A Series Where Nathan Fillion isn’t the only good thing
Nathan Fillion has always had a genuine nice guy feel to him, along with his roguish good looks. It led him to cult stardom in the works of Joss Whedon — even after fifteen years, there are still millions of acolytes missing Firefly — and genuine stardom in the romantic police drama Castle. Even when he has placed the most despicable villains as he did in the last weeks of Buffy, there was always something charming about him that you couldn’t quite resist.
So it follows that his return to TV in ABC’s cop drama, The Rookie, is one of the most eagerly anticipated events of the season — at least, by some of us. It’s not because of the original source material — it’s adapted from a failed network drama starring Paul Sorvino in the late 1980s. But Fillion has a gift of rising above what can be considered tired clichés. What is more surprising is how much the series manages to rise above even the standards of the traditional cop drama and give it some genuine energy.
Fillion plays John Nolan, a forty-ish Philadelphia construction business owner, who in the opening of the pilot is filing for bankruptcy. When a robbery occurs at the bank where he’s cleaning out his safety deposit box, he manages to stall the robbers, and in doing so, manages to awaken some part of himself that seemed dead. A little more than six months later, he has relocated to LA, gone through the police academy, and has become a rookie beat cop. And it is clear from the minute he gets there, that much of the brass doesn’t like his presence, and is openly rooting for him to fail
Were the series to just follow Nolan and his story, it would make for an intriguing show, albeit one that was slightly gimmicky. What raises The Rookie above the traditional stuff we get from Wolf and Bruckheimer is that the series keeps it focus around the other officer and their COs. Nolan’s CO is Bishop (Afton Williamson) a no-nonsense cop focused on becoming detective, torn between the pressure to make sure he doesn’t make her look bad (not helped by the plethora of car crashes in the second episode) and similar pressure to bounce him. The other rookies who have come up with Nolan are Lopez ( Alyssa Diaz), who is saddled with Bradford, a cop who seems determined to break her balls in every way possible (even after getting shot in the pilot) and Jackson (Titus Makin) the son of one of the top brass, who seems to have the book memorized, but the first time he’s under fire, he freezes. Another series would have him kicked out or killed by the end of the first episode; his CO, Lucy Chen covers for him, but is very clear that he has to play hard or he’ll get bounced.
But most of the series is focused on Nolan and his journey. Which is fitting, considering that after nearly eight years of being known for playing a character who was police-adjacent in Castle, Fillion now gets to play an actual cop. And while he has some of Castle’s charm and sexuality (he’s having an affair with Lopez, and it seems he has some relationship in the past with the captain), he’s also covering new territory playing a character who is at a loss most of the time, and doesn’t have all the answers. Nor are his superiors prepared to give him any — over and over we get the message that real cops aren’t supposed to focused on ‘the why’.
The Rookie has elements of being not just another good vehicle for vehicle, but a solid ensemble cop drama as well. Like the legal drama, the network police procedural has been running on fumes for awhile — successful but always routine. Despite being a remake of a sort, it has more versatility than the usual ones, and I hope enough viewers tune in to find that.
My score: 4 stars.