We Should All Be Thankful For ABC’s ‘The Rookie’ (And Nathan Fillion)

Eric McCandless/ABC

Last week, ABC’s newest fall procedural — the Nathan Fillion-led The Rookie — aired its fifth episode. That means there have been five episodes of Nathan Fillion playing a rookie cop who’s already too old for this shit, and while five episodes certainly aren’t a lot — unless you’re thinking only in terms of British television — I can say with absolute certainty that it’s taken me less than five episodes to truly get into this series. ABC could technically say the same thing, as the alphabet network gave The Rookie a full-season pick-up order less than a week after its third episode. I’m personally ready for ABC to give it at least two more seasons (which I imagine will be the perfectly acceptable number before the series goes off the rails), but I know that things don’t necessarily work that way.

So with only five episodes under its belt, I’m also ready to say this: This holiday season, The Rookie is one new network television series for which I’m quite thankful for. Is it the best new series of the fall? Well, Sally4Ever exists. Is it the best new series of the year? Well, Killing Eve. Is it the best new network television series, as that is the qualifier I first used? I’m not even sure where it would fit in my top 10 new series, nor would I say it shares the same type of procedural distinction as my beloved Blindspot (at least, not yet). But I would say that there are certain shows that may not fill those specific designations or even spots in your media-loving heart but still leave the type of lasting impression that makes you want to bother your friends who will never watch the show unless you force them to do so through acts of subterfuge. For me right now, that’s The Rookie, and for it, I am thankful. And I’ll tell you why:

True Elegance In Its Simplicity

I’ve always said, “You can learn a lot about a show’s sensibilities just based on its episode synopsis structure.” No, seriously, this is something I think about a lot. My favorite episode synopses in recent years have been the ones from Angie Tribeca’s first season, in which the lieutenant was “just sick” about each case-of-the-week — only for the eventual reveal (only in the synopses, though) that he was actually sick with bacterial meningitis and fighting for his life. The Rookie’s episode synopses, on the other hand, are simple enough, kind of like The Rookie itself. For example, the pilot synopsis lets you know, “A middle-aged man joins the police force.” That’s it. That’s The Rookie.

The third episode, “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” (a classic cop title), goes for more details — “Lucy worries about Tim.” — and if you need any more information than that (which you most likely will, if you want to know how Lucy and/or Tim are), you will watch the show to find out. That’s a hook. The most recent episode, “The Roundup,” let us all in on the fact that “the officers get competitive,” which should probably be every episode of the show — you know, as they’re in a competitive profession, especially when it comes it comes to rising up the ranks — but it still honestly all I need to know about a show. These synopses are just as low-concept as the very premise, and you know what? That’s refreshing as hell. It really is.

To Live and Film in L.A.

This one’s really not that deep: Shows set in L.A. that actually film in L.A. are always the best. (No offense to Vancouver.) Just watch Angel. Which reminds me…

Death, Taxes, and Fillion

I’ve written extensively about the constant nature of David Boreanaz on television, but almost the same can also be said about Nathan Fillion, a Canadian actor who has truly made a career out of playing the All-American male. Whether it be the working class American like his role in Two Guys and a Girl or as the leading man type in shows like Firefly, Castle, and even here, you always know what you’re going to get when it comes to Fillion, that’s definitely not a bad thing. And in thinking about Boreanaz and Fillion in similar contexts, I did come to the realization that, while both men fill similar niches, they also fill subsections of those niches that other won’t. For example, while you could compare Bones and Castle and put them under the same procedural branch, it was always apparent that the former was more serious than the latter, and when the latter tried to get more serious, it was not good. Boreanaz goes to a serious CBS procedural like SEAL Team, only for Fillion to take the opposite route in The Rookie, and that is how the balance in television is restored.

Also, on a shallow level, Nathan Fillion looks the best he’s looked in years on this show. Must be that L.A. sun.

Thank You For Your Support

Yes, Fillion is the titular rookie. Yes, Fillion is an executive producer, but really, the key to continuing to watch The Rookie — because, in theory, any show can tick all of these boxes with or without the Fillion of it all — is the ensemble. As a Dark Matter fan, seeing Melissa O’Neil bounce back after that out of nowhere cancellation as essentially the female lead of a network series feels like some sort of win — to the point where it heavily distracts from the fact that her 28-year-old character is the love interest to Fillion’s 40-year-old character.

Also, as someone who watched the final season of Army Wives — and no other season, as I was intrigued by the Ashanti of it all — as a result, I pretty much support any and every career choice Alyssa Diaz makes. In fact, I assume that if you too watched her on that show, you would also support her… because her acting choices on that show were braver than anything I’ve seen on television before or since. (Really, the final season of Army Wives is something that must be seen to be believed.) In general, as someone who watches a lot of not-so-great-but-definitely-memorable television series with pretty talented cast members putting on some interesting performances, seeing actors like Eric Winter (Witches of East End) and Mercedes Mason (666 Park Ave.) get a network paycheck on a solid network show is truly something I find oddly satisfying. Because in case you can’t tell by now, I contextualize a lot of my thoughts and feelings through television shows — especially shows that it feels like only I watched.

Really, this entire supporting cast — which also includes Richard T. Jones, Afton Williamson, and Titus Makin — makes way for the argument that this show should probably be called The Rookies or The Officers, definitely something plural. But even with just a singular title focus, The Rookie understands the necessity of a strong ensemble. You can’t take that for granted.

It’s Like Southland… But Dumb

Take all the grit and passion and desperation of Southland and invert it: That’s The Rookie. I don’t mean to insult the show by calling it “dumb,” because I’m not calling it dumb; I’m saying that if Southland had been dumb, it would have been The Rookie. Think of it this way: there’s a reason NBC killed Southland off pretty quickly and had it been more like The Rookie, that probably wouldn’t have been the case. The Rookie is a fun but not goofy, by-the-numbers but not boring, sunny but not saccharine ensemble cop show. (Though we all know the true star of the ensemble is the one who has the executive producer credit.) Again, it’s a matter of “simplicity,” and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Much like I used the idea of a procedural “f**king” as the ultimate compliment, in this case, “dumb” counts as one too. (I suppose I could go with “simple” again to take away the perceived slight, but it’s not just that.) Not every crime/cop series needs to be this deep, dark, reflection of real life. Because as much as I loved Southland, I was also aware of how nihilistic of an outlook it had on things, and The Rookie is kind of refreshingly the polar opposite. USA Network stopped welcoming characters awhile ago, and then there became this giant gap of that type of fun, comfort programming that other networks had to fill accordingly. There’s been no full-on replacement in terms of network-blue skies synergy, but a show like The Rookie can — thankfully — help fill that gap.

‘The Rookie’ airs Tuesday nights at 10 pm EST on ABC.