Surely there has been a show more reliant on cliché than “Deputy,” Fox’s new cop drama. But none springs to mind.
What’s worse, those clichés tend to move only in one direction — towards an argument in favor of cops as uniquely insightful, and on any restraint on police power, from departmental strictures to coverage by the media, as inherently noxious and naive about the way the world ought to work. “You didn’t come here for the truth,” newly-appointed Sheriff Bill Hollister tells reporters after an incident. “You thought you smelled blood, the same way coyotes sniff out a wounded animal.” Earlier, Hollister’s wife (Yara Martinez), while pinning stars to her husband’s collar, said she thought his surprise elevation to sheriff was a great thing: “You don’t hand the job over to a judge or a lawyer. You send a lawman, someone who’s actually done the work.”
A show set in the present day that refers to urban cops as “lawmen” has a very elevated sense of itself as existing in a sort of Wild West tradition, one that coexists uneasily with the present day. For one thing, it seems that in the show’s universe, lawyers or judges being involved in the legal process is… bad; all justice should be meted out by cops whom Hollister exhorts to be “ass-kickers.”
There is an audience for a show like this — in a sense, it’s review-proof, because a negative review will only cement the sense among the intended viewership that a certain segment of the country just doesn’t get it. But there is something about watching Stephen Dorff relentlessly gas up rooms full of police officers to be more aggressive, less inhibited, coming as it does after years of disturbing examples of police officers using excessive force and worse against people of color, that left me uneasy. (Dorff’s casting here is hardly the headline, but exists balefully in the shadow of his excellent performance in “True Detective’s” third season, a set of episodes with much to say about justice as meted out by police.)
Perhaps what will deter even partisans inclined to like “Deputy” is the fundamentally lazy writing. When Hollister’s deputy (Bex Taylor-Klaus) shows up, his wife and daughter exchange, somehow, both “This is going to be fun!” and “I like her!,” two non-responses meant to indicate conflict ahead without doing the work. And when that deputy tells Hollister that their early days together have been “quite a ride,” he replies, “Buckle up. We’re just getting started.” In short, “Deputy’s” politics may come from a past decade, but its writing seems to come from another century.