Detroit 187 is ABC’s newest addition to the television procedural this season. Initially conceived as a real-life documentary, the intent was to follow around officers as they made their rounds in Detroit, Michigan. Unfortunately, the series had to quickly adapt as an intense police shoot-out had officials changing their minds about filming in Michigan City.
Many months, and some casting decisions, later we’ve got Michael Imperioli back on the alphabet network with gun in tow. Most recently, Imperioli played Detective Ray Carling in the Americanized version of the British television classic Life on Mars. Unfortunately, Life on Mars was an embarrassing adaptation that barely lasted one season.
So, here we are, at the beginning of a new fall season with Imperioli stepping up to the plate again. Will a new police drama based in a city other than New York or Los Angeles, mixed with a unique documentary style, prove to be a winner?
Preview (courtesy of ABC)
Detectives Washington and Fitch investigate a double homicide at a pharmacy. Was it a drug theft gone bad or something else entirely? Meanwhile, Longford and Mahajan try to track down the killer of an attorney (an attorney with plenty of enemies). When both cases intersect, the detectives are in a race against time to stop the killing spree, culminating in a high-speed pursuit and a perilous standoff, putting the cops in harm's way.
This season, ABC appears to be utilizing a documentary look for two prospective television pilots - in an attempt to bring a new twist to television’s tired genres. Fortunately, out of the two series given this stylizing – My Generation being the other – Detroit 187 comes out on top. Unfortunately, after seeing My Generation, you’ll realize that coming out on top isn’t exactly a hard feat to accomplish (considering Generation's poor execution).
Jokes aside, Detroit 187 is a solid series.
In the beginning, Detroit 187’s pilot can seem a bit contrived and the use of cameras and poorly designed title cards could quickly derail some viewers. Personally, I think it's merely the series trying to find itself. Thankfully, as the episode progresses and the story gains focus, the show's initial vision becomes clearer. A vision that may deliver a great television drama.
While shows like Southland have attempted, and unfortunately failed, to bring a more realistic look to police procedurals through the use of documentary-style cinematography, there’s a clear difference in Detroit 187's execution. In Detroit 187, the documentary style has a purpose - as an actual documentary crew is following the various characters around, through their day to day routine. Of course, the description doesn't do the show justice, and probably brings about comparisons to reality television shows - such as COPS. On some level, that comparison may be correct, but smart direction helps to set Detroit 187 apart from any stigma.
Aside from the unique camerawork, Detroit 187 has a slew of odd and intriguing characters. Don’t get me wrong, many of the characters you’ll see are pretty much cookie-cutter figures from almost every police procedural to date, but the show manages to make the characters feel new and refreshing. Taking time away from chasing criminals, Detroit 187 gives each character time to develop on screen. A choice that serves to propel the series from one episode to another, allowing the characters room to grow - since each assigned case has the audience focusing on the task at hand
The true testament of Detroit 187’s potential as a television series is in the pilot’s final act. While Michael Imperioli’s character, Det. Louis Fitch, is mostly a cliché through-out, a hostage situation elevates him past the “crazy detective” character that he’s been playing from the start. His latent character arc, combined with the documentary-look, delivers a stand-off that is as captivating as it is unique.
Ultimately, Detroit 187 wouldn’t work if it didn’t have the documentary look, nor would it work if it were simply another uninspired police procedural. This series works because it takes new elements mixed with old elements and develops them to their fullest potential.
… I only hope that future episodes will allow Detroit 187 to live up to that potential.
At times, the documentary style of Detroit 187 adds refreshing and intriguing elements that prevent this series from becoming another run-of-the-mill police procedural. Unfortunately, that same documentary style also hurts Detroit 187 when awkward looks into the camera and the numerous, annoying title cards instantly take the viewer out of the story. That being said, there’s no doubt that if you watch the series premiere, you’ll be tuning in next week.
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