It doesn’t happen often, but occasionally an appendage can hijack an entire panel at the Television Critics Association press tour.
At our last panel for “Hung,” euphemisms flew fast and furious as a room of respectable reporters tried to avoid accosting the stars of an HBO pseudo-comedy with the word “penis.”
Nobody needed to be that coy at January’s panel for FOX’s “The Good Guys.” We hadn’t seen the show and most of us hadn’t read the script furnished by the network. We had little sense of the show’s style or substance, so we discussed what we had in front of us and by that I’m referring to Bradley Whitford’s mustache.
I can’t help but feel like our obsession with Whitford’s facial hair led directly to FOX’s decision to make the mustache into an equally billed third co-star in much of the “Good Guys” advertising.
Premiering on Wednesday (May 19) in a slightly weird audition episode *before* “American Idol” (rather than the post-“Idol” strategy FOX employed to launch “Glee” last spring), “Good Guys” feels a little raw and unformed in its pilot incarnation, but it doesn’t lack for charm and wit.
[More of a review of “Good Guys” after the break…]
Whitford and his mustache combine to become Dan Stark, a legendary Dallas detective more than 25 years past his prime. He used to be so famous they made a TV movie about him. Now he’s a dinosaur, living off a few frequently told anecdotes about his exploits with former partner Frank Savage and running through current partners like toilet paper. Babysitting Stark is the worst duty a cop can get stuck with and the job has now fallen to Jack Bailey (Colin Hanks), a by-the-books detective whose questionable mind-to-mouth filter gets him in trouble with the brass.
Stark and Bailey are stuck answering Code 58s, police jargon for “routine investigations,” which is probably the right place for Stark, who doesn’t believe in DNA and doesn’t know how to handle computer-machines. But even for all of his drinking and anti-social behavior, Stark still has the instincts of a good cop, even if those instincts are also decades past their sell-by date.
Creator Matt Nix’s sense of humor, quirky characters and love of genre tropes are evident in every frame of the “Good Guys” pilot, which gets a pleasantly distinctive look and feel from its location shooting. As with the best episodes of “Burn Notice,” “Good Guys” is able to instantly create a universe of colorful guest players — RonReaco Lee, Nia Vardalos and Tom Amandes — who make you laugh enough that what they’re actually doing to fill the time doesn’t matter.
The pacing of “Good Guys” is driven by the sharp dialogue, by a soundtrack loaded with dude-rock cliches and by several action scenes as effectively parodic as the recent paintball episode of NBC’s “Community.” If you like AC/DC, mustaches, muscle cars, mustaches, ludicrous gunfights and mustaches, “Good Guys” should provide a burst of energy to both your summer and to the Friday night slot FOX hopes to move the show to in the fall.
But if Nix’s strong points are evident in the “Good Guys” pilot there are also signs of his frequent sloppiness when it comes to making a core plot have the same entertainment value as the ephemera. No matter the fast-talking and the narrative trickiness in the pilot, “Good Guys” didn’t prove fully effective as a procedural. The pilot’s Code 58 investigation tied in a stole humidifier, a golf bag of money and The World’s No. 2 Assassin, but the police work itself was mostly a shaggy dog story. “Good Guys” achieves the hard-to-manage combination of moving with great speed, but also becoming a little tedious at times.
Part of what will prevent tedium in upcoming episodes, other than added storytelling confidence, is a little more investment in the characters.
Sepinwall didn’t warm instantly to Whitford, but I liked his performance. Associations with the “West Wing” star’s previous roles make it much easier to accept that this was a man who was once a hot shot and then simply stopped being able to keep up, or maybe just stopped trying. He still has moments of inspiration, but Whitford is so committed to his character’s disrepair that it’s hard to tell the inspiration from the really bad ideas.
I had more difficulty with Hanks, for two reasons: The first is that if you ever manage to fully get past the eerie flashbacks to Tom Hanks’ work in “Dragnet,” you’re a better man than I am. The second is is that the contradictions within the character are, at least for now, a bit too contradictory. I can’t quite see, at least not from the early writing and performance, the reconciliation between the brown-nosing, upwardly mobile side of Hanks’ character and the can’t-get-out-of-his-own-way screw-up who would get stuck with this bum duty. I’ve often liked Hanks in the past and I think the character will become more fully realized in future episodes.
The same had better be true of the two main female characters, because Jenny Wade and Diana Maria Riva are both wasted in the pilot, with far more time going to Nia Vardalos’ character, who may or may not have any role in future episodes. As a “Reaper” fan, I have especially high hopes for Wade, but other than a laid-on-thick Texas accent, her ADA character adds little.
“Good Guys” knows exactly what it wants to be and the ingredients of a good mismatched buddy cop series are here. I like the setting. I like the writing. I like the stars. I like the mustache. Finding a way to make the elements come together on a weekly basis is going to be the challenge for Nix and the writers, but I’ll definitely give “The Good Guys” a shot at finding its footing this summer.
“The Good Guys” premieres on Wednesday, May 19 at 8 p.m. Then it returns on June 7.