CBS has exhausted so many permutations of the buddy-cop format that the network has inevitably resorted to adapting and recycling. It does a bit of both with “Rush Hour,” a light-hearted series version of the Chris Tucker-Jackie Chan movie trilogy, pairing Justin Hires and Jon Foo as the wisecracking L.A. detective and taciturn Hong Kong cop, thrown together here on an open-ended basis.
Establishing the template naturally requires a bit of fancy footwork, and as an indication of the tone the network is seeking, the task has been entrusted to producers Bill Lawrence — usually associated with sitcoms, like “Scrubs” and “Cougar Town” — and Blake McCormick. In rapid-fire fashion, the pilot, directed by Jon Turteltaub, briskly sets up Hires’ Det. Carter as a cop who breaks rules — to the point of irritating his captain (a slumming Wendie Malick) — and Foo, who started out as a stuntman, as Det. Lee, a near-automaton with mad martial arts skills, who comes to L.A. after a heist/massacre that involved a newbie cop who happens to be his sister.
The “fish out of water” might be TV’s oldest premise, and “Rush Hour” lands in a rather long tradition of movies (a la the Charles Bronson-Toshiro Mifune Western “Red Sun”) and TV (including CBS’ 1998 series “Martial Law”) that involve dropping Asian heroes into Western settings. The formula, however, also perhaps unavoidably traffics in hoary stereotypes, even if Hires, a stand-up comic, dials down the clowning from Tucker’s much-lampooned performance.
As a result, “Rush Hour” is one of those series that might outwardly appear to advance the cause of casting diversity — including Aimee Garcia as Carter’s former partner — yet still seems to have been plucked from TV’s black-and-white era. Sure, the good guys are people of color, but so are the African-American thugs that Lee tosses around a bar and, eventually, a whole warehouse full of Chinese flunkies, to be knocked over like arcade ducks.
Nor is there anything particularly novel about CBS’ approach to launching the show, introducing it during the thick of the NCAA Basketball Tournament, hoping the promos will help attract the men tuning in, who presumably like seeing people get kicked in the face.
The benefit of this strategy is that negative reviews won’t likely represent much of a setback; rather, “Rush Hour” will get by, or not, on the equity built up in the name, its mix of action and comedy, and the chemistry (hardly combustible at first) of its stars. Until then, a show intended to get its kicks will collect its share of lumps.