Bradley Whitford’s mustache has gotten third billing in most of Fox’s commercials for its new cop show “The Good Guys,” and that’s only half a joke.
Yes, the former “West Wing” star’s ‘stache looks ridiculous – a long, bushy Ned Flanders special that even Whitford admits creeps out the other parents when he takes his kids to school – but it also signals the kind of character he’s playing, and the kind of show “The Good Guys” (which Fox previews tomorrow at 8 Eastern before returning on Monday, June 7) wants to be.
“The Good Guys” comes from Matt Nix, who with “Burn Notice” has created a show that blends the best of ’80s TV tropes (wisecracks, explosions and good old-fashioned car chases) with more contemporary visuals and storytelling. With “The Good Guys,” Nix makes the combo more overt, casting Whitford as Dan Stark, a Dallas cop who still tries to do the job like he did in 1985 – back when men were men and had the mustaches to prove it – and Colin Hanks as his frustrated partner Jack Bailey, who’s always trying to drag Stark into the 21st century.
Stark doesn’t believe in DNA, and when Bailey suggests looking up some information on a computer, Stark snorts, “Computers. I can’t get used to them. Aren’t you worried they’re going to turn on you?”
Because of his caveman, shoot-first-and-ask-questions-much-much-later approach, Stark has been banished to working the most minor of cases – in the pilot, he and Bailey (stuck as Stark’s partner after correcting a superior’s grammar) try to track down a stolen humidifier – yet they somehow always turn into grander affairs involving shoot-outs, strip clubs and, of course, the rubber hitting the road.
We know from “Burn Notice” that Nix loves the kind of TV he grew up on, and so “Good Guys” aims to be as much spoof as celebration of Stark’s style of policing. Stark may not believe in DNA, but if placed in a shootout with the world’s second-best assassin (because the best was too busy at a film festival to take the assignment), he can hold his own.
And it’s in that desire to have it both ways – and to do it with Whitford as Stark – that I worry a little about the show.
Even that splendid, frightening mustache can’t entirely mask the Whitford who’s spent a career playing smug preppies, sometimes for good (“West Wing”), sometimes for evil (“Revenge of the Nerds 2”). He commits to the part (though he can’t always commit to the Texas accent), but it’s still Josh Lyman with a mustache, sliding across a table and firing a gun in slow-motion.
That works if Stark is just meant to be a joke, but becomes more problematic in the moments where we’re supposed to take him seriously, either as a cool action hero or a sad cautionary tale. The show would have been better-served, I think, casting someone you instantly buy as an ’80s relic, but who could also play comedy, as opposed to getting someone funny and then asking them to pull off the old-fashioned swagger. (The Dennis Franz of 15 or 20 years ago, for instance.)
Still, the show has style to burn, from a narrative that constantly rewinds and fast-forwards to fill in all the gaps Stark and Bailey are missing, to a soundtrack loaded up with songs from Stark’s glory days(*).
(*) True story: Fienberg (who hopes to have his own review of “Good Guys” up at his blog before the premiere, if there’s time) and I had recently debated whether it was time to retire Ram Jam’s “Black Betty” from all movie and TV soundtracks due to overuse; I was in favor of retiring it, Dan was ambivalent. When AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” came on the pilot’s soundtrack, I sent Dan an IM saying, “It’s always a good time for a little AC/DC, isn’t it?” Dan suggested AC/DC was at least as overplayed as “Black Betty,” and I retorted that at least AC/DC had a half-dozen songs that are rotated in and out of different soundtracks, whereas Ram Jam had only the one. Moments later, guess what song came on the soundtrack? “Black Betty.” Sigh… In defense of a cliched song choice, Stark is supposed to be a cliche, so I suppose all the songs on the soundtrack should… ah, who am I kidding? I love “Black Betty,” but enough.
It’s not deep, but it’s fun, and it’s entirely possible that in time, I may be able to look at Whitford and his ‘stache and no longer see Josh Lyman pretending to be Sipowicz.
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org