If you didn’t think Netflix was aiming for the broadcast networks' hearts when it handed over huge paychecks and development deals to Shonda Rhimes and Kenya Barris, then the new police series The Good Cop is perhaps more proof that the streaming service is gunning for that share of the television viewing audience. From Monk creator Andy Breckman, the new series immediately feels like it would have been at home as part of the fall 2018 lineup for CBS or USA — if USA were still making the sort of shows it did just a few years ago. It’s a fairly standard police procedural, infused with a little comedy and a dash of interpersonal drama on account of Tony Danza, who’s playing recently paroled corrupt cop Tony Caruso, a guy who also happens to be the father of the astonishingly straight-laced cop, Tony Jr. (or T.J.), played by Josh Groban, who is perhaps better known for his career as a singer and songwriter.
At first glance, Groban’s casting as a cop and son to Tony Danza seems off. After watching the first episode, however, it becomes clear how deliberately off the casting actually is. Along with turning Danza’s somewhat roguish nice-guy persona that he cultivated on Who’s the Boss into a character who actually lacks scruples - yet is still remarkably likable - Breckman has doubled down on The Odd Couple-ness of it all by creating a scenario in which these two unlikely actors would play father and son. Groban’s part is so glaringly weird it actually becomes one of the most interesting things about the series.
Groban is solid as the obsessively honest cop T.J., the antithesis of his father whether on duty or off, but it’s Danza who provides The Good Cop with its necessary (and only real) spark. He also allows The Good Cop to have the bad cop it wants without actually resorting to any of the same old antihero cliches that seem passé now. For Breckman and Danza, Tony’s corruption is a thing of the past. Sure, he still thinks that rules don’t apply to him, but he’s not hijacking trucks and fencing the stolen goods anymore; he’s content taking a (probably stolen) big screen television from one of his friends (one of those former associates the conditions of his parole forbid him from having contact with) and engaging in the occasional bit of friendly gambling at his local watering hole (another condition of his parole he’s chosen to ignore). The bottom line is the series isn’t really interested in examining the morality of Tony Caruso so much as it wants to use him as a way of measuring the degree to which his son is… well, a good cop.
Because the tone of the series is like that of Monk — sort of a comedy, sort of a drama, but not entirely committed to either enough to be classified as such — The Good Cop aims to use the fact that T.J. is a rule-obsessed stick in the mud as the his defining characteristic. The push and pull between Tony Sr.’s inherent criminality and T.J.’s fondness for suggesting breaking a single rule jeopardizes them all is presented as the reason to watch the show, but once it becomes clear there is no real conflict between father and son, and that they merely tolerate (or maybe even appreciate) one another’s differences, the series begins to rely much more on a tepid crime-of-the-week (or episode in this case) style procedural format that leaves something to be desired.
Both The Wire’s Isiah Witlock Jr. and Monica Barbaro (Splitting Up Together) help round out a fine supporting cast, but it feels as times as though they’re performing the same function within the show and that The Good Cop doesn’t necessarily need both. But there’s no character more superfluous than Ryan (Bill Kottkamp) the “wacky” member of NYPD’s All City Homicide Squad who spends most of the pilot dealing with a smart watch that emits an alarm when he needs to hydrate. The alarm vexes Witlock’s character in a way that’s meant to be funny, but Witlock is far funnier on his own, often as a cop on the verge of retirement who’s simply too old for this s**t. But all the unobjectionable cop show antics and mechanical approach to the episodic crimes needing to be solved make The Good Cop feel too much like every other so-so police procedural in recent years.
The real draw here, of course, is Danza, who is charming and likable, and brings an exuberant kind of energy to every scene he’s in. As such, he plays well off Groban, who is much more subdued around his on-screen father, but that level of restraint isn’t always as successful when he’s alone with other members of the cast. There’s an interesting father-son dynamic waiting to be explored here, which means The Good Cop would be better off focusing on that instead of chasing hackneyed procedural storylines that can be seen on any number of cop shows on TV.
The Good Cop season 1 is streaming on Netflix.