ROBBERY HOMICIDE DIVISION (CBS, FRIDAY, 10 p.m.), which is produced by Michael Mann (Miami Vice, Heat, The Insider), brings in the big guns. This is a show that's in love with L.A., but the object of its desire is a far glitzier, slinkier model than the one known to the average citizen. I have no idea how much money was spent on the pilot, but I'm sure it was a lot. Just the cops' wardrobe must have cost a fortune, since they were all dressed more like CAA agents than detectives. As Lieutenant Sam Cole, Tom Sizemore (Saving Private Ryan) even had some artfully placed blond highlights in his hair. A lesser man would no doubt suffer some ribbing for this, but the last person to make fun of Cole probably had his nose broken in school.
Last Friday's pilot episode began with a gorgeously shot prologue inside a hip Korean nightclub, a long commercial for what everybody wishes nightclubs were like. Had the writers been more thoughtful, they would have provided a name and address for the place so we could all go there. The sequence ended with a drive-by shooting, and before you knew it, there was Cole, cruising toward the scene of the crime. Even the way he handled the steering wheel looked stylish. The swirling, doomy electro-choral music on the soundtrack was pretty cool too.
From this point forward, the show was top-heavy with exposition, the bane of police procedurals everywhere. ("A lawyer handles the lease. Guess who? Donald Berman." "Berman?" "Berman.") The drive-by shooting leads to another, worse slaughter, in which a poor immigrant family is executed in its improbably luxurious suburban home. Although Cole never wonders why he, a mere lieutenant, is dressed like a guy who owns several yachts, he does question why the victims were living in such an expensive house. "Something's off," a colleague concludes. "Tell me about it," he grunts. At least that snatch of dialogue was audible. There was so much mumbling and muttering in this show I started to think I was going deaf. I spent half of it leaning into the set, saying "What?" "Who?" "Where?" Only when I switched to another program did I realize that these particular LAPD officers need to set aside some of their wardrobe money for elocution lessons. Still, the show does look stunning. And if (like me) you're a fan of Heat, there should be plenty to look forward to.
THE MAIN SELLING POINT FOR BOOMTOWN (NBC, Sunday, 10 p.m.) is its Rashomon-style narrative, in which we live and re-live a crime from different viewpoints. But narrative pyrotechnics age fast unless they're tethered to some interesting personalities, which is why a movie like Memento had me looking at my watch long before it was over. On the evidence of its opening episode, Boomtown may just manage to avoid the pitfalls of fancy-pants storytelling, but it's going to be a very close call.
Like Robbery Homicide Division, this is a show made by L.A.-philes. You know that right from the start, because it begins on a bridge overlooking the L.A. River, a trickle of tainted water only dedicated Angelenos care about. ("Paris has the Seine, London has the Thames . . . we got a concrete drainage ditch," intones an old man looking down on it sorrowfully.) The two main characters are detectives, and unfortunately they seem as familiar as the narrative technique feels different. Donnie Wahlberg (Band of Brothers) plays Joel Stevens, a young but world-weary cop with a suicidal wife. Mykelti Williamson (Forrest Gump) is Bobby Smith, a Gulf War veteran with a store of homespun wisdom and an ever-present cigarette behind his ear. Other than that, there isn't a whole lot to say about these two. One's black, the other's white, and you could parachute them into any of a half-dozen other cop shows, and no one would know the difference.
What writerexecutive producer Graham Yost and director Jon Avnet are good at is evoking the city. Theirs is an L.A. that feels lived in, scene after scene; they don't just raid it for a striking visual and move on. But the story they told in the pilot, once you peeled away the layers of overlapping perspectives, didn't amount to very much. (Nor did the different viewpoints ever contradict one another, which is usually the reason for having them.) Two girls have been shot by bullets from a passing car. The car turns out to have been driven by a spoiled white brat who wants to be down with the homies. He hands off the gun to his passenger, Cantrell, a young black track star who gets chased by a cop but evades him. Later the police come to Cantrell's home, where he lives with his grandfather, last seen mournfully gazing down at the L.A. River in the show's prologue. Trying to escape through the window of a neighboring apartment, Cantrell falls to the street and dies instantly. In the meantime, the brat is arrested, and at the end we circle back to the grandfather on the bridge, and learn why he's there: He's disposing of Cantrell's ashes while detectives Stevens and Smith gaze at him with strenuously soulful expressions.
