What a strange line it is. It comes very close to the beginning of Tuesday's premiere of “Golden Boy” on CBS. (On at 10 p.m. for two weeks in the “Vegas” time slot. Then it moves to Fridays.)
To explain the weirdness of the line delivered by Chi McBride, you have to explain the premise of the series. Which is that a guy named Walter Clark (Theo James) becomes the youngest police commissioner in the history of New York City. He's explaining how he got that way to a New York Times reporter played by Richard Kind.
It seems that seven years earlier, he'd reacted heroically during a street shootout – killed a couple bad guys and saved a hostage held closely by one of them. Then he saved his own wounded partner.
On a wave of worshipful publicity, the police commissioner at the time told uniformed officer Clark that he'd get a detective's gold shield and the pick of any department on the force.
Young Clark chose homicide – not major cases as everyone else advised, but homicide. Crème de la crème. The pampered and spoiled kid's new department captain, of course, pairs the wildly ambitious new kid not with the hot shot of homicide but the wily old veteran just a couple years from retirement, a huge black bear of a man played by that memorable TV sourpuss Chi McBride (fondly remembered as the long-suffering school principal of David E. Kelley's “Boston Public”).
The kid has much to learn for all his native ability, and the ursine and peevish old vet is just the right guy to teach him.
On their first day together, the old guy sarcastically holds the squad car door open for the new young detective with the direct pipeline to the commissioner's office. The kid makes a move to get in the car. The old guy closes the door right in his face.
He says, “What am I, Morgan Freeman? Open your own damn door.”
Obviously, if you think about it the reference is to Freeman's chauffeur role in “Driving Miss Daisy,” but using that one role to emblematize Freeman's whole extraordinary career is almost bafflingly nasty. We're talking about an actor who partnered with Brad Pitt in “Se7en” and Clint Eastwood in “Unforgiven,” an actor who played God in a Jim Carrey comedy and Tim Robbins' pal in “The Shawshank Redemption.”
We're talking about a fellow who won the American Film Institute Lifetime Achievement Award that had been previously won by the likes of Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles and John Ford. (All right, Freeman was a wee bit of a ringer for that one, but the transparency of the gesture didn't make it a bad one. )
Those awards are, to a shocking degree, all about who can sell big tickets to fancy-schmancy Hollywoodians, and in such a long and distinguished career, they obviously felt that Freeman had been such a popular man on so many film sets that he'd sell a lot of tickets.)
So why is this new TV show making gratuitous nasty cracks about an actor that misrepresent his entire career? Cracks that you have to think about a little to even decipher? And why is it coming out of the mouth of an actor as good as Chi McBride?
There could well be some behind-the-camera factor we don't know. But then, it also fits in with what the show is about – a new, ridiculously pampered fair-haired boy blasting his way into one police department division with an explosion of good publicity and all the jealousy and departmental nastiness his onset unleashes.
“Golden Boy,” to be frank, is a bad TV show with a great subject – workplace jealousy, nastiness and hard feelings. I've only seen two episodes of it thus far, and I've got to say the basic idea is a strong one: what happens when a talented young hero so believes in his own publicity that he upsets all the touchy egos and feelings of his brand new co-workers, especially the hotshot only a couple years older who had gotten used to being the division's fair-haired boy? (You can, by the way, watch the entire pilot on CBS.com if you don't want to wait until Tuesday.)
Yeah. Sure. You can make a TV series out of that, especially a cop show.
But it really needs to be as well-written as it is well-acted.
It's not. Not even close. I'll say this – of the two episodes of the show I've seen, the second is by far the better one, and you really can't understand what makes it so unless you watch the pilot on Tuesday (or online).
It's a pedagogical romance, that ancient old form wherein the experienced old guy imparts all of his hard-won wisdom to the avid and needy young novice (See Virgil and Dante in “The Divine Comedy” if you want to get fancy. Or Falstaff and Prince Hal in “Henry IV, Part One.”)
The creator of the show is Nicholas Wootton, a fellow with some nice credits (“NYPD Blue”) and others not-so-nice or promising for this kind of show (he was the executive producer of “Chuck”).
It's all in the writers. And you simply can't predict in advance what will result.
If you just looked at the credits for Robert Doherty in IMDB and Wikipedia, you wouldn't be much impressed by all of its generic fantasy. Nothing in his past life prepares you for the creative leap he took creating “Elementary” and casting Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu as Sherlock Holmes and Watson. Where on earth do flashes of invention like that come from? Lord only knows, but it characterizes the whole series thus far.
A whole TV series about workplace tensions among nasty, envious cops, full of backstabbings, maneuverings and naked hostilities, could have made “Golden Boy” something to see.
What I've seen so far is no such thing. It's going to take patience and dedication to sit down and watch that third episode.
What I still don't know yet – and probably won't until we get closer to the show's premiere April 4 – is whether I'll be able to watch more than one episode of the upcoming series “Hannibal,” in which the mind of Thomas Harris – the most malevolently influential in all of American pop culture – comes to us completely unmediated and weekly in a TV series about (no kidding) Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter and his tormented FBI captor and advisee Will Graham.
They first appeared in Harris' exceptional book “Red Dragon,” which was made by Michael Mann into the extraordinary film “Manhunter” and then, once again, in the film “Red Dragon” by Bret Ratner. What happened when Jonathan Demme and Anthony Hopkins got on the case in the adaptation of Harris' novel “The Silence of the Lamb” is, of course, crucial to the popular imagination of our time.
We've seen so many TV series so obviously in thrall and imitation of Harris' imagination that to some it might seem long overdue to make one directly out of his most famous character.
To others of us, it seems like one of the most truly awful ideas we've encountered in a long while.
Hannibal Lecter? WEEKLY? On an NBC series? Say what?
Could exploitation get more naked than that?
The series creator is Bryan Fuller, who previously gave us “Pushing Daisies” and, yes, that tragically short-lived little wonderment whose setting was just a few miles away, “Wonderfalls.”
Turning Hannibal Lecter into a weekly banality amid a prime-time smorgasbord so full of copycats (the latest is Kevin Williamson's dandy weekly nightmare “The Following”) seems, sight unseen, like one of the crummier TV ideas in a long time, even for a network with a recent history of clumsiness as rich as NBC's.
But hey, its creator was once smart enough to give us “Wonderfalls.”
You never know what truly good writers can do on TV until you watch.