The CBS cop drama Golden Boy (10 p.m. Tuesday) does not reinvent the police show, but it does give it some interesting tweaks that make this new prime-time entry significantly better than many broadcast-network series.
Golden Boy is more complex than what viewers often see on many CBS hourlong shows. It does not display the verisimilitude of, say, TNT's Southland, but Golden Boy offers more sophisticated storytelling than CBS's Hawaii Five-0 or Criminal Minds.
Airing in the Vegas time slot of 10 p.m. Tuesday for two weeks — don't worry, Vegas fans, your show will be back with a new episode March 19 — Golden Boy will migrate to 9 p.m. Friday on March 8, replacing CSI: NY, scheduled to have its season (series?) finale tonight.
For Golden Boy, British actor Theo James (BBC America's Bedlam) sheds all vestiges of his native accent to play New York cop Walter Clark, Jr.
In Tuesday's pilot, viewers see Clark take out a robber and save his partner in a case that sets him on a course to become the youngest police commissioner of New York City seven years later.
Golden Boy flashes forward seven years into the future at the beginning and end of each episode to show the older Clark and how he's been influenced by his past, which plays out in the bulk of the episode that's set in the present-day.
Executive producer Greg Berlanti (Everwood, Arrow) used a similar framing device on the short-lived WB drama Jack & Bobby. It's a nice touch that gives Golden Boy a grander sense of scope even as the heart of the show is set in the police-procedural present familiar to executive producer Nicholas Wootton, a veteran of NYPD Blue.
After Clark's heroics, police-department leaders offer him the posting of his choice. He wants to be a homicide detective and he's assigned to work with a veteran officer, Don Owen (Chi McBride, Pushing Daisies), who's only two years away from retirement.
Clark, getting ahead of himself, doesn't think this is good enough and tries to trade up. That doesn't fly and now he's offended Owen. Clark also attempts to bond with Detective Christian Arroyo (Kevin Alejandro, Southland), but quickly discovers that Arroyo is a snake.
The Golden Boy pilot definitely makes Clark out to be an ambitious, potentially ruthless character. His relationship with his wayward sister, Agnes (Stella Maeve), seems like an attempt to up his likability factor, but the show's second episode more strongly suggests he's a well-meaning guy at his core. (His niceness gets slathered on a bit thick in episode two, as if you can see notes from CBS executives insisting that Clark be softened.)
Clark is observant and has smart instincts, but he's impulsive and careless. This brings him into conflict with Owen, who has the makings of a terrific teacher and guide if Clark can cool his hothead impulses. And Clark's eagerness forces Owen to up his game.
"You got into this squad on your guts, but it's patience and maturity that will get you to belong," Owen tells Clark. "You've got neither. Learn 'em or get out, Junior."
It's these scenes between James and McBride that truly make Golden Boy shine. The pair have a terrific father-son, veteran-newcomer chemistry that deepens every scene they share.
Also in episode two, the Arroyo character gets hardened. It's as if CBS executives didn't trust their instincts when they ordered Golden Boy, a more nuanced show for the network, and then went flailing about to make the series more black and white and less gray. This doesn't ruin Golden Boy, but it is a disappointing backpedaling from a promising premiere.