You’ll like it if you already like: Castle, Rookie Blue, The Good Doctor, 9-1-1…
Likely timeslot: Monday at 10, Tuesday at 10, Wednesday at 10 – wherever
This pilot season, ABC has one big obsession: their next crime drama hit! It’s been almost two years now that Castle is gone and no replacement has been found yet. (#RIPConviction) What better way to do so than hiring back Castle last showrunner Alexi Hawley & ex-Castle star Nathan Fillion? Seems almost too easy, right? They ordered The Rookie straight-to-series in a competitive situation with no script ready yet, just those names and a big producer attached they’re used to work with: Mark Gordon. It happened the same way for Designated Survivor not so long ago, with mixed results. It’s always a risky move but they got lucky this time: it’s a convincing one, totally on brand with the Alphabet network, as a light fare they’re craving for right now. And it’s the kind of show that they could put in any slot, it’d have a real chance to find its audience. From where we are now -far from the may upfronts- it already looks like a winner to me.
The Rookie works a bit like The Good Doctor initially -which can’t be a bad thing- since John Nolan is put in a similar situation than Shaun Murphy: he’s the odd man out in a place he’s not familiar with where a lot of people don’t want him there for various reasons… so they treat him like shit. Nolan is not autistic and doesn’t have any syndrome that makes him brilliant. He’s just “old”. Old means he may be wiser than his new colleagues twenty years younger than him thanks to his “life experience”, as they say politely. But his age doesn’t prevent him from being fearless and having a bit of fun when needed. His secret weapon? He’s more interested in the people he’s helping than the other rookies who are very much focused on themselves and how they perform. They certainly have to teach him a few things though, and not just about what music he should listen to. The personal story of Nolan is a bit emotional since he’s just been through a divorce while his son has gone to college. He needed to reinvent itself, to pursue his dream and he’s basically telling us that it’s never too late. That’s inspiring and it will strike a chord with the viewers I guess. He’s exactly doing what few people dare in real life. How could you not root for him?
Even though Nolan is at the center of the show, it works mostly as an ensemble -very diverse by the way- with scenes without him. His fellow rookies have their own set of stories and challenges. Lucy Benitez is trying to prove that she can do the job despite people looking down on her for being a woman and Latina, while Jackson West is the son of a high ranking officer following in his family’s footsteps who doesn’t seem to be ready for the high-pressure he’s exposed to. They’re all assigned to a training officer and it’s always a pair of a woman and a man, which is interesting since we don’t get to see very often women teaching men on television. It creates different dynamics. Talia Bishop is a newly promoted training officer whose first assignment is Nolan; Tim Bradford is an overbearing and not nice one paired with Lucy; and Angela is a no nonsense korean american who’s hard on Jackson but it’s just what he needs. They all have tough first days: Nolan sees someone getting killed; Jackson unnecessarily tase a homeless person, Lucy is being tested at every turn by Tim like she can’t be trusted. But don’t worry: it’s mostly a lot of fun. They tease each other all the time, there’s always someone to crack a joke here and there. ABC labels it as “comedic” and they’re not lying.
The Rookie shares some DNA with another hit of this season: FOX’s 9-1-1. Forget Ryan Murphy’s extravaganza, they’re trying to be more realistic and true to what’s really happening in the streets of L.A, though some cases are more spectacular or emotional than others. I don’t know about their exact action perimeter but they can be visiting a poor neighborhood in one scene and Hollywood Boulevard in another. But don’t expect any investigation here. They’re not detectives. They’re cops. And not cops who investigate. They get a call, they drive, they run, they catch the bad guys. It’s a lot of action and adrelanine, it’s fast paced and you never have time to get bored (Fillion will need to get in shape or he’ll look ridiculous). You go from one mission to another, from one team to another; and the last mission of the pilot reunites them all in a grand finale. You get to know the characters through their missions, but also with what’s happening before and after, and when they’re not working. That’s how a few soapy elements are introduced. For example, they avoid the traditional and very Castle-like “partners who are falling in love” since we discover late in the episode that Nolan & Lucy are sleeping together, not Nolan & Talia. We can call it a secret relationship, even if it’s mostly about sex for now. There’s just one thing that I don’t like about this: it’s once again about an older man being with a younger woman. That trope is tiring… But I’m confident they’ll play with it more than just using it since they seem to be determined to make something modern.
Why did ABC pick up so many crime drama pilots when they already have straight-to-series The Rookie? Of course, you can never be 100% sure a promising script will turn into a good pilot and then become a hit, they know better than that, but it’s not that hard to see that the Nathan Fillion-starrer has all it takes to become one. It’s fresh, funny and actiony, with characters you instantly care about. So I’ll start my new series of “pilot preview” articles with a bold prediction: The Rookie is ABC’s next international hit!