The second season of The Glades debuts tonight on A&E at 10 p.m. Eastern.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the phenomenon of so-called “summer television.” The supposed normal cycle of TV is now over, with all major sweeps periods held off until the Fall. That nominally leaves the summer as a dumping ground for reality shows, programs that couldn’t make the cut in the networks’ Fall/Spring schedule, or lighter-than-air fare that should function as the equivalent of a beach read. But I’m just not convinced that’s really true anymore. Or, rather: I’m not convinced that it should be true.
 
All of this is a way to try and lightly approach the light fare that is The Glades.  Let’s just state this up front: There’s nothing inherently wrong with the start of this show’s second season. It’s miles better than its rather disastrous pilot episode, an hour so bad that it actually put me off watching any more until this second season started calling. I didn’t watch every episode I missed, but The Glades (and many other shows hiding under the umbrella of “summer programming”) isn’t designed to be watched every week. To put it another way: This isn’t exactly Breaking Bad, another one of those supposedly summer shows I keep hearing about.
 
Every episode of The Glades is structured like a “Mad Libs” exercise, taking a pre-existing template and inserting different adjectives, proper nouns, and “Things You Can Kill Someone With” into the mix in order to concoct a specific crime of the week. Usually, a person introduced at the top of act two is the killer, only we don’t see them again until the final five minutes of the episode. This lets us forget about this character, due to all the bills we’ve been paying or all the beers we’ve been drinking throughout the episode. Atop that, the show layers in some romantic tension between our hero Jim Longworth and lady friend Callie Cargill. OK, maybe “some” is a little bit of an exaggeration: It’s more like their relationship moves at the approximate speed of continental drift. Honestly, it was the romantic equivalent of watching The Six Million Dollar Man run. I would skip episodes at a time, only to find the pair pretty much at a similar distance apart from ever knockin’ boots.
 
That the first season ended on a relationship cliffhanger between the two rather than anything related to Jim’s policework should indicate this is a show more interested in its characters than any type of ongoing narrative mythology. Doing so is fine and dandy, except The Glades’ first season pushed the pair together at such a slow rate that by the end, even the most hardcore of Jim/Callie ‘shippers (and there must be a lot of them: this is A&E’s highest rated show…ever) must have been staring at their watches, wondering if it was even worth it. It’s not that the two had particularly bad chemistry: Matt Passmore toned down Jim’s high levels of pilot douchery throughout the first season, and Kiele Sanchez acquitted herself nicely to Lost fans (such as myself) that gleefully remember Nikki’s final scene in that show. But The Glades kept their relationship in neutral, making it as procedural in some ways as the case of the week.
 
So how does season two fare at its outset? Well, based on the first episode “Family Matters,” the show demonstrates very little in the way of growth but definitely shows signs of refinement. Again, when you’re the network’s highest-rated show ever (did I mention that already?), there’s little incentive to fix what might be broken. This first outing ramps up the scope of the crime (two warring Cuban mob families is a step up in tension over a corrupt local politician, to be sure), and the functions and rhythms between Jim and his FDLE colleagues have been solidified. There are actual obstacles introduced into Tim’s relationship with a very married Callie. And there are even a few fun guest stars thrown into the mix: Patrick St. Esprit (last seen involved in the Irish mob on The Chicago Code) and Demián Bichir (last seen watching his ex-wife Nancy Botwin get arrested on Weeds).
 
Sounds good, right? The problem is that the show’s established a low ceiling for itself, and doesn’t seem anxious to really push too much further out of its comfort zone. Since the show isn’t particularly trying to say anything about… well, anything, then it’s OK with simply spinning out a murder mystery for an hour, having a little banter between its cast, and then heading on its merry way. But there’s little in the way of why THIS town and THESE people experience these particular events. There’s a really muddled attempt at this near the end of the first hour. It’s an anvilicious moment: Jim tells someone to simply walk away, and this person replies gravely, “It’s just not that easy.” Connecting crimes of the week to the personal lives of those pursuing them is a staple of crime procedurals. But if that’s how lame the connections on The Glades are going to be, perhaps it’s best to separate work from pleasure.
 
Are these pleasures to be had? Again, the show takes place in Florida, just like Burn Notice. But unlike Burn Notice, The Glades doesn’t really take too much advantage of its location. The show should ideally be swampy, seedy, grimy: The opening shots of the series hinted at that particular take, far from the sun-soaked beaches upon which Michael Weston and Company ply their particular trade. But everything about the way The Glades is filmed is flat, bland, and oddly colorless. It’s almost like the show actively wants you to forget where this show takes place. Having a non-specific geographical location for a crime procedural/light romance isn’t itself a crime. Unless, you know, it betrays the specificity of the show’s title.
 
But The Glades isn’t about a specific point of view. It’s about A&E’s desire to get into the procedural game. No shame in that. But it didn’t have to aim so low with this particular foray. Perhaps the dismal ratings for past shows as The Cleaner and The Beast convinced the network that blander was better. Too bad that approach saws off any teeth the show might have had. A Chicago cop bulldozing his way past his perceived inferiors could have been a compelling show, featuring an antihero who could belittle everyone around him yet ultimately solve each crime. But The Glades isn’t interested in challenging convention, viewers, or the notion that summer television is a time to do anything but provide the fluffiest fare possible on the boob tube. That will please a lot of its many fans, to be sure. But it sure won’t land many more of them this way.
 
Random observations:

  • This episode supposedly takes place in the almost immediate aftermath of the events of season one, but Callie’s kid now looks like Harry Potter from the Goblet of Fire film. Holy hair growth, Batman.
  • Not sure I noticed this in season one, but one of Jim’s “quirks”? He eats other people’s fruits. He’s the Daniel Plainview of apples and bananas.
  • At one point in tonight’s episode, one of the Cuban families discovers someone is wearing a wire. And the reaction they have to it says all you need to know about the level of danger in the world of The Glades.
  • Jim warns someone early in the episode, upon being told the matter at hand was none of his business, “Murder… is definitely my business.” I half expected David Caruso to appear onscreen, cold cock Jim, and then say, “Business is picking up!” YEEEAAAAAAHHHHH.
  • “You just don’t walk in there and ask questions.” “Then how will I get answers?”
  • “Hey, Ball Lard.”
  • “Oh, I get it. This is one of those things where we’re not really talking about what we’re talking about, right?”
  • “That’s numerically random. That literally makes no sense.”

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