There’s nothing innovative or remarkable about The Good Cop, which, for a Netflix series, almost becomes remarkable in and of itself. The series’ mundanity—especially enhanced by sharing a release date with the delightfully strange Maniac—feels out of place on the prolific streaming service, instead playing more like the dime-a-dozen procedurals that used to dominate USA. (Though it’s hard to even see The Good Cop working there in a post-Mr. Robot world.) For some viewers, this basic knowledge is enough to warrant an immediate pass; for many others, these aren’t even negative qualities. For Netflix, a straightforward procedural is both an odd and utterly basic move—honestly, it’s surprising that it took this long.
In The Good Cop, Tony Danza plays (for the fifth time in his career) a character named Tony, a somewhat-reformed corrupt cop who lost his badge and spent seven years in prison. Now, he’s forced to live with his son named—wait for it—Tony Caruso Jr. (Josh Groban). Tony Jr., or TJ, is currently a police officer who, embarrassed by his father’s mistakes, went far in the opposite route by obsessively playing by the rules—often to the point that it’s both pedantic and obnoxious. Dare we say they’re an odd couple?
Every episode, there’s a new crime that TJ has to solve; most of these are oh-so-coincidentally linked to his father somehow, whether the case involves a hot model who suddenly falls for Tony, or a dead manager of the bowling alley where Tony hangs out. It stretches believability, but provides an easy way for Tony to insert himself into the investigation. Every episode, the father and son clash over their different approaches to police work (and life) but, you know, in a loving way. Every episode, the crime is solved by the end with a neat and predictable little bow. Often, there is even a recap that details exactly what happened, as though we’re supposed to be in awe of TJ’s impressive investigative skills (spoiler: they are not at all as impressive as the writers believe). As another episode starts, the previous crime is forgotten.
The familiarity of this setup makes perfect sense considering The Good Cop, based on an Israeli series of the same name, was created for Netflix by Andy Breckman who is best known for USA’s super-successful Monk. There are moments that feel like Breckman’s only interest is recreating Monk (and why not?), so much so that it’s hard not to sing Randy Newman during the title sequence. Like Adrian Monk, Tony is a former cop who wants to return to the force so he acts as a consultant (though when it comes to TJ, Tony functions more as Sharona/Natalie by trying to get his son to loosen up). There are the lighthearted music cues, the rigid approach the rules, the social awkwardness, the uneven split of humor and drama, the dim criminals, the “Aha!” moment right before the end recap. There is even a woman who dies before the series begins but looms over everything: in Monk, Adrian’s wife was murdered by a car bomb; in The Good Cop, Tony’s wife (and TJ’s mother) was killed in a hit-and-run. Here, unfortunately, it’s so often forgotten that when a late-season plot is dedicated to Tony’s secret search for her killer, it comes off as unnatural.
TJ, nicknamed “The Choir Boy” and “Nancy Drew,” is such a goody-two-shoes that he won’t use sugar packets that his father “stole” from a local chain restaurant. He is supposed to be endearing, but instead he’s simply annoying. (Groban’s performance is fine but unremarkable, which is fitting for the show as a whole. Also Groban doesn’t sing, but Danza periodically does, which is a power move deserving of some respect.) You can’t even root for his detective skills—in one episode, he doesn’t recognize an escaped inmate because the perp is wearing a wig. Meanwhile, Tony Sr. changes based on what the plot demands: At one point, he’s a Frank Sinatra-crooner on a late-night talk show but later on, he owns a restaurant. Danza isn’t exactly stretching his acting skills here, but that’s what we’ve come to expect.
Other characters feel like they’re shipped in from various other procedurals and haven’t yet been molded to exist in this world. Burl Loomis (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) is the veteran homicide detective literally counting down the days until retirement (474!) who refuses to put any effort into his job and mostly is around to provide dry dad humor. Cora (Monica Barbaro) is TJ’s partner and semi-love interest, but we don’t really learn anything else until the penultimate episode where she details her backstory in 30 seconds of awkward dialogue.
The Good Cop is all over the place, which often makes it amusing to watch, though perhaps not in the way the creator intended. It has some truly hilarious/terrible exposition—criminals spill the details of their crimes with such deliberateness it’s as if they’re delivering a monologue to the back of the auditorium. It forces moments of quirkiness (a murderer in a rabbit costume, for one) and relies on stilted jokes (“Why do they call you ‘Curious Hal’?” “I don’t know.” “You never asked?!”). The writing reiterates the basic premise and character traits so loudly and so frequently, that it’s surprising there’s not a constant chyron scrolling to remind us “Tony Sr.: Hates the Rules! Tony Jr.: Loves ’Em!”
But, there is something almost... pleasant about The Good Cop. It’s light, sometimes fun, and casually watchable. It’s reminiscent of the simplicity and ease of those early USA procedurals—ones that make lazy marathon sessions on sites like Hulu and Netflix. It’s also nice that it doesn’t rely on brutal attacks on women, or overly gruesome crime scenes, or “complex” and emotional male detectives who speak in riddles or wake up next to gratuitously naked and nameless blonds. The Good Cop doesn’t feel like it was made in 2018, which is probably the best thing about it. It’s almost charming how little the show tries to impress us. If the show could be graded solely on amusing background viewing—say, how well it pairs with cleaning your living room or playing The Sims—it would easily be an A. (The A+ is still reserved for Monk.) Plus, every network has its own broad, mediocre procedural that runs for far too long—why shouldn’t Netflix?