Watching ABC’s new dramas “10-8” and “Threat Matrix,” you can’t help but think the network was almost trying to will itself back to those happy days of the 1970s — when “The Rookies” and a host of other Aaron Spelling productions nabbed viewers, while CBS’ “Mission: Impossible” put a reassuring spin on the Cold War. Still, Spelling’s latest take on cops in training, “10-8,” seems unlikely to further gild his Holmby Hills manor. Expectations won’t be high for the show (it replaces the relocated “Wonderful World of Disney”), but in a drama-heavy slot that includes “Cold Case” and “American Dreams,” its title just might be an even-numbered countdown to cancellation.
That moniker actually means “in service,” and it’s the signal used by tough-as-nails L.A. Sheriff’s Dept. training officer John Henry Barnes (Ernie Hudson), who is charged with trainee Rico Amonte (Danny Nucci) — a New York-bred tough who chose becoming a cop over crime — through his six-month probationary period. They even meet cute, cop-style, with Rico choking Barnes and embarrassing him in front of his superiors.
Writer-producer Jorge Zamacona has been working on shows like “Homicide” and “Oz,” so maybe his eyes were having trouble adjusting to the light of what has the feel of an hour intended to utilize sunny Southern California as one of its characters.
Unfortunately, the tone under director Martin Campbell is all over the map, and the other ethnically diverse regulars (a couple of other trainees and their bad-ass mentors) barely register — so much so that two featured in the pilot, Indigo and Mercedes Colon, have since been recast. The always-reliable Michael Rispoli is welcome as Nucci’s older brother, though his is merely a recurring role.
Barnes is labeled a “varsity-level ass-kicker” and “old school warrior,” but for all the blather about how tough the training is, this isn’t exactly “Full Metal Jacket.” In fact, after several foot chases and more action than most cops see in a career, you’re pretty safe in assuming Rico will manage to be disgraced and achieve redemption all in the first hour.
Other than the occasional rap song in the soundtrack, there isn’t much to separate “10-8” from a dozen movies and TV shows before it, with Hudson at times seeming to be a poor man’s version of Louis Gossett Jr. in “An Officer and a Gentleman.” Then again, when you’re an actor saddled with a cartoonish role, who ya gonna call?
The interesting part about “10-8” is that just when you’re about to write the whole thing off, there’s a scene that exhibits marginal promise, from Miguel Sandoval’s quiet authority as the unit’s tough captain to Barnes counseling Rico that cops only marry “hookers, nurses and other cops,” which sounds like something out of “The New Centurions.”
ABC is hoping “10-8” can provide a more compatible lead-in to “Alias,” and it would be hard to do worse in that regard than reruns of “Toy Story.” Still, unless Nucci’s charm and boyish smile generate enough wattage to hypnotize viewers, this trainee will need to grow up fast in order to remain “in service.”