The debut of ABC’s new police procedural “Detroit 1-8-7” can’t come soon enough for producers who’ve had to deal with a fair share of controversy before even airing an episode. Locally, concerns over the show’s content and name had people around the city worried it would perpetuate a negative image of Detroit.
Debuting on tonight at 10 p.m., the pilot episode should dispel those concerns pretty quickly.
The pilot episode was filmed mostly in Atlanta (producer Jason Richman said about 60-70 percent, with re-shoots done in Detroit), but it’s clear that the intention of the series is to portray the city respectfully and celebrate the men and women of the city’s homicide unit. That’s not to say Detroit is treated with kid gloves, the high murder rate in the city is acknowledged and is even a story point in the pilot’s narrative, but at no time are the characters taking shots at the city.
Residents of Detroit will be able to judge the show on its merits, how it does as a police procedural; and it does pretty well.
Viewers are quickly introduced to the squad’s detectives including Det. Louis Finch (Michael Imperioli), Det. Damon Washington (Jon Michael Hill), Sgt. Jesse Longford (James McDaniel), Det. Vikram Mahajan (Shaun Majumder), Det. Ariana Sanchez (Natalie Martinez) and their boss Lt. Maureen Mason (Aisha Hinds) as they investigate two separate homicide cases.
Imperioli is the star of the show and he’s given a lot of material in the pilot. At the show’s premiere he said one of the reasons he signed up for the show was that his character had a very specific voice. Det. Finch is offbeat and even a little bit quirky. Imperioli does a good job laying the groundwork for that without making the character seem goofy or even silly.
Beyond Imperioli, each character in the diverse ensemble is given a moment or two in the pilot to reveal just enough about their respective characters that audiences will be in intrigued. Even secondary cast members like Dr. Abbey Ward (Erin Cummings) and Det. John Stone (D.J. Cotrona) get some time to shine.
The show’s creators intend to make the detective’s lives beyond the walls of the precinct a focal point of the series. That the glimpses into those lives are mostly interesting, is definitely a good thing.
Another positive is the show’s visual style, even though the drama’s documentary style was dropped over the summer, it still retains some of the camera angles, shaky handhelds and energy of a documentary. The producers say the show will keep a lot of those elements to make audiences feel they are right with detectives in the interview room or on the chase with them. It has visual flair similar to “Homicide,” but the pilot’s director Jeffrey Nachmanoff keeps the camera moving at a much quicker pace.
The only real drawback to the pilot is that it feels very familiar. Character drama is nothing new in cop shows. It was the basis for the above-mentioned “Homicide” and there wasn’t a type of murder the original “Law & Order” didn’t cover in its 20-year run. The resolution to the homicide case won’t have too many unexpected twists for veterans of those shows.
Going forward, “Detroit 1-8-7” will have to rely on its compelling cast and unique location (that it will shoot entirely in going forward) to give it that hook, that extra something to grab viewers and separate itself from the long history of successful cop shows to be one of its own.
PHOTO: The “Detroit 1-8-7″ cast (Left to Right) – Jon Michael Hill as Detective Damon Washington, Erin Cummings as Dr. Abbey Ward, D.J. Cotrona as Detective John Stone, Aisha Hinds as Lieutenant Maureen Mason, Michael Imperioli as Detective Louis Fitch, James McDaniel as Sergeant Jesse Longford, Shaun Majumder as Detective Vikram Mahajan and Natalie Martinez as Detective Ariana Sanchez. (ABC/DONNA SVENNEVIK)