Being a cop has seldom looked quite as good as the rechristened “L.A. Dragnet,” which has been given a makeover, jettisoning Jack Webb’s “just the facts” approach and enlisted a “just the babes” cast plucked from the MTV demo. So the new Joe Friday, Ed O’Neill, finds himself kicked upstairs with a diverse group of younger types under his command. Too bad for him he’s not still playing Al Bundy.
“Law & Order” ringmaster Dick Wolf certainly wins points for being a pragmatist, but the revisions don’t make the show any more compelling. Then again, this visually remastered version is hardly the fall’s only act of generic engineering on a marginally rated series, as if the focus groups have taken over the asylum. That’s certainly true of NBC’s “Boomtown,” another second-year crime show that received a facelift and feels considerably less distinct in its current form — so much so that anyone sampling the second-season premiere would wonder what all the critical fuss was about.
Admittedly, the “Dragnet” remake bore little resemblance to the original beyond the title, soberly focusing on grisly crimes, as opposed to the more mundane aspects of police work celebrated in the 1950s incarnation.
Now, with partner Frank Smith (Ethan Embry) gone and forgotten, Friday has made lieutenant at the Robbery/Homicide Division and oversees a multi-ethnic cast that includes Rosalyn Sanchez and Eva Longoria, suggesting that police departments on both coasts continue to recruit from the Victoria’s Secret catalog.
The first tour of duty is pretty by-the-numbers, straightforward cop fare, with a teenage girl who is tortured and killed, leaving an unsavory collection of suspects.
A hitch involves the girl’s anguished father, who threatens to disrupt an investigation that increasingly points toward fellow students. Asked if there’s a way to explain how kids could do such a thing, Friday says, “No answer that’s going to make us feel any better.”
O’Neill remains a sturdy presence at the show’s core, but the supporting cast doesn’t have much opportunity to distinguish itself, suggesting this will be another one of those crime shows where you either buy into the case or don’t.
Moreover, even ABC has admitted the timeslot has nothing to do with audience flow — segueing from the relocated “Wonderful World of Disney” directly into the dumped body of a torched teenager. Maybe they should hire the WB’s frog to lower a shade, reminding parents it’s time to put the kids to bed.
The scheduling, in fact, represents a double nightmare for Universal Television, which produces not only “L.A. Dragnet,” but also timeslot incumbent “The District” for CBS. If the two shows split the marginal number of young adults available, the outcome could be a murder-suicide — likely to be exacerbated further if NBC trots out Saturday-night encore runs of U TV’s “Law & Order” during sweeps, as it will this week in an obvious effort to blunt “Dragnet’s” premiere. Chalk that up as one more reason for the studio to welcome its pending marriage to the Peacock, but that’s hardly a welcome wedding gift.
In the interim, ABC’s modest expectations will likely keep Joe Friday on the case, though he had better watch his back. If those demos start to sag, it may be only a matter of time until someone decides to replace him with a newer model.