Sunday, July 13, 2008

Flashpoint: On Target?

So, like many of you across the United States and Canada on Friday night I watched CBS / CTV's FLASHPOINT starring Enrico Colantoni, Hugh Dillon and Amy Jo Johnson.

Denis comments about the premiere here.

Aintitcool News
collates a half dozen or so reviews here.

I like the show. I do - just not a lot. I can take it or leave it, but...

I wanted to love this show because I am their demographic. I used to be in the military, and I have a respect and understanding of guns and their (mis)uses. I also live in a big city which has a lot of crime and intensity. I like crime shows.

The problem (I have) is that as well-produced as this show is, there is an underlying current of "scratch the surface only, don't go too deep into the characters" here that is disappointing. It speaks to missed opportunities to unify the separate plotlines and characters of the story and really leaves you wanting more (but not in a good way). Let me explain my thoughts on this because there's going to be some "but what about..?" from the audience. Fair enough.

From the CBS website:

FLASHPOINT is a drama that depicts the emotional journey into the tough, risk-filled lives of a group of cops in the SRU (inspired by Toronto's Emergency Task Force). It's a unique unit that rescues hostages, busts gangs, defuses bombs, climbs the sides of buildings and talks down suicidal teens. Members of a highly-skilled tactical team, they're also trained in negotiating, profiling and getting inside the suspect's head to diffuse the situation to try and save lives.

(emphasis mine)

Edit to add/correct/rant: CBS, it's "defuse" not "diffuse." The last thing you want in a hostage or bomb situation is to "make it cloudy" or "spread it out." The copywriter who wrote that should issue you a refund, and you can forward it to me. You're welcome.

This is an important point (to me) because at no time do we really "get into/access/ feel" that we get inside the heads of our team, and we didn't really get inside the head of our Croatian hostage-taker to find out exactly why he's doing what he's doing. We get glimpses to be sure, but they are fleeting, insubstantial things and to paraphrase writers/creators of television:

Television is about our characters and many different stories involving them.

That's the problem - I didn't feel involved - and I really wanted to be.

We have as our lead character negotiator Greg Parker (Enrico Colantoni - VERONICA MARS, JUST SHOOT ME, GALAXY QUEST) and he is the lynchpin of the group. Unfortunately we never see him perform that function to any great degree within the team.

Remember HILL STREET BLUES and Captain Frank Furillo? Everyone came into his office at one point or another - with a case, with a personal problem, with administrative crap. He was the touchstone for every character in the squad room of Hill Street Station. Look at THE SHIELD and you see how Vic Mackey interacts with every member of his team, and is the buffer between the Captain and his unit.

You became involved with and understood Furillo and Mackey as they made their way through the day and interacted with all the people in their lives and jobs.

The problem with FLASHPOINT is that GregParker only performs this function with Hugh Dillon's character and no one else. He isn't the center of the show and as such doesn't allow us access to all of the other characters. He is underused.

Is that really how you treat the star of your television show?

I also have a problem with how the main cast interacts with the guests. I would have really liked for Hugh Dillon's character to have more of a relationship with the Croatian hostage-taker. I think they were trying for a "other side of the same coin" feel there, but they didn't succeed. If they had succeeded there would have been much more resonance to the shooting and the consequences.

That's got to be the premise of the show - how there are consequences to our main characters in having to deal with these high tension situations. We want to get involved with this group. Add the fact that the team is changing - and thus the dynamic is changing should have involved me.

It didn't.

There was no razor-sharp, laser-intense drama there. There was a muted sense of drama that again didn't pull me in.

Let me, for a moment anyway, compare FLASHPOINT with LEVERAGE. Two different shows with two very different premises, yet both deal with teams (and their quirks and problems) and their leaders (who have their own quirks and problems) and resolving high tension situations.

The difference between the two is that LEVERAGE interacts with its characters, pulling them into one another like sub-atomic particles -- colliding, generating energy -- all around the nucleus of Timothy Hutton's character, Nate Ford. Those particles each have their role to play and Hutton's character plays them all beautifully - that's what he is initially hired to do -- by the guy who plays him!

In FLASHPOINT we have a nucleus of Greg Parker, but those particles - his team - aren't revolving around him. They seem to be in their own space -- not colliding with one another -- but smoothly running parallel. And when one of those particles does collide with the guest that week, it isn't in a truly meaningful, resonant way that speaks back to Greg Parker and his leadership of the team.

It's JUST another sad case that unfortunately had to be resolved with violence... and of course, Hugh Dillon goes home and hugs his kid. [cue violins] If he had gone home and slapped his wife the way the Croatian man had - then you would have had a moment. The same sort of moment you had when Frank Furillo went home and took a bath with the beautiful, outspoken, tough-as-nails defense attorney who was getting on his case that day. The same sort of moment you had when Vic Mackey turned around and shot one of his team because he was a rat.

Again I wanted more from this show. It has the research and procedural down cold... but it needs a heart, a center and some serious emotional collision in order for this show to be something other than just a muzzle flash on Friday nights. It aimed for the surface and it ricocheted off into the nether.

Too bad - it could have been a killshot.

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