The best of intentions yields the worst of mistakes in this ABC Family drama, which filters the complicated, delicate issue of inner-city life — captured with such meticulous, unflinching power in HBO’s “The Wire” — through a maze of hackneyed cliches. Given the dearth of minority family dramas, this surely qualifies as a lost opportunity, as even the mostly solid cast proves unable to overcome the show’s broad and unconvincing flourishes, which feel as if the entire exercise stumbled into a 1970s time warp.
Racing through its premise in the first hour, “Lincoln Heights” (yet another L.A. neighborhood name immortalized for primetime) focuses on Eddie Sutton (Russell Hornsby of “Superman Returns”), a police officer who raids a crack house in his old neighborhood. With his telegenic family of a nurse wife (Nicki Micheaux) and three teens bursting at the seams of their smallish apartment, he volunteers for a police program providing cops an incentive to live in distressed neighborhoods — following the model, in essence, of community-based policing.
Not surprisingly, the kids and missus aren’t initially thrilled by the move, which not only uproots their lives but brings all kinds of new (or rather, old) threats into them. For starters, the neighbors treat Eddie like a pariah, the longstanding rift between urban populations and the police reduced to glares and stares.
As for the kids, son Tay (Mishon Ratliff) is quickly bullied out of his lunch money, daughter Lizzie (Rhyon Brown) can’t buy a break as the new girl on her basketball team, and eldest daughter Cassie (Erica Hubbard) — afflicted with a case of Valley Girl-itis — is teased for, among other things, cozying up to a white boy (Robert Adamson).
Created by Seth Freeman and exec produced by Kathleen McGhee Anderson (“Soul Food”) and Kevin Hooks (“City of Angels”), “Lincoln Heights” raises these thorny issues and then dispatches them in the most facile manner. Neighbors are won over too easily and kids’ damaged psyches repaired almost immediately, as if there’s nothing a hug can’t cure.
This scenario somewhat absurdly peaks in the second hour, when a police shooting and Internal Affairs investigation brings an Al Sharpton-like activist into the picture and, again, risks chasing the Suttons out of the neighborhood. Nor does it help that the police force depicted here bears a closer resemblance to “Adam-12” than the many memorable shows that have moved the ball forward since Jack Webb stopped setting the TV-cop standard.
The shame is that in Hornsby and Micheaux, the producers have an appealing, loving couple, but there’s only so much they can do with this material. Beyond that, the show features some peculiar stylistic choices — such as a split-screen device that serves no real purpose other than, perhaps, to create a hoped-for sense of “edge.” There are also some relatively rough moments here courtesy of the criminal elements, making the series an awkward fit for a channel with “family” in its name.
“Old neighborhood, new dreams” reads the show’s promo line; still, cruising mean streets paved with plot points this familiar, the most logical reaction is to search for the turnoff.