Detroit 1-8-7 – Wears Its Influences Well!

Detroit 1-8-7 Cast ABC-DONNA SVENNEVIK

It might be an overstatement to connect Detroit 1-8-7 [ABC, Tuesdays, 10/9C] to Dragnet, one of the first [and best] procedurals ever to cross the small screen but its opening voiceover detailing the circumstances in which the Detroit homicide work certainly suggests it legendary predecessor. The faux documentary style of the first few episodes gives rise to another comparison as well – NYPD Blue [and while the faux documentary fades from the series, the NYPD Blue influences remain –and that’s a Good Thing.

The premiere is built around two cases – Pharmacy Double, the murder of two employees of a pharmacy in what looks to be a drug-related case, and Bullet Train, in which a well-dressed man is found dead on a train car in a train yard. In both cases, the key to the case’s solution is due to basic legwork – not unlike the Dragnet methodology.

The first case is investigated by ten-year Homicide veteran Detective Louis Fitch [Michael Imperioli, The Sopranos] and rookie Detective Damien Washington [Jon Michael Hill] – on his first day in Homicide. Washington is as gregarious and Fitch is not, and his wife is expecting a baby any second now – something that plays into the case in unexpected ways. They are joined by Detective Ariana Sanchez [Natalie Martinez, Death Race, Saints & Sinners] an up-and-coming star in the department.

The second case is being worked by Sgt. Jesse Longford [James McDaniel [NYPD Blue], a thirty-year veteran facing looming retirement, and Detective Vikram Mahajan [Shaun Majumder, 24], whose seven years in Homicide have not dampened his enthusiasm for The American Dream.

Attempting to ride herd on this aggregate of wildly different personalities is Lt. Maureen Mason [Aisha Hinds, True Blood], a single mother whose taking grief from her teenage daughter may actually help her at work. There’s also a medical examiner, Dr. Abbey Ward [Erin Cummings, Mad Men], who takes out her work frustrations by having roller derby as a hobby. The final element of the mix is a transfer from Narcotics to Homicide, John Stone [D.J. Cotrona, Windfall], a good looking, smooth talking ace who gets partnered with Sanchez.

There is a dark humor that enfolds Detroit 1-8-7 – the kind of humor that my ex-roommate the cop explained as being something that develops when you work at a job that so frequently deals with unnatural death. A clear example here is a scene where Longford and Mahajan search a crime scene for a bullet casing of a specific caliber – by there are examples throughout.

Detroit 1-8-7 is about more than hunting down the bad guys, though. It’s also about the kind of people who choose to do this job; what it takes to do this job, and the ways in which it can affect their lives. The two episodes made available to me for review were smart, thoughtful and, in some ways, provocative. The show does not back away from the downside of being a homicide detective.

The series’ first two episodes are solid in terms of both their mysteries and character development – though there is an unusual twist in the premiere that could come off as being wildly unlikely. The faux documentary style could lose its impact before long, so it’s good to see than even as early as the second ep, it’s not as present.

The cast is outstanding. Michael Imperioli makes a good a detective as he did a gangster; McDaniel makes Longford the squad’s sage [who is apprehensive about retiring], and both Majumder and Hill make their characters’ enthusiasm for the job contagious.

Detroit 1-8-7’s pilot was written by Jason Richman and, while certainly not the best pilot script of the year, it does a good job of introducing the players and giving them interesting cases to work on. Director Jeffrey Nachmanoff does a good job of juggling the main plot arcs and the unusual twist mentioned above work better than it probably should.

Overall, the series seems to be off to a good start, creatively, and it is certainly entertaining enough to watch on a recurring – if not regular – basis.

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Photo by Donna Svennevik/Courtesy of ABC