TNT is smartly pairing “Dark Blue” — a new drama about a deep-cover special police unit — with the return of “Leverage,” essentially another post-Cold War variant on “Mission: Impossible.” The Jerry Bruckheimer label ensures that the new project will be dark, gritty and handsomely produced, though for the most part the series hews closely to safe procedural terrain — taking far fewer chances than its life-risking protagonists. “Blue” does offer a few zestier character flourishes toward the end, but the dreary first mission is better executed than conceived.
Wearing a three-day beard and perpetual scowl, Dylan McDermott stars as Carter Shaw, a driven cop still brooding over personal loss. His elite team includes the recently married Ty (Omari Hardwick), the brash Dean (Logan Marshall-Green) and the fresh-faced Jaimie (Nicki Aycox).
It’s the kind of world where the good guys occasionally have to do (or at least ignore) very bad things so they can maintain their cover and thus utter lines like “No one has ever been this close” to a nefarious crook. In the premiere, said criminal’s evil is immediately established by an opening sequence in which a hostage is tortured, if nothing else suggesting that this might be Dick Cheney’s favorite program.
Directed by “CSI” alum Danny Cannon and written by Doug Jung (with the two sharing story credit), the show exhibits little interest in exploring any new ground — a meat-and-potatoes approach that has characterized most of TNT’s development; rather, the cable net’s formula generally relies on playing to an audience that doesn’t mind soaking in shows that could just as easily be found on a 1970s or ’80s primetime roster.
What “Dark Blue” lacks, initially, is the kind of star wattage that has brightened the best components of TNT’s original-series lineup, with McDermott proving a bland lead and his charges remaining works in progress. A second episode focusing on Hardwick’s character proves crisply efficient but doesn’t stray far from the cop-braving-exposure formula (and while Kyle Secor pops up in the premiere as a fed probing Shaw’s unit, perhaps unfortunately, he isn’t a series regular).
“I’m not worried about when you come back,” Ty’s wife tells him between assignments. “I’m worried about who you are when you do.”
The depths to which law enforcement must go to thwart crime is a story as old as the hills, and would seem to require some new wrinkle to sustain it and stand apart from the crowd. Lacking that, this show is plenty “Dark” alright, but it’s an awfully thin “Blue” line.