I have a strange fascination with the mysterious Netflix algorithms. All of them. Even the ones that probably don’t exist but everybody thinks they do because Netflix is Netflix and it got really big and kept its trade secrets quiet and subverted the standard operational habits of other TV players, so it must have some totally unique algorithms that give it an edge.
That’s the theory, anyway. In reality, Netflix probably has two algorithms that are just good guesses based on viewing patterns of people so crossed up there aren’t any patterns. But let’s go with the fantasy.
I always wondered why Netflix would make intentionally mediocre series. Yes, it has a lot of misses that tried for something bigger, but those shows just didn’t have writers or directors or actors who could pull off the ambition. I’m not talking about those shows. I’m talking about when Netflix makes TV series that are essentially middle-of-the-road broadcast television shows. Also known as boring, predictable, easily digested retreads.
Like The Good Cop, with Tony Danza and Josh Groban, which drops Friday — on Netflix, as a reminder, not CBS or, more accurately, CBS circa 1989.
But before we get to that, there’s this: I think I figured out where my theory on the Netflix algorithms went wrong. And it’s frightening.
I could never figure out why the streamer would want to make a network-level series, since I’d always assumed people only subscribed to something other than “free” TV to get what they didn’t have before. It’s why HBO got so big. HBO wasn’t broadcast television. Even before there was a boom in very mediocre cable fare, before that even existed, in fact, HBO was offering something completely different to the TV viewer.
Escape from familiar, bad things.
HBO was essentially the model on which Netflix’s TV ambitions were birthed. Before its operating strategy became “let’s own everything or make people think we do,” Netflix was also trying to be different. It’s an effective idea — even CBS All Access tries to not be CBS. It’s a rudimentary business plan. Offer people something different, an alternative option (and if you do that right, you can put a price on it and make some money off it).
But I realized while watching The Good Cop — which is thoroughly (maddeningly?) vanilla in so many devious ways that even the font for the logo and the manipulatively easy theme song and background music feel like a kind of manufactured nostalgia to sedate the masses — that I had overlooked a fundamental flaw in my Netflix theory.
It’s no longer an alternative to traditional television; it’s a monolith that lured so many people around the globe away from traditional television that it eventually became so cavernous inside as to become a streaming “broadcast” network itself — and the algorithm correctly figured out that a certain percentage of people inside who had cut ties to the old world would eventually miss it so much they’d need shows reflective of that lost, former world.
It’s why they got Fuller House. It’s why they got The Ranch. It’s why they got One Day at a Time (which is good, don’t get me wrong, but it’s a network show that’s been revamped and remains a network show), etc., etc., etc.
And it’s the only explanation for The Good Cop, which is so on-the-nose in its retro comfort that it’s actually insidious, like heroin made of nostalgia. It has Tony Danza and Josh Groban as father and son detectives, people. Only the world’s most dangerous algorithm could even fathom the genius of that, taking a likable aging network star with his easily identifiable rough New York charms and pairing him with the Safest and Nicest Person In the World, who plays the nebbish do-gooder son. Tainted cop — who’s really just a lovable guy who made a mistake, right? — has a son so pure that he won’t break any rule and even has a swear jar in the precinct. And they live together. And kinda-sorta solve crimes together. And their oil-and-water personalities create “drama” that ends every episode by coming together in some kind of mushy, feel-good resolution.
I’m assuming that every episode ends that way; there are 10 in the first season, but I only could suffer through two of them because the toxicity of the nostalgia was so treacherously weaponized (via some algorithm, no doubt) and the lack of rough edges and simplistic plots were so narcoleptic in their power that I had to look away for fear of dissolving in sugar.
People are going to love this show.
For the record, it also stars Monica Barbaro (Chicago Justice, Chicago P.D.) as Danza’s parole officer, who, in the next episode, is a detective paired with Groban, which doesn’t make much sense but then again doesn’t have to because The Good Cop is not really made for you to think too hard about it. (But doesn’t it seem a bit sinister that Barbaro has been in familiar, comfortable cop shows and has the kind of edginess and sexuality that’s hard to look away from — and she appears to have an ill-conceived crush on Groban’s character? I’m telling you, it’s all in the algorithm.) Isiah Whitlock Jr. (The Wire) is also a castmember (because the algorithm wants someone from a show with heft, but they water his character down to be likable and nice, even — those crafty bastards!). Familiar cameos abound, because of course. That’s how they get you.
Created and written by Andy Breckman and directed by Randy Zisk (and based off of an Israeli series of the same name), The Good Cop is, I think — and despite what you might guess from all the previous paragraphs — brilliant, in an evil-genius kind of way. Breckman, who created and wrote Monk (which makes so much sense it’s scary), also wrote for TV Funhouse, Triumph’s Election Watch 2016 (yes, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog), Saturday Night Live and Late Night With David Letterman — which on the surface makes no sense at all. None of those latter credits should co-exist with Monk (especially TV Funhouse, which was one of the most deviously twisted things that has ever aired on TV) but they do. So basically Breckman, also known for the radio show Seven Second Delay, is in fact an evil genius. Because he knows exactly the formula that works here in The Good Cop — the easily solvable cases that have lots of conveniently bad people making dumb decisions that get them caught; the fact is that some people will watch Danza do almost anything and that Groban is maybe irresistibly likable because something in our DNA makes it so.
The Good Cop has 1989, or maybe even 1979, all over it. Maybe it’s an antidote to all the dark shows on cable — and on Netflix, of course — and some people may miss a simpler time of network series when you could watch while folding laundry, even though most network shows are exactly like that already.
See, Netflix created a TV model where people initially paid to get away from regular TV. Then it expanded its universe by an order of magnitude to create the illusion that it had everything viewers needed inside — including shows just like the ones they paid to get away from in the first place.
Hence, The Good Cop. Enjoy.
Cast: Tony Danza, Josh Groban, Monica Barbaro, Isiah Whitlock Jr.
Created and written by: Andy Breckman
Directed by: Randy Zisk
Premieres: Friday (Netflix)