It’s a morning of mediocrity in my apartment.
On my TV, I’m watching Germany and Uruguay compete for the desultory honor of being this World Cup’s third best nation. And on my computer, I’m reviewing the new A&E drama “The Glades.”
That’s not giving enough credit to Germany and Uruguay, who can mostly hold their heads high after producing myriad World Cup highlights. Somebody’s gotta finish third and they’re both worthy teams.
And that’s probably giving too much credit to “The Glades.” Between this new offering, Syfy’s “Haven,” TNT’s “Memphis Beat” and ABC’s “Rookie Blue,” I’ve given up on trying to find new ways to write “generic investigative procedural.” Of that lot, “The Glades” isn’t the worst of the lot, but it may be the most forgettable, though the competition for that title is rather intense.
There’s really not that much to say about “The Glades” (I know why Sepinwall did a joint review for this one, plus “Haven”), but I’ll give it a shot after the break…
“The Glades” is a step back for A&E’s scripted development. “The Cleaner,” which brought original drama back to the network, was on-brand with “Intervention” and, with Benjamin Bratt, was toplined by a sturdy and established TV star. “The Beast” could have been a real hit on CBS and featured the best performance of the late Patrick Swayze’s career.
The best thing I can say about “The Glades” and its contribution to the A&E legacy is that my screener DVD smelled like oranges, an smell-o-vision innovation I’m relieved wasn’t started for FX’s “Louie.”
Aussie actor Matt Passmore stars as Jim Longworth, a brash and cocky homicide detective who leaves his job in Chicago amidst some sort of scandal and takes a new job with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement in the fictional town of Palm Glade.
[And yes, if you’re paying attention, “hard-nosed cops leaving Chicago in disgrace for seemingly more bucolic surroundings” are now one away from becoming a summer trend. I wonder if Longworth and Frank Grillo’s character in “The Gates” used to work in the same precinct together.]
In my review of “Haven,” I complained at the inept writing that introduced Emily Rose’s character asleep, rather than actively doing something that would properly and immediately define her. I should then compliment “Glades” creator Clifton Campbell for his introduction of Longworth. The episode begins with two teens finding a body in the swamp. Very straight-forward. A call goes through to Longworth and we find him out on the golf course, where he’s more invested in breaking 80 than he is in finding the killer. It’s not that he’s bad at his job. No, he’s excellent at his job, but he’s moved to Florida so that he can reprioritize and in this case, he’s not above using his powers to cordon off his most recent golf shot as a crime scene so that he’ll be able to return after solving the crime.
I wanted to compliment that character introduction, because the rest of what we learn about Longworth is conveyed through horribly written declarative sentences unconnected to what we can see with our own eyes.
After Longworth expresses a smart hunch to an interrogation room witness, for example, he’s asked, “Are you like a forensics expert?”
He replies, “I’m an expert in all things homicidal… There isn’t much about murder I don’t know or can’t figure out, if I just keep asking the right questions.”
That is BAD writing. That’s a line that should appear in a script’s stage directions, e.g. “JIM LONGWORTH is a rakish former Chicago cop. He’s an expert in all things homicidal. There isn’t much about murder he doesn’t know or can’t figure out, if he just keeps asking the right questions.” But even for a cocky character, having him come out and say that is just clunky and lazy. His cockiness is displayed throughout the pilot and with good writing, viewings would be able to respect him for asking the right questions without having to be told in advance that the questions he asks are the right ones.
Anyway, Longworth is annoyed by everybody around him for not living up to his level of genius, but since he isn’t necessarily displaying the vaunted genius (unlike, say, Dr. House), there’s something less-than-likeable about his bombast. Although his partner (John Carroll Lynch) is obviously subpar, when Longworth is condescending to his coroner buddy (Carlos Gomez), it comes across as smug. Then, when he eventually shows respect for mom-and-nurse Callie (Kiele Sanchez), that doesn’t play right either, since the love interest character doesn’t immediately show any traits to make her worthy of his admiration, other than her hotness.
Structurally, a weird thing happens in the pilot for “The Glades”: There’s a core murder mystery, but Longworth barely has to do any investigative work on that one at all. Meanwhile, his brilliant mind is used on a B-plot involving the two kids who find the body, a B-plot that doesn’t amount to much of anything, crime-wise. The B-story at least proves a welcome distraction to how uninvolving the A-story is and ends up taking up much more screentime. I don’t think that’s a reproducible formula.
And it’s not as if Florida has been an under-represented location for crime stories. The “Glades” pilot plays like a low-tech episode of “CSI: Miami” was bred with a low-humor Carl Hiaasen book. There aren’t hints of “Miami Vice,” “Dexter,” “Burn Notice” or Elmore Leonard thus far, but I’m sure they’re coming. The snapping alligators, hanging Spanish moss and clear blue sky backdrops just aren’t novel enough to obfuscate the excessive familiarity elsewhere.
That puts a lot of pressure on Passmore, who is the latest degradation from the Aussie Alpha Male mold that brought you Russell Crowe, then Simon Baker, then Nicholas Bishop with diminishing returns. Passmore is easy enough on the eyes, I guess, that some people will give him a pass, but too much of the character hinges on his ability to sell his charismatically anti-social dialogue. Instead, he’s too busy stumbling over an American accent that initially comes across as “Southern,” but eventually turns out merely to be “Australian, with shadings of Generic Mid-Atlantic.” I look forward to the early season episode where Passmore has to pretend to be Australian for some reason so that we can at least get a hint of whether the guy can act. [Note: Please don’t come tell me how great Passmore may or may not have been on “McLeod’s Daughters” or “Underbelly” and that therefore I’m criticizing him unfairly. It doesn’t mean he can play American any more or less than Tom Cruise having been great in “Magnolia” means he could play Irish in “Far & Away.” That’s exactly the attitude that leads American casting directors to assume any random foreign actor can be brought in to play an American character simply because Hugh Laurie is so masterful. The fact is, casting directors have decided that American actors aren’t manly enough to play this sort of character anymore, on both the big and small screen. If I’m an up-and-coming American actor, I’m half-way between offended and ready to quit at this point.]
The supporting cast is generally capable enough. I like getting to see Gomez do more than playing Generic Latino Cop A in various procedurals, while Sanchez has always been a useful commodity, if you ask me. Check out the film “The Perfect Getaway,” an underrated little B-movie, for a sense of how very capable she is of being both strong and sexy. And Lynch contributes his reliable level of awkward discomfort. All are fine.
What I’d need from future episodes of “The Glades” is a stronger sense of purpose for why this character is interesting or why this location is interesting. I need a better idea of why this was a show A&E wanted to be a part of. So far, viewers are likely to be at a loss.
“The Glades” premieres on A&E on Sunday, July 11 at 10 p.m.