I accept that television needs another cop show like we need a hole in the head, but after watching “Detroit 1-8-7” I found it has some great potential. The pilot definitely wasn’t the “coming out like gangbusters” kind of episode that impatient audiences come to expect these days, but it still had plenty of value. Enough value where a good foundation has been set to build on. This show has a lot of building left though and will only succeed if it evolves.
“Detroit 1-8-7” has many strengths. First is the locale. The series is actually filmed in Detroit and neighboring areas. The creators obviously had “Hill Street Blues” in mind when creating the tone and setting for the series, for the mean streets of Detroit very much resemble the mean streets of Chicago from that series. It sets a tone that makes it very unique. Detroit (speaking from experience having been born and raised in the area) is a wasteland with many, many areas of decay. The scene of them finding the multiple casings on the unswept bridge is dead on for this town where there are too many abandoned neighborhoods to service. The servants of Detroit are drowning in the sea of what once was a thriving auto metropolis. This rotting landscape makes Detroit a great place for story telling.
It’s encouraging to see these detectives portrayed as a group of people committed to the town it protects despite its deep woes and their impossible battle. They take it one person at a time, the massive white board of names being their guide. They haven’t lost hope and do care. They’re not an on the edge, over-the-top, readyto blow up the world bunch. They accept their limitations and do what they can. Michael Imperoli (Detective Louis Fitch) proves his star status and has found a role perfectly suited for his strengths as an actor. His character isn’t unhinged or unstable. He’s low key, experienced, he cares about the victims and their families but don’t cross this guy in an alley for he will take you down hard. The supporting cast is strong too and their characters come across as believable in these difficult circumstances.
The best scene of the episode by far was Fitch’s entire interrogation of a guy just by giving the cold stare for a very long time. That’s patience! He also deals with his green, first day of the job partner by telling him how he’s screwing by through cell phone conversations. While standing right next to the guy. He is the compelling presence a show like this needs to stand out. I also loved the hostage scene near the end and the choice to show Fitch handle this explosive situation from the outside looking in. It’s a perfect angle to watch when uncertain about a character and what drives him. Excellent choice by the director, although I understand part of that may be due to the change in format from a documentary style this show was forced to make after the original pilot was shot. There were also some humorous moments, which is important for any show this heavy in drama.
“Detroit 1-8-7” is far from flawless though. The story telling was too clichéd and didn’t capitalize completely on what this unique city has to offer. What we saw could have easily happened in Chicago, Boston, Baltimore, etc. “Detroit 1-8-7” wants to be gritty and raw but it isn’t there yet, mostly from the dull plot dragging down the ambitions. The dialogue also wasn’t sharp and often didn’t make the show stand out over the hundreds of other cop shows before it. It had a definite “been there done that” feel by the time the story had unfolded. The big “surprise” ending too was a major dud and ruined the pacing and tone of the episode. My reaction went from a “not bad” to “wtf?” It was definitely a typical bonehead Hollywood move designed to make you watch next week. That stunt wasn’t needed, unless it was meant to be relevant to future plots. If that is the case though, they could have saved it for the beginning of next week.
“Detroit 1-8-7” is a show that is going to need time to grow and hopefully the audiences and their network ABC will be patient. For this show to make its mark, it’s going to have to be more than Hollywood’s version of a Detroit cop drama. It has to become Detroit’s version. I’m going to give this show a few more weeks, especially since I adore the setting and Imperoli’s character. I’m rooting for it, otherwise it’s just another case of wasted potential. Out of ten, I give “Detroit 1-8-7’s” pilot a 6.