Tuesday, September 4, 2018

The Rookie Tackles the Question: Who Do You Want to Be? [Contributor: Jenn]

(Image credit: ABC)

"A walking midlife crisis" is how John Nolan (Nathan Fillion) is described by his sergeant in the pilot of The Rookie. And though there is definitely truth to that statement — truth that Nolan admits to by the episode's final moments — that is not all that John Nolan is, nor is it truly why he chose to become a police officer at the grand 'ol age of 40.

But let's back up a minute: The plot of The Rookie is pretty simple, at first glance. It's about a man named John Nolan who works in construction and is also recently divorced. While he's at a bank, putting items in his safe deposit box, two men burst through the front doors and attempt to rob the bank. What John does begins his career path as a police officer. Nine months later, he's traded in his old life for a new one as a rookie at the L.A.P.D. Of course, he's the oldest rookie in the ranks and is constantly made fun of for his age and perceived athletic ability or lack thereof. There are actually two other rookies that the pilot focuses on, too: the driven and dynamic Lucy Chen (Melissa O'Neil) and a "legacy" wonder kid named Jackson West (Titus Makin Jr.). Each rookie is paired up with a more experienced training officer, and the pilot follows all three pairings as they embark on their first two days on the force.

If you're expecting a standard procedural drama, there are definitely elements that will make this new ABC series feel like home (alongside some elements that give it the distinctly ABC soapy touch). One of the most interesting elements of the series so far is a visual decision — since the officers on the show wear body cams, the pilot integrates scenes and shots that appear to be pulled straight from their cameras. It's not excessive, and was an interesting choice when used sparingly. I enjoyed the fact that it allowed us to personally connect with the characters wearing the cameras, thrusting us into more of a first-person viewing of the events.

There are a few plot twists that you might not expect from the pilot, and while Nathan Fillion is definitely the star of the series, it appears — at least from the way that the pilot went — that the show will be more ensemble-centric. We get brief glimpses into the lives of the rookies and their respective training officers. Jackson West might be a golden boy on paper and the kid who broke all of his dad's records while at the academy, but he encounters an issue while in the field that he didn't anticipate. And Lucy Chen seems like a take-no-nonsense, tough young woman but we learn that having two psychologists as parents might have taken an emotional toll on her.

The training officers each have their own personality quirks, too. Officer Tim Bradford (Eric Winter) is Lucy's training officer, and he's... well, a psychological minefield. He plays horrific mind games with Lucy on her first day than most people will ever experience — forcing her to doubt herself, question whether she can trust him, and shrink back in certain circumstances. At one point, he gives permission for a drug dealer to attack her in order to see if she can fight back and cuff him. Yeah, not your warm and fuzzy training officer.

For most of the pilot, in fact, you'll probably think that Tim is about the biggest jerk there is (you'll likely use stronger language), and you'd be right. In spite of his entire demeanor, questionable methods and personality, the show still reminds us that he is human. There's a scene where Lucy sees, firsthand, what kind of demons Tim has to face and why he commands such an icy, emotionless exterior. Granted, I still think he's a horrible human being for the way he treats Lucy (and just because he has things to deal with does not make his actions sympathetic), but at least Eric Winter gets to do some nice acting work.

Officer Angela Lopez (Alyssa Diaz) is paired with the golden boy, and we learn from the very beginning of the pilot that Officer Lopez and Officer Talia Bishop (Afton Williamson), who is assigned to John Nolan, are vying for the role of detective. Both are looking to get out of the fieldwork — Talia mostly so that she can use the step up to detective to continue her career climb at the L.A.P.D. Officer Bishop is tough, but she's also the only one of the training officers who acts like a true teacher for her rookie. She lets John take charge when she feels he's capable, and also instructs him when he makes a mistake. When John celebrates a victory, Officer Bishop commends him for his heroics but also points out the mistakes he made in the field that could cost a life in the future. She is skilled and passionate about what she does, and I'm interested to see how the mentor/mentee dynamic shifts and evolves between her and John Nolan.

What I like so far is that The Rookie will seemingly focus on those dynamics — the ones between the rookies and officers — more than anything else. While this is a show that involves the good guys solving problems and taking down bad guys (within the first episode alone, there are more than three separate calls that the officers respond to), it's also a show about what the job does to people. John Nolan is humanized and deeply affected by something that happens on his first day, while Lucy and Jackson realize that the academy is way different than being out on a call (and Jackson gets threatened by Officer Lopez at the end of the episode for how he handles something in the line of duty).

Ultimately, the pilot of The Rookie wraps up with John Nolan trying to answer the question of who he wants to be. John's sergeant, Wade Grey (Richard T. Jones), doesn't like him very much. And Wade makes a valid point earlier in the pilot to Officer Bishop that "rookies" who are as old as John Nolan is don't do well because they're so sure about what is right and wrong that there is no hesitation; there is only action. And that kind of action often leads to people being killed. At the end of the episode, Wade and John have a sort of heart-to-heart in which John admits that before entering the academy, he was in a place in his life where he's looking to reinvent himself. He didn't realize all that it meant to become a cop.

But what John Nolan says next about himself is integral to the series: he might have been looking for reinvention, but he is good enough as he is. He was good enough at the academy, and he doesn't need to change from who he has been the past 40 years in order to do his job.

The Rookie seems like it will be a series about identity — not necessarily about "finding yourself," per se, but understanding what makes you the strong, resilient human that you are and fighting to make others (and sometimes yourself) believe it.

You're never too old for that lesson.

Pilot Grade: B

The Rookie premieres October 16 on ABC!

1 comment:

  1. This is the most thorough review of The Rookie I've read. I'm more intrigued by the show than I already was.