Circling around the incident are the show's main players, who feature in every episode. Not just the two detectives, but the goofy beat cop (Gary Basaraba), the angelic paramedic (Lana Parrilla), the ambitious district attorney (Neal McDonough), and the reporter who asks the latter tough questions on TV and then sleeps with him afterward (Nina Garbiras). All of these characters keep the show feeling busy, but none of them is likely to make you want to tune in week after week. Not yet, anyway. As for the grandfather, his elegy for the river was touching, but with his beard and his cane and his silver-rimmed glasses, he looked like the kind of improbably noble senior citizen most often seen in commercials for rapacious financial institutions.
CATHERINE DENEUVE, THE NOTED FRENCH "actor" (as PBS humorlessly ID'd her), was on Charlie Rose recently, and the interview was an object lesson in Franco-American misunderstanding. The fun started when, halfway through the conversation, Deneuve casually mentioned that all of us have secrets, "a personal secret behind the person we are supposed to be." To me this seemed like a characteristically intelligent but otherwise unexceptional remark on Deneuve's part, but to Rose it was evidently the gateway to interview paradise. Scenting blood, or perhaps Chanel, he leapt at the chance to pry an exclusive from the French star.
"You have secrets?" he demanded greedily, as if this were the most extraordinary thing in the world.
"Er, yes . . ." Deneuve replied.
"About who you are? What kind of secrets?" Rose asked, practically panting with excitement.
"Would that be a secret anymore if I told you?" Deneuve countered reasonably. And so the interview continued. Imagine a tennis match with Rose huffing and puffing on the baseline, and Deneuve at net, deftly volleying anything he could fire at her. Top spin, back spin, drop shots, sharply angled cross-court winners -- she had it all. At bottom, Rose wanted to know what he always wants to know. Who are you, really? What do you truly think about life? But Deneuve, insisting on the separation between her public and private selves, was having none of it.
"I'm a very secretive person," she said.
"Why is that?"
"Why not that?"
"Of course, regrets."
"Like nothing I'm going to tell you!"
The conversation ended with Rose saying, "You look great. You know that," a remark Deneuve greeted with peals of laughter. "It's incredible to say things like that!" she said, evidently astonished at the presumption.
SHANNON, A 24-YEAR-OLD STUDENT ON THE dating show Shipmates, would not have been so astonished. In fact, she would have considered it her due. I flipped to the show right after the Deneuve interview, and there was Shannon, boldly staring into the viewfinder. "I would describe myself as volumptuous [sic], sexy, wild and horny," she stated. We were back in the American mainstream, that increasingly strange landscape where celebrities hide from prying cameras while everyone else runs toward them. But a couple of days later, a very unscripted moment on a local news show helped to restore the balance between public and private. A newscaster was doing a voice-over promo for an upcoming segment on "New uses for Viagra," with two large bottles of the stuff pictured in giant close-up onscreen. Then a sportscaster's face appeared, looking aggrieved. Unaware that the camera was on him, but annoyed that he was about to follow a segment on a drug for impotence (this wasn't the first time, apparently), he pointed a finger in the direction of his colleague and, referring to the Viagra, said, "That's for you."
His next two sentences illustrated the public/private divide to perfection. The first (resentful) was uttered before he realized he was on air; the second (embarrassed) immediately after he realized his mistake.
"Why are they always putting this stuff in front of me? Hi, I'm Jim Hill, and coming up on sports . . ."
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