“L.A.’s Finest” isn’t just a cop show. It’s a gambit — a bet placed by cable provider Spectrum that by providing not just access to HBO and HGTV but original programming of its own, it’ll stand out. The series, a Jerry Bruckheimer production set within the universe of his “Bad Boys” film franchise, is the beginning of a stream of on-demand Spectrum Originals programming that will also include, eventually, a comeback for “Mad About You.”
The idea of providing some added value to subscribers through original programming is a reasonable enough one (why not get in a game with so many players already?). But this particular show seems ill-suited to its format: Meant to live on an on-demand platform, this drama seems oddly unlikely to have been specifically demanded by anyone at all. A tonally disastrous half-comedy, half-melodrama about policing that draws in cartel politics and family angst, “L.A.’s Finest” seems designed to be vaguely, generically acceptable to have on in the background — which makes it a strange choice as the launching point for a set of programs that would seem to require viewers affirmatively choosing to tune in.
Notionally, series stars Gabrielle Union and Jessica Alba might draw in curious channel-surfers. And Union, especially, is as strong as ever in her role as a police officer whose desire to right the scales of justice extends to off-books operations like burning down a nightclub. We consistently believe she has her reasons, while Alba, by comparison, reads a bit too zenned-out and sunny to sell her character’s ties to darkness. But the jauntiness of the series — toggling in the show’s first scenes to banter about Alba’s book club and Union’s sex life, and later to hazily motivated shifts in the pair’s relationship, back and forth between collaboration and mistrust as the script demands it.
“L.A.’s Finest” would be substantially worse than most of the fare on a broadcast network, but it would feel at home there in philosophy. A show in which Alba can, from scene to scene, face down criminal elements from her past and then her stepdaughter’s inappropriate wardrobe is a show that wants to be everything to everyone — and a show that not only can’t nail its tonal hairpin turns but doesn’t really seem to be trying is destined to be no one’s favorite.
The years since “House of Cards” kicked off the streaming revolution, for good or ill, made the boldly niche show, the series carefully wrought to appeal to a sensibility, however far outside the mainstream, the most valuable sort of series — and even broadcast television, in its slow and plodding way, is following suit. “L.A.’s Finest” seems to want to exist outside the way people watch TV now. Which makes it a poor on-demand show, but perhaps the only sort of show a cable provider, nostalgic for an era rapidly passing from view, could create.
“L.A.’s Finest.” Spectrum Originals. May 13. Three episodes screened for review.
Cast: Gabrielle Union, Jessica Alba.
Executive Producers: Gabrielle Union, Jessica Alba, Brandon Margolis, Brandon Sonnier, Pam Veasey, Doug Belgrad, Jerry Bruckheimer, Jonathan Littman, KristieAnne Reed, Jeff Gaspin, Jeff Morrone, Anton Cropper.