In recent years, Fox has unveiled cop dramas starring robots, Houdini and a magically preserved Ichabod Crane. But “APB” may be the network’s most fantastical foray yet.
“APB” chronicles a billionaire’s takeover of an urban police district, and posits that what will fix the problems with American policing is not more accountability but less. Suffice it to say there’s a lot of wishful thinking on display, and not much in the way of watchable substance when it comes to the cases of the week.
There is a certain amount of self-awareness in “APB”: Justin Kirk, who plays Gideon Reeves, the wealthy man who privatizes policing in part of Chicago, is a very skilled actor, and he gives his character the kind of nuance that allows Reeves to be more than a Silicon Valley stereotype. That said, aside from an underused Ernie Hudson, much of the cast around Kirk is far less compelling, and the pairing of Reeves with tenacious female detective Theresa Murphy (Natalie Martinez) doesn’t provide “APB” with a compelling center. She teaches him why she relies on her instincts and he impresses her with his surveillance-oriented toys, but the whole relationship is ultimately less than the sum of its parts.
Kirk’s delivery of Reeves’ snappy, snarky patter is a bright spot, but the rest of the drama is too earnest — and too hesitant to engage with matters of race and with the complex issues surrounding the power and responsibilities of law enforcement — to accrue any real texture or depth. Residents of Chicago would be unlikely to answer “give the cops cool drones” when asked for their top suggestions regarding potential reforms of the police department, but “APB” is entranced with its tech (cops also get flashy tasers and and upgraded Cadillacs). Unfortunately, the political plotlines and character development are not as nimble as Reeves’ cutting-edge drones, and community residents, who are rarely consulted about anything, are mere bystanders to Reeves’ presumptuous experiments.
Of course, it’s not a bad thing for a broadcast network drama to explore the deep-seated array of issues surrounding crime and punishment in America (and those are topics that also consume the thoughtful Fox drama “Shots Fired,” which arrives March 22). This kind of social engagement on scripted TV is not only welcome but quite possibly commercially advisable: When a show takes a position on a topical matter, that’s one way for it to stand out from the hordes of programming flooding consumers’ screens.
Yet there’s something troubling about the stance of “APB,” which, in its early episodes, posits that cops just need fancy equipment, a slick app and free reign to do what they want without being held back by boring rules and uptight procedures.
Many police officers could certainly use greater resources, and they undoubtedly do a hard job that has only gotten more complex and thankless over time. But it’s hard to make the argument that a lack of funds is the core problem that has driven waves of protests against the excesses of law enforcement. A lack of accountability is often seen as one of the most pressing problems in urban police departments, but “APB” seems to view that as a feature, not a bug.
One of Reeves’ first moves is to outfit his cops with armor and uniforms that makes them look like intimidating Terminators, a development the show treats with gee-whiz excitement. Reeves also hands out promotions whenever he feels like it, a move that’s more preposterous than Ichabod Crane’s most fanciful adventure. The Chicago police union, a very powerful entity that would undoubtedly have a lot to say about Reeves’ “innovations,” is only mentioned in passing once in the first three episodes. No one’s expecting a Fox cop show to resemble a documentary, but a bit more contact with reality, in the form of entrenched aldermen or resistant union officials, might have actually juiced up the stakes.
Many issues regarding policing in America have revolved around a perceived (or very real) lack of consequences for officers who violate the rights or otherwise harm civilians, and that is a topic that “APB” skirts around gingerly, when it’s not ignoring it altogether. The drama is generally unwilling to engage meaningfully with what Reeves’ policing strategy would mean to the community, and the politicians on the show, when they’re seen at all, generally kowtow to whatever the billionaire wants. But surely any endeavor like this would hit roadblocks: If nothing else, the police force’s use of Reeves’ tech and his data-mining strategies appear to involve routine violations of privacy.
“APB” has some fertile ideas at its core; for instance, the app Reeves unveils actually has a number of intriguing features. But the lack of bold engagement with the implications of the drama’s premise, combined with a number of formulaic elements, makes for a generally unsatisfying viewing experience.