Despite its enviable creative pedigree, “Jonny Zero” is the kind of breezy trip to the eye-candy store that makes a like-minded 20th-century artifact such as “Vega$” appear demanding by comparison. Beyond the undeniable pex appeal of its well-muscled star, there’s little to recommend this latest exercise in style over substance, whose uneven tone (silly, lighthearted, family drama, dark) does yield some stronger moments in upcoming episodes. Still, it’s a long-shot this awkward mix will keep the show’s recently paroled hero out on primetime’s mean streets for long.
Jonny Calvo (Franky G) is an ex-con and legendary street figure — so much so that people tell wild stories about his exploits as a New York bouncer for Garrett (Ritchie Coster), a corrupt club owner.
Newly back on the outside, Jonny tries to avoid getting sucked into his old life, determined instead to help wayward youths (mostly) who turn up with convenient episodic regularity. In the interim, he quickly befriends a wannabe white rapper, Random (GQ), and acts as what one acquaintance calls a “low-rent” private eye, which is accurate in more ways than one.
Jonny hates guns, kind of like Batman. He’s estranged from his family and spies on his young son from afar. Much as he wants to avoid the criminal world, it’s hard to stay away, especially with an ambitious FBI agent (“The Wire’s” Chris Bauer, also currently featured in ESPN’s “Tilt”) prodding him to infiltrate Garrett’s operation.
In short, there’s a lot going on here, but very little of it coheres. Rather, the emphasis seems to be on how good the show’s buff protagonist, a former college football player, looks in a muscle shirt. And fortunately, given the number of times he gets beaten up, Jonny takes a lickin’ and keeps on tickin’.
There is a fairly easy banter between Jonny and his new sidekick (just curious: Will the New York Times refer to them as “Mr. G and Mr. GQ”?), though most of the dialogue tilts toward the obvious when it isn’t downright bad. In one previewed episode, for example, the G-man warns Jonny that a terrorism rap could topple Garrett because “that crap sticks like diarrhea on a wool blanket.” OK, ew.
Jonny puts his streetwise skills to work helping, in sequence, a runaway teen turned stripper, a middle-class kid being thrown into jail and a girl boxer from the wrong side of the projects — that last plot coming in the third episode, the show’s darkest and thus far best.
Franky G, whose credits include “The Italian Job,” does possess a certain charisma, but it’s put to minimal use. In fact, it often seems as if the audience is supposed to root for Jonny mostly because of his triceps.
More than anything, “Jonny Zero” (a title that sounds too much like an anime series) feels desperate to be hip, trying to convey a sense of cool without much conviction. In fact, it’s hard to escape the impression that if a real-life Jonny was manning the door at one of those chic latenight haunts, he wouldn’t let this poser in.