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Golden Boy: TV Review

Golden Boy Episodic - H 2012
CBS
"Golden Boy"

The Bottom Line

It's the story of the most meteoric -- and mediocre -- rise to the top of any cop in history. Or something like that. Mostly it's a cop show that copies every other cop show in television history.

Premieres

10 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 26 (CBS)

CBS' new drama stars Theo James as "the youngest police commissioner in the history of New York City."

It's become almost impossible to figure out if CBS shows actively try to be average because there's some formula at the network that proves that's the way to the largest possible audience in America. Some shows overshoot that target and end up being shockingly good -- Elementary, The Good Wife, Person of Interest -- and others fall short. The problem with that latter group is that the CBS audience doesn't seem all that indignant about underperformers, so those series have a legitimate shot at being on the air for a very long time.

This must be why high-quality actors flock there. After a couple of artistic or acclaimed failures on the resume, being on a show that pays well and stays on the air must be kind of alluring.  

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That brings us to the latest CBS offering, the underwhelming Golden Boy, about "the youngest police commissioner in the history of New York City." That's the hook, but it's also the weak link. Starring Theo James (Mr. Pamuk in Downton Abbey) as Walter William Clark Jr., the show never gives you the sense that in seven years (the story is told in reverse with flashbacks and flash-forwards) this young buck is either going to use respect or accomplishment or politics or a combination of all that to get into that office. Well, at least it didn't translate in two episodes, so unless James gets a lot more gritty, it's unlikely. Giving him a limp doesn't help at all.

The problem for CBS is that James is surrounded by superb actors like Chi McBride, who does the near impossible with the material he's given -- and that's to make it come alive and allow his character to flourish. As Detective Don Owen, McBride is tasked with teaching wonder boy the ropes, even though the kid thinks he knows everything. This means a lot of Life Lessons that, coming from just about any other actor, would be painful to endure. Toss in the excellent Holt McCallany (in a role that really and truly needs to be expanded), Kevin Alejandro (who, like McBride, steals every scene he's in with James) and Bonnie Somerville, and you've got an imbalance that is tough to overcome.

It's just hard to imagine glory coming to Walter William Clark Jr. -- or that glory being very interesting along the way. Now, put the flintier Alejandro in the role, with his character's suspect moral compass, and you could actually believe that he rocketed to the top. It would be a dirtier and darker story than CBS usually likes to tell, but it would be more compelling.

Golden Boy has so many cop cliches -- good cop/bad cop, generational heroes, planted evidence, ridiculous encounters, improbable heroics and exposition so massive it will crush whatever TV stand you've got -- it's hard to take seriously. How does Golden Boy stand a chance in a world where Southland is really The Last Good Cop Show?

Oh, because it's on CBS. Viewers there may be looking for the story of an ambitious, good-looking kid who makes it to the top, complete with ridiculous journalists, predictable perps, clueless superiors and criminals who are terrible shots -- all the stuff you're used to if you've ever watched television for one second.

Email: Tim.Goodman@THR.com

Twitter: @BastardMachine