Netflix’s new series “The Good Cop” proves, once again, the streamer’s ambition to compete on every conceivable turf. Set to be released the same day as their shimmering prestige play “Maniac,” “The Good Cop” is a show that aims for as broad an audience as possible—and in the process ends up becoming a show that it’s hard to imagine anyone calling their favorite. A show with frustratingly little on its mind, “The Good Cop” quickly establishes its two leads as familiar personality types and then reiterates who they are, over and over, for ten episodes, with little modulation or development.
Worse, for a show that sets up and solves a new mystery every episode, the show relies on the utter lack of intelligence of both its two leads and everyone around them. The good cop of the title is Tony Caruso Jr., played by Josh Groban as a stickler for the rules who bumbles his way through his cases before often arriving at the right answer in a moment of genius. He lives with his father (Tony Danza), a corrupt and disgraced former cop who’s obsessively drawn to moral gray zones. Other characters, similarly one-note, include a weary and ready-for-retirement vet played by Isiah Whitlock Jr. and a fiery and short-tempered cop (Monica Barbaro) who’s the younger Caruso’s partner and butts heads with him, predictably and dully, at every turn. Both Carusos are frustratingly dull-witted, Groban’s character especially: The charismatic actor is forced to tamp his inborn wit and charm into a pedant who keeps a swear jar in his squad room and tends to miss or misinterpret every clue before suddenly realizing the solution in a moment. The character dynamic here is as simple an equation as the one underpinning USA’s “Monk,” with which it shares a creator, Andy Breckman, but “The Good Cop” lacks charm or wit in telling its goofball stories.
The lunacy of a show relying on coincidence and on characters’ ignorance can be fun, at times, but “The Good Cop” is merely trying. In one episode, framed around a mystery at a bowling alley, Danza’s character decides to install Groban’s on a ten-pin team and gives him a specially rigged ball with robotics that help it swerve to knock down every pin. Not merely Groban but every spectator believes that this ball, which miraculously changes direction to deliver a strike every time, is on the level; Groban grows convinced he’s a messenger from God and that he needs to quit law enforcement in order to bowl full-time. It’s not fun to watch characters so oblivious and unimaginative, not least when the writers of “The Good Cop” seem at times barely to have a handle on their characters other than the sketchiest details. (Groban’s cop is obsessed with rule-following and with his job… until he’s ready to quit as soon as a “hidden talent” announces itself.)
It’s unfair to expect “The Good Cop” to have anything to say about contemporary policing beyond that it literally exists; that’s not the show it’s trying to be. (Contrast it to the clever and subversive “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” to see just how far even broadcast TV has come from programming this flavorless and studiously inoffensive.) But that’s the problem, really. It’s not trying to be much of anything. The relationship between a cop thrown off the force for his misdeeds and his by-the-book son would seem to provide some creative ferment. Instead, it just gives rise to basically good-natured grumbling, with Groban trying his best with an unappealing character and Danza playing himself once again. Absent real conflict or characters more than inconsistently drawn stereotypes, “The Good Cop” is a throwaway, an unworthy addition to a streaming service that has the cultural capital, if not always the desire, not to have to settle for mediocrity.