Denis Leary’s first shot at a fictional network series is an absolute scream. It pushes television’s PC boundaries and allows Leary to take delight in being a miscreant in the New York City Police Dept. “The Job” is “Bad Lieutenant” with a wink and with none of the rawness diluted. It is certainly the darkest comedy on TV and simultaneously the most hilarious, the purest example to date of a network using content to keep up with the competish on cable.
To compete at a smart level comes with a cost. “The Job” runs in “Spin City’s” stead this month and next as the mayoral sitcom revs up for the next sweeps period. It goes up against the second half of “The West Wing,” where it’ll be lucky to face a few reruns but shouldn’t count on siphoning off much that show’s audience. It would have a better chance of survival were it pitched as part of a cop block with “NYPD Blue” on Tuesdays where the network competition is lean in the 9:30 half-hour.
Standup comic Leary gets in a piece of his routine in each of the first two episodes (flavored coffee, giving your wife privileged information) and his character, Mike McNeil, is Leary’s onstage persona — the raw, take-no-prisoners kinda guy — to the third power. Series opens with him being awakened in his girlfriend’s bed — we meet his wife later — and as he rockets out from under the covers, so, too, does the show. Told at breakneck speed, McNeil is quickly exposed as a pill popper, a heavy whiskey drinker, a philanderer, a racial profiler and in dire need of a workout. He’s funny as hell, too, refusing to use kid gloves with subject he has to confront.
McNeil is partnered with Pip (Bill Nunn), a black cop who lives in fear of his wife Adinah (Janet Hubert). His insecurity flares up while on a stakeout, trying to get McNeil to confirm whether he has a “fat ass” or not. Scene is hysterical.
Squad room has standard cast of characters: Frank Harrigan (Leary’s Boston comedy brethren Lenny Clarke) is the loud-mouthed stereotype of an Irish cop with little sense of the modern world; Jan Fendrich (Diane Farr) is McNeil’s female pal who looks the other way when it comes to moral character; Tommy Manetti (Adam Ferrara) plays it all by the book; and the team of Ruben Sommariba (John Ortiz) and Al Rodriguez (Julian Acosta) is labeled “rice and beans.”
Pilot episode’s key concern is the case of someone throwing cans of pork and beans out of an apartment window; second episode finds the detectives falling over themselves to make the world safe for Elizabeth Hurley.
Show’s racy tone is set almost immediately as McNeil hollers from his SUV to a bike cop that his “balls are hanging out.” Later on, Hurley will ask McNeil if he “wants to see her tits” and they then discuss nipple size. They violate policy with a flair that real-life cops might want to emulate, especially when they lead a legless suspect to believe that they are beating his grandmother.
Some audiences will be cringing from the start, wondering how this show got past the standards and practices department. On the dialogue front, it is in a league with Fox’s ill-fated “Action,” but it brings with it a familiar setting (squad rooms and chase scenes) that will go easy on the brains of viewers already enticed by the cops genre.
As the scribe, Leary exposes his untethered wit and partner Peter Tolan gives the evening shape. Just as “The Sopranos” thrives on having each aspect flowing so well that it seems like the lines are all improvised, so, too, does “The Job” whip its way from home scenario to crime scenario with nary a line out of place.
Sitcom has the look of an hourlong drama and no laugh track. Yet even at 30 minutes it is surprisingly full and auds should be satiated. Both directors keep the pace fluid and know exactly how to let a joke linger and when to push up the action.