1992's Chaplin. "But I really liked the script, I thought there was a lot of potential for the Susan Pearson part, and I just liked the idea of doing a show about a family."
Good thing. At 9 p.m. Saturday, she'll begin her third season as Engvall's levelheaded wife when the sitcom returns with new episodes on TBS. Engvall, attempting to distance himself from his "blue-collar comic" popularity, plays Denver family therapist Bill Pearson, whose practice feels the bite of the economic downturn this season as he tries to maintain some influence over his wife and three kids. Detroit native and Saturday Night Live grad Tim Meadows receives expanded screen time as Bill's best bud, Paul DuFrayne.
As networks scramble to fill the Everybody Loves Raymond void for the elusive superior "family sitcom" (NBC's Parenthood and FOX's Brothers this fall), The Bill Engvall Show has quietly established itself as a top-rated cable attraction. "There was a niche for it that needed to be filled," Travis says. "We're not trying to be quirky or unique or original. Bill just wants it to feel like an old slipper."
Jim McFarlin is a media critic for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]
Farewell, old friends: America, and television, has been engulfed in Michael mourning this month, but please don't forget to send up a good thought for four recently departed TV legends in their own right: Farrah Fawcett, Ed McMahon, Karl Malden and Billy Mays. Rest in peace, all.