Training Day (CBS) pilot preview: The better than expected sequel of the year

TRAININGDAY

Pilot “Apocalypse Now” written and executive produced by Will Beall (Castle, Gangster Squad). Directed by Danny Cannon (Gotham, Nikita, CSI, Judge Dredd). Also executive produced by Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, Southpaw, Brooklyn’s Finest, Shooter, Equalizer), Jerry Bruckheimer (CSI, Cold Case, Without a Trace, Lucifer, Pirates of Caribbean), Jonathan Littman, KristieAnne Reed Barry Schindel (Law & Order, Castle, Numb3rs, Unforgettable). For CBS, Warner Bros. Television, Jerry Bruckheimer Television & Fuqua Films. 65 pages.

Description: Kyle Craig, an idealistic young African-American police officer who lost his father who was also a cop, is appointed by Chief Deputy Hoyt to an elite squad of the LAPD where he is partnered with a seasoned, morally ambiguous Caucasian veteran detective, Frank Rourke. They’ll soon understand they’re looking for the exact same thing, but they don’t operate the same way…

With Justin Cornwell, Bill Paxton (Big Love, Agents of SHIELD, Apollo 13, Titanic, Aliens), Katrina Law (Arrow, Spartacus: Blood and sand, Legend of the seeker), Drew Van Acker (Devious Maids, Pretty Little Liar), Lex Cox Davis (Unbreak My Heart), Julie Benz (Defiance, Dexter, Desperate Housewives, Angel, Buffy)…

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After Beverly Hills Cop –that didn’t make it to series– Limitless, which started okay before becoming one more disappointment –it was supposed to skew younger than most of their shows, it skews older– and Rush Hour, which is the disaster it was always supposed to be, CBS is trying to turn one more movie into a TV series. When director Antoine Fuqua & original producer Jerry Bruckheimer pitched the idea of a Training Day series to the networks, FOX seemed to be a natural fit. But CBS won it, not without a fight. It’s hard to imagine what they could do with such a beloved and gritty property –for which Denzel Washington won an Oscar– except destroying it and making it as bland as they can. Remember the definition of gritty for them is Criminal Minds. While Fuqua was supposed to direct the pilot, he had to quit because of scheduling issues with his next movie The Magnificient Seven. One bad news leading to another: Ethan Hakwe, who was offered to reprise his role as Hoyt, declined for reasons unknown. However, does it stand a chance to get a series order? I’d say yes. Because it’s not that bad.

In fact, it’s pretty good overall, if you just forget about the movie. Those who haven’t seen it may even really like the show, as long as they are into action detective dramas. It’s not as gritty as the movie was, considering the fact that we’re not on cable and that CBS likes to keep things light, but it’s not as tepid and generic as most of their shows were or still are. It’s a good compromise, or so it seems on paper. There’s even ambition directing-wise. Hoping Danny Cannon has the same vision and talent as Fuqua. He is responsible for the CSI pilot, which was something new at the time. More recently, he directed the pilot of Gotham. It should be okay.

The teaser scene pretty much sums up what they want the show to be. It’s a mix between Kyle’s voiceover telling his story and his dad’s –the message being: it’s a character driven series, not a simple procedural– slow motion images of Kyle exploding through a window to catch a baby who’s falling from a balcony after the son of a bitch he’s pursuing dangled the baby off –the message being: you’ll get a lot of stylized action in our show– and documentary footage of actual Los Angeles like the Walk of Fame, girls in bikinis on rooftops, plus iconic images from its past like OJ and the famous gloves, Phil Spector’s courtroom hairdo, the North Hollywood shootout, earthquakes –the message being: we also want to tell the story of a city, how it was before and how it is now, from the post-card places everybody dream of all around the world to the dangerous districts where the police itself doesn’t want to go. So they have a lot to say. But…

… their goal number one is to entertain the audience. And to do so, there’s the character of Frank Rourke, played by the excellent Bill Paxton, who’s the only real good and charismatic actor in there. I don’t know about newcomer Justin Cornwell as Kyle, but Drew Van Acker, Katrina Law, Lex Cox Davis and Julie Benz –who appears just for one scene– are mostly good-looking. No nonsense, grumpy and cynical Frank is a lot of fun. Every time he opens his mouth, it’s to say something hurtful and/or funny. My favorite pick-up line is : “Snitching is like looking at porn or listening to ABBA: everybody does it behind close doors, but nobody admits to it.” Or “Police work is like sex : it’s a lot more efficient when it’s not pretty.” The dialogues are great and Paxton will deliver them just the perfect way. That’s for sure. In comparison, the secondary characters –who all have a dark side of course, and every cliché are used– come out as a bit weak. They need to be strengthened up as the show goes on. There’s a serialized story in there, very classical, very CBS-like, about the mystery behind Kyle’s dad and his suspicious and unexplained death. Of course, Frank knew him… I wish they had come up with something more original but at least it’s not just a case of the week.

The CBS version of Training Day is better than expected. It’s not bold and it’s not new, it’s not as realistic, raw and thorough as the movie was 15 years ago, but it’s punchy, pretty intense, quite funny and grittier than the other network’s shows. There’s nothing to be ashamed of here. I’m concerned though about its chances of success. It won’t be easy to impose it whether it’s behind the NCIS franchise or their comedies… 

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