CBS appears most comfortable when it can introduce the smallest of twists to its procedural formula, and “Golden Boy” — a crisp, well-cast drama from Greg Berlanti and “NYPD Blue” alumnus Nicholas Wootton — fits the bill. Framed by fleeting flashbacks, the show features the youngest police commissioner in NYPD history, just as he’s becoming a homicide detective with a group of wary colleagues. As for filling in the seven-year span between then and now, that’s the high-class problem CBS would like to have. Based on previewed episodes and compatibility with the network’s crimefighting Friday lineup, it just might get its wish.
Wootton certainly hasn’t sought to reinvent the wheel; the producers have shrewdly put together a precinct that very much resembles “Blue” (Bonnie Somerville is even a holdover from the earlier series), except for the ambitious whippersnapper at its center: That would be Det. Walter William Clark Jr. (Theo James, yet another British import, who bears a more-than-passing physical resemblance to James Franco and is apt to be referred to by CBS viewers as “That nice young man”).
In terms of his political savvy and desire to leapfrog barriers to advancement, the Clark character also has a cinematic ancestor: Edmund Exley, the striving cop from “L.A. Confidential.” He’s paired with a gruff, world-weary partner, Don Owen (Chi McBride), who essentially plays his Yoda, counseling the kid on the ways of the (police) force.
Nevertheless, Clark’s rule-bending and zeal frequently place him in questionable situations, and in professional conflict with another squad member (“Southland’s” Kevin Alejandro), who essentially ruled the roost prior to his arrival.
The cases themselves are nothing new — indeed, it’s all pretty standard procedural stuff, with the only extracurricular detour involving Clark’s young sister (Stella Maeve), who he looks after. Yet the device of the flashbacks offers a nifty kicker, teasing at things to come — like why the older Clark walks with a pronounced limp.
Ultimately, the series benefits enormously from the interplay between James (whose limited credits include a “Downton Abbey” guest stint) and McBride, the latter adding much of the same dimension and humor he brought to the since-departed “Human Target.”
Although CBS is introducing the show with a pair of Tuesday previews against what can only be called tepid competition, “Golden Boy’s” regular beat is in the less-demanding, even more hospitable Friday berth, leading into the similarly themed “Blue Bloods.” The only superstitious note might be that CBS just tried a relatively unknown British lead in the same timeslot, lest anyone forget “Made in Jersey.”
Unlike “Golden Boy’s” hero, the future for TV shows is always uncertain. Even so, based on the narrow sweep of CBS dramas, this one looks better positioned than most to live up to its name.