Like most people, I rarely watch TV alone. I spend most of my time watching the shows I review with my wife, who camps out on the couch, usually doing her own things while the TV's humming away. She's a good viewing partner because she's seen just as much TV as I have (if not more), she'll generally put up with just about anything that I turn on, and she's much more critical of stuff than I am. If she doesn't like something, she'll push me on it, forcing me to sharpen my responses and making me be harder on stuff I'm inclined to give a pass because I like one or two elements or because I'm in a jovial mood that week. In general, I trust her instincts, even when we violently disagree about something, because I know she's never anything less than honest.
Which is why it's a little disconcerting just how thoroughly she now hates The Good Guys.
It wasn't always this way. She liked the pilot about as much as I did, finding the central idea of resurrecting an '80s style cop show with Bradley Whitford playing some sort of renegade cop gone wild but getting RESULTS at least amusing enough to watch a few more episodes. And I think she was more or less charmed by the rest of the cast, thinking that there was room here to grow. But as time has gone on, as she's watched more and more of the episodes with me, she's come to find the show schlocky, boring, and downright awful. Tonight, I thought I'd watch it with her, as I'm still mostly enjoying the show (though these episodes since the show came back from its break have struck me as offering mostly diminishing returns), but in my continued quest to say the same things in slightly different ways and to figure out just why this show didn't catch on, I thought her viewpoint might be instructive. (It's worth pointing out that my wife's taste in television and mine roughly dovetail much of the time, as you can tell if you listen to our podcast. It's rare to have a show where our opinions diverge, though it's worth pointing out that she also disagreed with me violently on Matt Nix's other show, Burn Notice. Maybe it's something in the DNA of his shows.)
Wife's chief complaint goes pretty much thusly: The show is boring. She can predict nearly every plot twist, and once a plot gets set up, there's pretty much nothing that's going to surprise her. As soon as tonight's bad guy of the week (played by character actor Michael Weston, who's always good for a fun moment or two and is liked by the both of us) showed up and mentioned his wife, she had narrowed down the list of things that were up with his wife to three options: Weston had killed his wife, Weston's wife was even more of a criminal badass than he had been, or Weston's "wife" was some sort of criminal front. Now, to be fair, these are conclusions you probably jumped to as well. And the show isn't trying to mislead you; Weston says right up front that his wife is "challenging," which means that guess number two is correct. But the show just steadfastly plods down the path toward this revelation without taking any unexpected detours. This is the pitfall any Matt Nix show has to fall into: His series are so dedicated to recreating a particular type of entertainment in a modern vernacular that there's always the danger that they'll just become that kind of entertainment, with all of the reasons that sort of show became unpopular intact.
It wasn't always this way! Think, for instance, of the pilot, where the greatest assassin in the world got a very nice little character arc. Or think of that episode where Jack and Dan got locked in the back of the truck and ended up right next to the bad guys the whole time. At its best, The Good Guys even makes fun of its own predictability, by sticking you so far into the story that the constant, rapid flashbacks are showing you things you might have already guessed or things you should have guessed. (Recent episodes have even added a single frame of what's to come to the end of these little packages.) It's a derivative show, but it knows it's a derivative show and wants us to have fun with the traditions it's poking holes in, all of the jokes it makes at the expense of the shows that obviously inspired it.
But there's a reason satire and parody of one thing, over and over, so rarely works on TV. The Simpsons or The Daily Show can have their target shift from week to week, but The Good Guys has the same target, over and over, and that means that at some point, more of the onus for humor needs to shift to the characters, and that means that on this show, the amount of good Dan Stark lines is almost directly proportionate to how good the episode is. (Or, as wife would have it, "Most of the time, this show is boring as shit. The only good thing is Bradley Whitford acting wacky, and there's never enough of that.") Tonight's episode, then, falls apart because not only do you have the fact that the storyline is hopelessly overdone and undercooked (Jack and Liz go away for the weekend, he promises work won't intrude, and then, of course, it does) but you also have the fact that this is one of the episodes with the least Dan in the whole series. I liked the little relationship he was building with Samantha, and I liked his pursuit of the taggers, but a whole lot of this episode was taken up with the predictable bad guy stuff and the predictable Jack and Liz stuff. (Would you believe Liz comes back to save the day after we see her driving away? Of course she does!)
I know many of you think I'm too hard on this show, but I would hope that my nitpicking of at least the summer episodes didn't disguise an affection for the series and what it was trying to do. In particular, when the show was more about how Dan Stark was living in one world and everybody else had to get over to that world or get with the program, it was frequently very fun, and it was gelling into something quite enjoyable by the end of that summer run. Ever since the show has come back, though, there's been a sense of the series ceasing to be full of the kinds of quirky elements that made the show enjoyable in the first place and more like a garden-variety cop drama. And without that central tension between Dan's vision of an '80s cop show and the real world, there's just nothing driving this show. More and more, The Good Guys feels like just another cop show, and the world doesn't need one more of those. This rarely happens, but I think my wife is gonna win this argument.
- I do like the gradual Dan-ifying of Jack, best seen here when he has a hunch that the bed and breakfast owner (Weston) is a bad guy.
- I think the idea of a criminal who just wants to go straight and run a bed and breakfast should be right in this show's wheelhouse. Somehow, they took all of the weird out of it, and I don't know why or how. Maybe it's thanks to Weston, who's a fun actor but never an especially FUNNY one. Quirky, more, I guess.
- Another thing I like: Playing around with the show's titles, which happens here when Dan's in pursuit of the tagger (since they appear as graffiti across the frame).
- Samantha is rapidly turning into my second favorite character on the show, simply because she a.) has a reason to always be in every story (unlike Julius) and b.) is a character beyond just her job description. There was an attempt to spice up Liz a bit a few weeks ago, but now, she's back to just being the ADA and Jack's love interest.
- What I assume to be budget cuts are really playing havoc with the show's big sequences. The fire sequence tonight never really got going because it looked so cheap.
- "Back in 1984, my old partner, Frank, and me, we accidentally triggered a gang war doing this. But we got our tagger!"
- "You can't pass up this kind of sexitunity."