Let's start with a nice thing to say about The Glades: I like the fact that the big backstory of how our lead character came to be living in small town Florida is dispatched with in a little title sequence montage. There could be a full episode where we see him first come to Florida and learn all about the terrible, terrible things that took him out of Chicago, and that would be tiresome and like a million other pilots. I enjoy stories that begin in medias res, and this feels like our lead has been in Florida for a while and is slowly feeling out the territory. It's definitely not a premise pilot, and I'd say the first 10 minutes or so of this pilot move nicely.

In particular, I'm talking about the discovery of the murder of the week - a headless corpse - and the way that the show lays out that lead character Jim Longworth just doesn't give a shit about police work anymore by showing him at the golf course, actually setting down crime scene tape around where his ball lies on the course before reluctantly going to investigate. All of this suggests that we're in for a detective show that's also a treat, a show about crime in a muggy small town, populated by folks who are either slow-witted or desperate to do anything but think about how they live in this muggy small town. The first ten minutes promise a show that the rest of the pilot simply can't deliver. Because from here on out, it's pretty much downhill.

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Let's start with the main case: Jim doesn't do a whole lot of detective work to solve it. Instead, he spends his time bombing around with the teenagers who found the body for no apparent reason, telling them exactly who he is and where he comes from in painfully expository dialogue that feels shoehorned in by network notes. While his dumbass co-worker (played by the ever-dependable John Carroll Lynch) seems to do most of the work, Jim hangs around the edges and talks about how he's a genius at solving crimes without ever doing much of anything to solve them. Instead, he shouts at people and berates them at length for not being able to keep up with him, when it seems like they're the ones giving him the information he uses to berate them. It's a weird dynamic, and it has the effect of taking Jim past enjoyably antisocial to asshole.

Now, what ends up being the solution to the crime is kind of interesting: The body is that of the Lynch character's wife, and he killed her. An episode that built to that revelation with Jim slowly realizing what had happened but trying to avoid the obvious conclusion could have been something fantastic. Hell, an episode where Jim happened across the answer in the last act after chasing an abundant number of red herrings could have been fascinating. Instead, he just sort of ends up cracking the case by accident, stumbling across the right answer in a long patch of dialogue. (The show has him be careful to point out all of the things he's "noticed" to put this together, but it feels like cheating to have him point them out in a long string at the end.) This is a potentially great ending for a pilot that ends up squandered through poor build-up.

Australian Matt Passmore is passable as Jim, but there's nothing to his performance, really. He just stands around the sidelines while other people do the work and makes snarky quips. It's hard to tell how much of the offputting nature of the character is the performance and how much is the writing (I'd wager it tips about 75/25 in favor of the writing, but who knows?), but Passmore is unable to overcome the weaknesses of the character as written to make him witty and/or charming. He's clearly a character in the House mold - dependable super-genius solves unsolvable problems just by being great - but House, at least, shows his genius in interesting ways by solving actual medical problems and making diagnoses. Jim just tells us he's a genius and expects us to go along for the ride. After the pilot started out so well at showing, not telling, it falls apart as it goes along. It also doesn't help that Passmore is no Hugh Laurie (but, then, who is?).

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The rest of the cast is fairly non-descript. Lynch is, as always, good, but it's hard to see how he'll continue on the show with the late episode revelations (though I suppose he could be the Walton Goggins of The Glades). Carlos Gomez turns up as a character named Carlos, but he mainly seems to be there as an object of Jim's ire and to translate things he says into Spanish for the Latinos who work on the golf course. Kiele Sanchez turns up as Callie, a sexy nurse that Jim is excited by, though it's not immediately clear why he likes her beyond her physical attractiveness. The long stretches when the show has the two banter mostly fall flat, and a scene where the two discuss their lives so far is pretty much painful. Oh, and she's a single mom, so you know that her adorable 12-year-old moppet will eventually warm Jim's heart as the series goes along.

When reviewing The Bridge yesterday, a few of you wondered how I could call this a weak season for scripted programming when there's so much more of it than there has been in years previous. Honestly, though, it doesn't matter if there's more scripted programming if so much of it has been as bland and pointless as this summer's offerings have been. There are something like a dozen new generic cop shows all around the programming guide, and most of them are variations on two or three of the same old tropes. USA and SyFy have both broken out minute variations on their old formulas. And now we have A&E, trying to be the next scripted series center, but doing so with a premise that would have felt old in 1986. It's fine to stick to the old formulas, particularly if you can execute them well (as something like Burn Notice is often able to do). But television, in general, rewards risk-taking and ambition, at least if you're going to look at it critically. The Glades seems to be heading far enough in this direction to make it a disappointment when it almost immediately contracts back to what every other cop show on TV is. Having a lot of scripted shows isn't any good if they all feel like they came from the same five writers at the same five keyboards.

Stray observations:

  • It took me forever to recognize Sanchez as the actress formerly known as Nikki. And she remains hot. Good for her, I guess!
  • Really, A&E is a natural fit for more scripted programming. It's a marginal cable channel that's had some success with reality shows but not nearly as much as rival networks. And its name seems to connote a kind of quality the network rarely strives for. Here's hoping they're able to pull it together with future shows.
  • OK, one other nice thing: The frequent shots of Jim's golf ball cordoned off by the crime scene tape are a good way to remind us of how little he cares about his job without actually coming out and telling us that (all that often).

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