I visited my grandma this week.
My grandmother is a really nice Italian/Polish lady who spent most of her life in Central New Jersey before moving south to Florida. I don’t know if it’s because of her Jersey roots, relatively young grandmotherly age, or just sheer mental acuity but she’s always been a good hang.
This most recent visit was the first time I’d seen her since I began sharing my awful takes online for full-time gainful employment. Naturally she was really curious about the work and more specifically what kind of shows I was watching.
I rattled off some of my recent favorites, which lean toward streaming comedies like BoJack Horseman and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel or recent “prestige” cable dramas like Better Call Saul and The Americans. Understandably my grandma wasn’t very familiar with these shows. She doesn’t have Netflix or any other streaming service and rarely finds a reason to navigate to the other channels of her cable package.
A longtime watcher of CSI and all its spinoffs, my grandma has now moved on to the next generation of network (mostly CBS) programming. And why not? There’s nothing wrong with the CSI model. CSI, Bull (a current grandma favorite), and other procedurals feature plenty of episodes per season so the habitual time slot TV watcher can build up a solid fall through spring evening schedule. They’re also very lightly serialized so missing an episode isn’t a disaster.
Myself and the other pseudo intellectual “pop scientists” of my ilk have long been fascinated in tracking the ways that television is changing. The arrival of streaming seems to have not only ushered in a whole new medium but also blended together all other mediums into one giant blob of bingeable #content. For the most part, it’s been a fun experience to watch how our entertainment options have changed over the past decade. One thing we may have lost sight of, however, is that there were plenty of TV watchers who didn’t see anything wrong with the network model in the first place.
Enter The Good Cop. It appears that Netflix came to that realization about underserved (mostly older) generations of TV watchers long before I did. The Good Cop is the most network-esque streaming show yet and may as well have been created in a lab called “Things That Your Grandma Likes Industries.”
The Good Cop comes from Monk creator (Andy Breckman). Breckman brought Monk to USA Network long before the channel allowed everyone on Mr. Robot to utter the word “fuck” uncensored on cable television. Monk was essentially a CBS style procedural that used its cable digs to be…let’s say 10% more risqué than its network counterparts. It was a fun little show that won Tony Shaloub many unearned-but-you-can’t-be-mad-at-the-guy-because-it’s-Shaloub Emmys along the way. The Good Cop takes the basic procedural, crime-solving format of Monk and then starts to add grandma-friendly factors in it.
The Good Cop stars your mom’s boyfriend from Taxi Tony Danza as former dirty cop turned lovably dirty civilian Tony Caruso. Your grandma’s favorite Christmas album producer, Josh Groban plays Danza’s son, T.J. Caruso. The Caruso boys live together in a nice New York apartment mostly so that T.J. can keep an eye on his ne’er-do-well father. T.J. is a tried and true Boy Scout, fond of repeating his catch phrase “if one law breaks, they all do” and generally annoying his coworkers Cara Vasquez (Monica Barbaro), and Burl Loomis (Isiah Whitlock).
It’s almost startling just how closely The Good Cop hews to a network TV format. Each episode features an entirely new case to the point where any lesson learned or growth achieved from the previous episode is completely ignored. Every episode hovers in the 44 to 48-minute range – only a few minutes more than what something like Monk would be on terrestrial television with commercials.
All of this makes The Good Cop pretty fascinating as a capitalistic endeavor. For as pervasive as streaming services seem to be at the moment culturally, there is still that massive untapped market of traditional TV watchers like my grandmother. The Good Cop in terms of tone, sense of humor, plot mechanics, running time, and virtually everything else is almost completely indistinguishable from the Bulls of the TV world.
As a creative endeavor, however, The Good Cop is quite uneven. It’s barely a TV show in the sense that it’s so averse to any kind of serialization. Tony, T.J., Cara, and the other characters are never really given an opportunity to grow since every episode it’s as though they are replaced with clones that have no memory of the previous episode. This certainly prevents the show from reaching high at (or even artful) status. As simple entertainment, however, The Good Cop has its moments of value.
The cases featured in each episode are completely outlandish and utterly impossible but they are at least intriguing in a “person found hanging with nothing but a puddle of water below them” problem-solving sense. The show even adopts a pretty fun framing convention for revealing episode titles and teasing future ones. A lot of it the show and its sense of mystery is reminiscent of those old Two-Minute Mysteries books.
Beyond the simple brainteaser elements, The Good Cop has little else to offer. Its sense of humor is…old. Not offensive. Not unpleasant Not even completely unfunny…just old. It’s the kind of show that can generate an hour’s worth of jokes from a Mrs. Doubtfire-style drag plot. Sometimes its Abott and Costello-esque sensibilities work in its favor and it generates some moments of real charm, but those are few and far between.
Danza is undoubtedly the big headline going into this series but his character is a bit of a dud. Tony Caruso is routinely placed in situations that take credulity far past its breaking point and once he’s there he has little to offer. The show does nothing of note with the idea of this complex father-son relationship. T.J. cracks the occasional dry joke about his ex-con father and leaves the larger emotional implications of their dynamic completely hanging. Groban in his first big acting role is actually quite understated and appealing. I know why your grandma loves him so much now.
The Good Cop presents an interesting challenge to the critical industrial complex. Ostensibly we write reviews to articulate whether something is good or not. The Good Cop is not good. We can’t continue to ignore the other aspect of critical assessment though – letting people know if they would find the watching experience worth their time all the same. Can this be recommended to people? Absolutely! I just spent a few days eating fish tacos and watching Bull with one of them.