Spring 2013 Review: Golden Boy

22 Mar

He is the Golden Boy

Golden Boy is the story of a young Oscar de la Hoya.  No, of course it’s not.  This is CBS.  It’s a police procedural.  But here’s Golden Boy’s special little hook.  The main character, Walter Clark (Theo James), who starts his first day as a homicide detection in the first episode, will, in seven years, go on to become the youngest police commissioner in NYPD history.   In fact, the whole story is actually told from the future, as a journalist played by Richard Kind interviews now police commissioner Walter Clark about his path from young rookie to commish.

At the beginning of the pilot, Clark, a patrol officer, becomes a hero, when he kills a man holding a woman hostage, kills another man, who shot his partner, and helps resuscitate his partner with CPR.  As a benefit of his new-found hero status, the commissioner offers him his pick of where he wants to work.  He hears recommendations for narcotics; a nice modest leap up the latter that will shave a couple years off his career path, but an area he’d be qualified to work in with his level of experience.  Instead, he chooses homicide, to the astonishment of everyone, as he’s far too inexperienced and would be at least a decade away from working there under normal circumstances.

Once he enters the homicide department, we’re back on track for standard cop show routines.  He’s partnered with the older, wiser Don Owen (played by Chi McBride), who early in the show tells Clark he’s no Morgan Freeman, seeming to disparage his role as an older, African-American mentor, but as the episode goes on, he fills that role to a T (he recalls Danny Glover’s character in Lethal Weapon when he lectures Clark late in the episode about how he’s got just two years before he’s done).  Clark gets hazed several times in the episode by Owen and the other veteran members of the department, and gets put in his place occasionally when he gets a little rambunctious for a youngster.  Clark looks up to hotshot detective Christian Arroyo (played by True Blood’s Kevin Alejandro), who alternately gives him a hard time and looks to help him out.  Arroyo at one time berates Clark for making a promise to a victim’s family, something that Clark should know not to do if he’s ever watched a cop show in his life.  Arroyo’s partner is female cop Deb McKenzie, who finds Clark to be cocky but sometimes sympathetic.  Clark’s attempts at being Sherlock Holmes-ian, noticing every little detail to make him seem like a savant are made fun of by Arroyo initially, but then end up being extremely helpful as a tattoo that only Clark notices on a suspect helps find out a piece of crucial information.

While not groundbreaking or pushing boundaries on even the slightest level, there are two minorly noteworthy aspects of the show which are atypical for classic police procedurals.  First, the main character is not particularly likable.  In the first episode, we can already see he’s arrogant, thinks he’s better than others, and is more interested in playing politics or being a media hound if that’s what it takes to not only solve the case but do the best for himself.  It’s definitely intimated with the future commissioner mechanism that he will mature over the seven years following his start as a homicide detective, and he’s still essentially a good person who wants to put away bad guys, but it’s worth noting that he’s fairly easy to dislike to start out.  He also obtains evidence illegally to help put the bad guy away pretty early on in the show, without any real moral qualms, which is kind of dark for CBS.  He shares some characteristics with The Wire’s (the only time in this review you will hear me compare Golden Boy and The Wire) Jimmy McNulty, except that Jimmy is a lot more charming straight off the bat and has earned his stripes.  The second interesting aspect is that two of the four major police characters, Owen and Arroyo, pretty much hate each other.  Cops often get into spats on other shows, but rarely do two straight out not get along at all.

At the end of the episode, we find out that Arroyo, who had been nicer to Clark as the episode went on, backstabbed him, getting his name in a newspaper as responsible for leaking a story to the press.  In addition, mentor and partner Owen tells Clark a story of two dogs fighting, which Clark told us in the seven years later segment at the beginning of the episode, as they bond together at the shooting range.

The flashforward gimmick (which I would like to use another chance to point out is the most overused gimmick in TV and one which I would like to see cut down at least in half) is used to ratchet up suspense, by letting us know in this first episode that a bunch of crazy shit is going to go down, but the tension will lie in waiting to see how it happens.  These include the alleged death of Clark’s  partner, a murder suicide, and a precinct shoot out.  So, future Golden Boy viewers, now you know what you have to look forward to; if you didn’t know that, it would merely be surprising at the time it happened, but now you can watch every episode asking yourself, “is this where the murder suicide happens?”

Will I watch it again?  No.  I did point out, and I think it’s worth noting, that it strays from typical crime procedurals in a couple of important ways, and credit is due to the Golden Boy creators for that.  Additionally it seems like there’s likely to be a stronger serial plot than in many classic CBS procedurals, like CSI, NCIS, and Criminal Minds.  Still, at its heart, it’s a police procedural, and it’s very hard to get me to actually care enough about these to watch regularly.  Quick shout out for being actually filmed in New York, there’s a great shot of the High Line early in the episode.

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