- Charmed. The CW. Sunday, October 14, 9 p.m.
- The Kids Are Alright. ABC. Tuesday, October 16, 8:30 p.m.
- The Rookie. ABC. Tuesday, October 16, 10 p.m.
The newest TV programming axiom seems to be, "Save the weirdest for the last." In the final gasp of the fall broadcast rollout—only a couple of new shows remain to be seen when the upcoming week is over—we have a rookie cop who is also deep in the throes of middle-aged angst; three hyper-woke young witches; and an oddball sitcom about working-class Catholic families that's either sweetly nostalgic or witheringly contemptuous. It's hard to tell.
In a fall filled with remakes, reboots and rip-offs, it's only natural to assume that ABC's The Rookie is a modern version of the same network's The Rookies, a 1972-76 cop drama that's mostly remembered as the show Kate Jackson did before she, Farrah Fawcett, and Jaclyn Smith invented the concept of not wearing underwear on Charlie's Angels.
Surprisingly, that turns out not to be true. The Rookie is not only not a retread, it's a wholly original take on the cop genre. Nathan Fillion (Castle) is a middle-aged guy named John Nolan who, nearly two decades earlier, knocked up his teenage girlfriend and grabbed a construction job to support his quickie marriage.
From there he lived a life he never chose. But now, with his child going off the college and the hollow marriage imploding, the 40-year-old Nolan has a second chance. Looking for a new job, his two youthful ambitions—the NFL and Chippendales—seem out of reach. But a chance encounter as he's putting his divorce decree and wedding ring in a safe deposit box suggest a third: cop.
Now, a freshly minted and slightly pot-bellied police academy grad, he's trying to claw his way through probation with the LAPD. On the street, he huffs and puffs chasing homies half his age; at shift-change meetings, he endures endless taunts from his watch commander (Richard T. Jones, Santa Clarita Diet), who introduces him as "John Noland, who was born before disco died."
But the ragging is by no means good-natured boot camp guff. "I hate what you represent," the commander reveals in a private moment. "A walking mid-life crisis." Further complicating things are two intense training officers pursuing their own agendas (Alyssa Diaz of Ray Donovan and Afton Williamson of Shades Of Blue).
And then there are the two other rookies who are both companions and rivals to Nolan: the son (Titus Makin, Pretty Little Liars) of a well-known internal-affairs officer, and an Asian tiger kid (Melissa O'Neil, Condor) who makes an arrest even before her first shift.
The Rookie has an ample supply of the usual cop-drama bang-bang, all of it very well staged. But what really makes The Rookie interesting is watching Fillion maneuver among all these sharp elbows while balancing the shortage of adrenaline with the bonus supply of experience that both come with middle age. He does it all with the same let's-have-a-beer amiability he's displayed in shows as diverse as Firefly and Castle. He'll make you forget Kate Jackson is missing.
The Rookie's weirdness—a middle-aged man trying to make it as a cop, two decades too late—is calculated and results in a new way to look at cop shows. The Kids Are Alright's weirdness is just weird. It's a period sitcom trying to work up a lather of fake nostalgia for an exhausted milieu—a working-class Catholic family with little money and wayyy too many kids.
The Clearys are headed up by mom Peggy (Mary McCormack, House Of Lies) and dad Mike (Michael Cudlitz, The Walking Dead), who have eight sons, money for four, beds for two and a bathroom for one.
This produces a plethora of jokes like Peggy shouting at the kids, "We do not have the wherewithal in this family for any of you kids to be special!" Okay, that one's not so bad, right? Except it's quickly followed by Peggy shouting a sick kid, "We can't afford asthma!" and, well, you see where this is headed.
The kids are a ratty little mob of thieves, snitches, and dissemblers, which can be sporadically amusing. But the plot of the pilot seems likely to be repeated even more often than the money jokes.
One of the boys is trying desperately to get attention and maybe a little money for an acting class that he really wants to take, but in a family wound stretched this tight, everything is a zero-sum game; anything extra for one kid means something less for the rest of them. This isn't funny; it's woundingly sad—as Elvis Presley's favorite punchline went, about as funny as a stop sign in a polio ward.
And it doesn't help that The Kids Are Alright often feels like it's being staged in a funhouse hall of mirrors where everything is just a little bit distorted. Series creator Tim Doyle seems strikingly unfamiliar with the time period in which he's chosen to set The Kids Are Alright—it starts in 1972, a year when, according to Doyle's voice-over, "Bike helmets hadn't been invented yet, or car seatbelts."
Actually, 1972 was the most nightmarish year in the whole existence of seatbelts; if you cranked the ignition of a new model that year and didn't fasten your belt, it would buzz until you did. (A long driving trip that year with my libertarian-but-didn't-know-it father adamantly refusing to buckle up has seared the year ineluctably in my brain.) There are similar calendar misplacements of jokes about Vietnam, the draft, and the Generation Gap, possibly the result of brain-softening due to growing up in a house full of eight misanthropic brothers, which ABC's bio of Doyle says he did.
Putting aside The Kids Are Alright—please, let us do so—means the subject must inevitably slide to Charmed, a remake of a TBS show about young witches that originally aired 20 years ago. Like the original, Charmed concerns three girls on the outer cusp of their teens who learn they are witches.
But the similarity fades after that. This Charmed has its sights set on the Emmy for "Most PC Cliches Packed Into One Oppressively Long Drama Ever," and I think it might even win the lifetime achievement award the first season.
Photo Credit: 'Charmed,' CW