Billed as “the best-of-the-best, hunting down the worst-of-the-worst,” “Manhunters” follows the U.S. Marshals’ Fugitive Task Force as it goes about the surprisingly sedate task of locating wayward felons. Despite being populated by colorful characters and employing splashy graphics and music reminiscent of a ’70s copshow — all crammed into a half-hour format — it’s a pretty plodding operation, where every dramatic climax borders on the anticlimactic. Yes, we know real-life police work can be laborious, but that doesn’t mean our TV diversions have to be.
Watching the manhunt process over the task force members’ shoulders, the viewer gets to hear a lot of tough dialogue — things like “Yeah, Joey, it’s Tommy. You might remember this guy — I locked him up twice,” or “We’ll never kick that door (down). We need the ram.”
Mostly, though, there’s a lot of staking out suspected perps, knocking on doors and questioning potential witnesses and accomplices with pixel-obscured faces. The only real highlight comes in the second episode, when one cop speaks about the practical necessity of having a “portable bathroom” during long stakeouts. Here’s a hint: This is not an ideal product-placement situation for soda marketed in plastic bottles.
To their credit, the producers do everything they can to make the show sizzle, including pounding music and swooping aerial shots that rapidly dart from Los Angeles to Manhattan, like an over-caffeinated Google Earth. It’s just that in the episodes previewed the fugitives seem more pathetic than dangerous, and their encounters with the law don’t exactly meet our bloodthirsty, TV-honed expectations. (A disclaimer reminds us that suspects are innocent until proven guilty, but that’s only after the cops talk incessantly about what scumbags they are.)
In short, “Manhunters” doesn’t even marginally advance the ball beyond the cinema-verite standard “Cops” established and has maintained for a couple of decades, other than to provide another reminder that police work is seldom as glamorous as TV and movies make it out to be. After an extended wait to see if a tip is going to pan out, one cop mutters, “There’s a lot of boredom, obviously.”
Actually, a bit too obviously.