You’ll Like It You Already Like: Any straight police procedural show.
Likely timeslot: Monday at 10 (one of the few slots available where there’s no Dick Wolf show on NBC)
No, it’s not a typo in the article’s title: this show produced by Dick Wolf is really for CBS! F.B.I. will be Wolf’s first drama series to launch on a network other than NBC in 15 years, since the 2003 Dragnet reboot on ABC that didn’t last long. So what happened? The project was originally developed at NBC but with Wolf’s Chicago franchise expanding, taking 3 hours in the schedule, plus veteran Law & Order:SVU still alive and new iteration Law & Order True Crime coming, there was simply not slot available for it in NBC’s slate of procedurals. So it made sense for him to look to expand his brand elsewhere and CBS was the logical first destination since the eye network is known for its crime procedurals. NBC will still get some money out of it anyway since Universal is co-producing F.B.I. with CBS. The only downside here is that they won’t be able to crossover the show with Chicago PD (or any other), something they probably would have done on NBC. CBS was so happy to get a Wolf show that they ordered it straight-to-series with a 13-episode commitment, without any writer attached and of course any script ready. Former The Good Wife executive producer Craig Turk was then recommended for the job by CBS, being one of the top drama writers on CBS TV Studios’ roster. And here we are!
So, F.B.I… Could they find a more generic title than this? It sums up the whole concept of the show, really. In that regard, it is perfect. Though they could have added “: New York“, cos’ knowing both Wolf and CBS, if it works for them, we will get the Los Angeles & Miami versions sooner or later! There’s a definitive lack of ambition, as the logline can attest, and it’s a choice. It’s not like they were trying to make something crazy original and they totally failed in the end. No, they were just aiming at a simple, straight-forward crime procedural since the beginning. No fat. But is it a smart move in 2018? Don’t you need a hook, even in a procedural, to bring interest? I think the reasoning behind is quite easy: Dick Wolf is a brand, and people who love his brand don’t want anything that would deviate from it. No high-concept. No strange consultant. No magic. So Wolf is bringing exactly what people are supposedly looking for from him. And from CBS. Haters gonna hate. Lovers gonna love! I don’t consider myself as a hater of Dick’s work but I can’t say that I’m a fan either. I always find his shows bland and F.B.I. kinda is too. It’s never really about the characters. It’s about the case of the week and the investigation. And sometimes, when there’s a little time left, they throw us crumbs of information about the investigators’ private lives. Like a well-deserved reward. That’s what happens here. When the pilot ends, we know one thing about every principal character. Which is already a lot I guess from such a show.
That being said, F.B.I. is as efficient as a procedural can get and it’s fast-paced. The situation is quickly set. The investigation starts two pages in. You’re given twists and cliffhangers every 8-10 minutes or so. You get a proper conclusion in the last two pages. Nothing’s left to your imagination. And it’s done. Again: no fat. There’s still some kind of ambition though, I was lying earlier. The case they chose to tackle is quite strong and heavy. Terrorism. In New York. Nothing original here either. But bombs explode, buildings collapse. It’s gonna cost a lot of money! So it starts with two bombs detonating at a working-class South Bronx apartment complex, injuring many and killing a local 7-year old boy. It’s quite horrifying, so you’re either hooked or disgusted. And then it’s the whole city that’s under a major bomb threat. Another one is found at a community center and our agents are in the constant fear of a new one exploding anywhere. The stakes are high. It must be impressive for people who never saw any of 24, Homeland or more recently Quantico. For the others, it’s business as usual. But once again, it’s well made and once you’re in, you just stay. Unless you’re not into cellphone melted on a guy’s burnt leg and other digusting things like that. Will they be able, budget-wise, to go as big in every episode? Probably not. It’s gonna become quieter I guess. Once the dust settles, they will have to be careful not to enter the boring zone…
The characters are instantly working, maybe because we meet them right into the action, and then they never sleep, never quit. You have Maggie Bell -skilled, intellectual, emotional- hard not to like, the real heroine here; Otilio Abraham “OA” Casillas -former undercover DEA operative, instinctual, grizzled- very typical; Jubal Valentine, an experienced agent who thrives on stress -and adds a hint of humor-; Kristen Yessayen, a highly intelligent analyst; Ian Lentz, a forensic technology expert; and finally Ellen Toy, the deeply respected boss, who’s elegant, cultured, disarmingly direct and impossible to intimidate. Love her already. It’s a really good team on paper and the actors they chose, especially Jeremy Sisto and Connie Nielsen, are always great. Again, F.B.I. is very low-key on the character’s private lives and doesn’t introduced any serialized elements. At some point, Maggie says : “I eat dinner with Kristen in the office most nights and neither of us have a personal life to talk about.” We’ve been warned! We’re not in Shondaland, we’re in Dickland. Oopsie. Wolfland sounds better!
F.B.I. is your go-to procedural, Dick Wolf by the book product. It’s exactly what you expect from him. It fits perfectly with CBS actual line-up and might be the beginning of a lucrative franchise… unless viewers are looking for something else these days, in the era of peak TV. It will probably skew old, even though most of the characters are young, but it’s CBS best chance at success next year, it seems. Go Dick, do your thing!