The Protector debuts tonight on Lifetime at 10 p.m. Eastern.
Have you ever watched a movie or television show and, when it was over, been unsure if what you just saw actually exists? As if perhaps the entire experience was so generic and without inspiration you might have simply created it in your mind out of pieces of other, better things you’ve seen in the past? Well, if you’re looking to experience that feeling for the first time, tonight’s premiere of The Protector is your chance!
The Protector stars Ally Walker as Gloria Sheppard, a divorced working mother who must balance raising her children with her job as a homicide detective. At home, she’s harried but almost perfectly attentive, willing to stay up all night sewing a costume for her young son’s school play and then not even flinching when he decides not to wear it. That’s a patient woman. At work, she’s too good at her job, basically taking over the case presented in the pilot from the lead detective and solving it on her own, with the help of her somewhat sycophantic partner, Michelle Dulcett (Tisha Campbell-Martin).
As her being female in a man’s world is built into the premise, Gloria is saddled with a boorish male coworker straight out of central casting in Detective Van Stone (James Hanlon), the aforementioned lead detective. Nearly every word that comes out of his mouth is a lazy, clumsy stereotype devoid of anything interesting or shaded in gray. Despite the awkward attempts to give her obstacles in her workplace, she so easily navigates around them (sometimes with the help of her male supervisor, played by Miguel Ferrer, who deserves better) that it almost seems as if the show would have been better off devoting that screen time to instead beefing up the actual case, which is a paint-by-numbers procedural murder mystery so bland it almost disappears, except when it aggravates due to such ridiculous dialogue like “Creepy right? Like a guy in a nail salon,” which is something no woman I know has ever thought, let alone said out loud.
Gloria’s home life also suffers from a similar lack of dynamism. The show begins three months after her divorce, with her having moved herself and her kids in with her ne’er-do-well brother, Davey (Chris Payne Gilbert). He’s your typical t-shirt, jeans and “hey dude” attitude TV slacker, but also has some sort of dark past as an addict alluded to in hushed tones. Her children are two interchangeably bland elementary school boys, which for storytelling purposes seems like a poor choice. At least if one of them was a teenager the home stories could have a bit more bite than what a typical seven-year-old is able to deliver. Alas, beyond the basic “mommy works a lot and never gets any sleep” angle, not much of her home life is explored. Obviously her recent divorce (and the presence of an ex lurking in the shadows) will likely be used for something in the future, but it added almost no flavor to this episode. And, please understand: flavor was desperately needed.
It’s not hard to understand why Lifetime wants to have a show like The Protector. The core premise appeals to their target audience and people never seem to get sick of crime procedurals, no matter how many numerous ones there are on the television landscape. Still, it’s impossible to see how they let something with so little personality be their latest venture into the procedural world, especially when their other successful original programming doesn’t show the same lack of character. Army Wives is a perfectly satisfying soap (at least it was for the first few seasons, when I was a regular viewer) and Drop Dead Diva is a fun little trifle frequently transformed into something more by a great lead performance. The Protector shares none of these charms, coming across as unremarkable in every way.
Even though the world needs another procedural like it needs a new “shocking” Lady Gaga ensemble, this is still a bit of a shame. Crime procedurals can be enjoyable when an enticing element or two is included – Castle has lively banter among the leads, The Closer has unexpectedly compelling interrogation scenes – and Ally Walker showed she can play an interesting, flawed law enforcement officer on Sons of Anarchy. Here, though, it’s hard to tell anything about her character at all (or anyone else’s, for that matter). The supporting characters describe Gloria Sheppard as some sort of abrasive creature with lines like “You just love pissing people off, don’t you Sheppard?” (My internal response upon that utterance: She DOES?) but there’s not much to back it up. Her partner is equally mushy, and appears to be there only so Gloria has someone to bounce her ideas off of during their investigations. Furthermore, the tone is aggravatingly murky. At times it flirts with lighthearted jokes, but they so spectacularly fail to land it made me wonder if they were intended to be jokes at all.
Even though nothing about the show actually works, it’s hard to say it is aggressively bad, because it’s aggressively nothing. When you hear something described as having “no there there” it can seem like a cop out, an overly simplified way to explain why you dislike something without having to parse out the actual details of what you didn’t enjoy. However, I think I need to realign my feelings on the matter as I’m not sure I ever truly understood the term until I saw The Protector. There is literally no there there. None. Each element feels purloined from another similar show and hastily reassembled into something Lifetime feels will connect with their audience.
As someone who frequently is their audience, let me assure you. This is not the case.