When a motion picture is adapted for the small screen, the producers may not be legally required to make the TV series match its source in each and every way, but at the very least, viewers shouldn’t come to the end of the pilot and feel like the only common bond between the two is the title and a general similarity of premise.
The 2001 crime thriller that served as the inspiration for CBS’s Training Day starred Denzel Washington as Det. Alonzo Harris, a corrupt Los Angeles cop who’s teamed with a newbie, Officer Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke); by the time the closing credits roll, Hoyt has learned a lot of hard lessons, though none quite so hard as the one Harris learns, the gist of which is “never fuck over the Russian mafia.” If you haven’t seen the film in a while, you can rest assured that its pulse-pounding intensity does not particularly scream “CBS series,” which may explain why the resulting series doesn’t particularly scream Training Day, either. In fact, although the press release for the series makes a point of mentioning that it begins 15 years after the events of the film, there’s precisely one moment within the pilot that creates any sort of tie between the two, and it’s over and done in about two minutes.
Det. Kyle Craig (Justin Cornwell) is the Los Angeles Police Department’s golden boy, a squeaky-clean second-generation cop who’s just saved the life of a child during a high-profile drug raid. In the wake of his meritorious behavior, his supervisor, Deputy Chief Joy Lockhart (Marianne Jean-Baptiste, most recently of Blindspot), calls him down to city hall and casually asks him what he knows about the Alonzo Harris scandal. In a flurry of exposition, Lockhart sums up the effects of Harris’ actions on the department, after which she explains her end game: she wants Kyle to go undercover and stop a rogue cop—Det. Frank Rourke (Bill Paxton)—from becoming the next Alonzo Harris.
That’s it. That’s the only tie between the two.
Over the course of the pilot, viewers are given a glimpse into the lives, personalities, and backstories of both Kyle and Frank. Kyle’s a good kid who’s happily married to a teacher and is trying to do right by his late father and be the best cop that he can be. Frank, meanwhile, is an unabashed scoundrel, but even Lockhart acknowledges that he’s one of the LAPD’s best investigators. Naturally, the new partners get along like oil and water. Kyle eventually comes to begrudgingly acknowledge Frank’s police work, even if he doesn’t approve of his methods, and insofar as reporting back to Lockhart on what morally questionable shenanigans Frank commits on the job, there’s a slight hiccup: Kyle discovers that his dad and Frank were tight, which leads Kyle to hesitate when it comes time to play the narc. (It’s probably for the best: Were he to divulge everything in the pilot, there’d be no series.)
Anyone who’s been toying with the idea of checking out Training Day because they loved the film will find themselves sorely disappointed: Despite the film’s director, Antoine Fuqua, helping out with the TV adaptation, there’s virtually no trace of the tautness that made the movie so gripping. At best, it’s a slightly grittier than average CBS procedural. That said, it does contain one element that could make it worth watching: Bill Paxton, who makes Frank into a guy who’s incredibly likable despite his serious moral failings. Of course, these attributes further underline the difference in tone between the film and the series—he might be a shady character, but there’s nothing to suggest that Frank is ever going to become the next Alonzo Harris. The opportunity to watch Paxton sink his teeth into the character over the course of the season is nonetheless a tempting one.
But don’t set your expectations too high on the dramatic front. At the moment, it seems to be fairly formulaic from episode to episode: Kyle and Frank take on a case, Frank goes in with guns blazing (sometimes literally, sometimes metaphorically), Lockhart wants an update on how things are going, and Kyle is hesitant to say too much because he feels like his dad would want him to give Frank a chance.
Similarly, while viewers might be hesitant to watch Training Day, they might find themselves wanting to give it a chance because of Paxton. They probably should. They just shouldn’t expect it to remind them of the movie.