Stripped of the pilot’s cinema-verite, faux-documentary style, “Detroit 1-8-7” emerges as a spare but undistinguished, by-the-book copshow, with the timeslot, gallows humor and co-star James McDaniel all direct links to “NYPD Blue.” Whether that’s enough to prevent this series (which derives its name from the code for a homicide) from becoming another primetime casualty is anybody’s guess, but as trade-offs for local production dollars go, ABC’s grim and gritty drama certainly won’t improve Detroit’s image among potential U.S. tourist destinations.
Shifting to his second consecutive ABC cop role (the last on the more intriguing “Life on Mars”) following “The Sopranos,” Michael Imperioli occupies centerstage amid this diverse ensemble as Det. Fitch, a brilliant crime-solver utterly devoid of interpersonal skills. He’s so inept at dealing with people, in fact, that he calls his new partner Damon (Jon Michael Hill) on his cell phone to dispense advice, even when the two are seated a few feet apart.
Fitch is hardly the only eccentric within the squad, which also includes McDaniel’s Sgt. Longford, who dreams of retiring to Italy; and soon-to-be dad Damon, whose wife calls incessantly, irritating Fitch by triggering a “Baby Love” ringtone. Still, Imperioli’s “Monk”-like persona and damaged character is clearly first among equals, if somewhat diluted by the pilot’s let’s-introduce-the-gang approach.
Written by Jason Richman, the premiere opens with a double murder in a pharmacy, as the detectives seek to determine whether it was a random or premeditated act. Along the way, there are several amusing references to Detroit as an urban hellhole, from murder remaining its one thriving industry to bullet casings piled up along the highway. In this show, Michigan’s production tax breaks come at a steep price.
Beyond that, though, the series plays like a pretty straightforward procedural — similar in tone to “Homicide,” including one profane (and frequently bleeped) interview with a hostile witness. It’s not bad, but it initially looks relatively uninspired next to TV’s best copshows, including current entries such as TNT’s “Southland.”
On the plus side, the appetite for solidly produced primetime crime appears nearly insatiable, there’s a hook to entice viewers into a second episode, and “Dancing With the Stars” ought to lead viewers toward its precinct.
Still, with the reconstituted pilot shoehorned into a conventional format, those strokes add up to a thin blue line of defense if “1-8-7” wants to avoid being 86’ed — potentially joining ABC’s lengthy list of recent 10 p.m. victims.