There's a hard line to walk with a character like Dan. You've gotta give him enough stuff to play broadly, all the better to make for laughs, but you can't make him into a caricature or make him unlikable or anything. There's also a hard line to walk with keeping the plots on this show snug enough to fit together without seeming wildly implausible. I had some fun with "Small Rooms," but I think in its rush to tie everything together and come up with stuff for Dan to do, it made some pretty crucial errors. These errors didn't cripple the episode or anything, but they did make him seem a little more like a callous ass than he probably should seem. Again, it's all about walking that line, making the character funny while not making him a total asshole.
I get that in the early going of a TV show, there's a need to try a bunch of different things, just to see what your characters are capable of. The show has very subtly been tweaking Dan and Jack just a bit from week to week, and I think the results have been more or less pretty successful. Jack, who started out the show as an absolute fuddy-duddy and stick-in-the-mud (and, yes, it's 1937), has been allowed to become a little more like his partner, a little more willing to cut loose. Dan has been more all over the place (the scene where he bitterly fights a computer is still a series low point), but the show has been careful to give him just a bit of humanity. There's always the suggestion that all of the stuff he says just might be a long series of tall tales, and that keeps him amusing, instead of irritating. But the show steps toward a place that just doesn't work by having Dan plant evidence in tonight's episode, and even if it makes the rest of the episode go, it casts a bit of a pall.
Basically, Dan and Jack are called in to investigate a car theft from Liz's mom. While they're there, Dan plants a gun he found in Lt. Ruiz's evidence locker, one that was attached to an unsolved crime from a few years ago. He "discovers" the gun, and from there, the cops are drawn into a gun-running ring that eventually leads to them bringing down a fairly significant operation with international ties. This is The Good Guys, of course, so the idea that a small crime leads to a humongous one is still believable within the show's universe (though I wonder how long the two can keep this up without getting promoted or with it remaining believable). But the larger problem stems from Dan's complicity in the whole matter. Without Dan planting that gun, the two don't get drawn into this whole web of intrigue, much less discover the body left behind by the accidental murder of the gun-runners' brother. And that's to say nothing of the way Liz and her mother are eventually held hostage. Without Dan committing a felony, basically none of the plot happens.
Here's the thing: I'm willing to go quite a ways for this show, which clearly just wants to be goofy and silly. I might even be willing to go all the way to Dan planting evidence (though it would make him seem like more of a sinister character than I think the show wants him to seem like). But I just can't buy that all involved in the situation would be so quick to forgive, that Dan would get just a light slap on the wrist. Even if we got, say, some dialogue about Ruiz wanting to punish Dan but not being able to because the police chief (or the mayor or the president or whatever you want) likes the way he gets results, I'd be willing to go along with it. But everyone just basically being fine with what Dan did because everything turns out all right in the end and the good guys get the bad guys? I find that a lot harder to swallow.
Fortunately, the bad guy side of the ledger continued the show's recent upward swing after that couple of episodes where the bad guy plots got way too convoluted. This is pretty much an operation run by two brothers (who employ someone who looks weirdly like Josh Radnor), and they're equally spooked by the notion that their dead brother, Russell, could be back. Well, the one of them who killed him may be spooked. The one that has no idea what happened seems pretty enthralled by the prospect of his long-missing brother returning. The show does a pretty good job of sketching out the dynamics between the two brothers (and between Russell and the two of them in the short scene where we meet Russell), and that makes all of this play pretty well. (It doesn't hurt that the actors cast are both very good.)
Similarly, by taking us inside the relationship between Liz and her mother, we at least get something for her to do that doesn't involve taking Jack to task or Jack maintaining his crush on her. We have a better sense of who Liz is now that we know where she comes from, and the scene where the ceramic clowns come into play is pretty funny. Jenny Wade is too good of a comic actress for the show to waste like it does, and there were flashes of the kind of things she's capable of in the scenes where the criminals had tied her up next to her mother and she had to deal with her mother's anger that the windows were getting shot out. Granted, none of this is the most original take on the mother who cares more about things than people archetype, but it was funny.
In the end, "Small Rooms" is more miss than hit, though. I understand what the writers were trying to do with Dan's decision at the episode's beginning, but it automatically makes him seem like less of a good guy. And at the same time, the fact that this random piece of evidence Dan plucked from the evidence locker's shelves leads to a major criminal investigation no one was able to crack before seems patently ridiculous. Are Dan and Jack the only cops at work in the greater Dallas area? We know that can't be the case, since we've seen other cops before, but it sometimes seems on the show like they're being punished for being the smart ones. That's an interesting dynamic, but given how the show plays Dan and how the show portrays itself, I'm not quite sure it's what anyone involved was going for.
- I usually find gunfights pretty boring, but I have to admit I liked the one between the criminals and Dan and Jack situated around the Traynor house.
- Also, any time Dan drives a car through a wall is fine by me. So that bit worked for me as well.
- I'm honestly a little surprised "Slow Ride" by Foghat hadn't come up on the soundtrack until now.
- This was the third episode produced. Next week, we should catch up to production order. We'll see where we go from there. The previews make it look like a pretty big episode, and July is, indeed, the quietest sweeps month.
- "We have reason to believe that your brother is alive and well and has stolen the world's ugliest sedan."
- "Do you know what is not a convincing argument for committing a felony? 'Because I'm a cop.'"
- "We'd call it murder leftovers."
- "This lady has a collection of ceramic clowns. Russell hated clowns."