Whenever a new series is announced, it’s always difficult to decide whether or not to fit it into our increasingly busy schedules. One of ABC’s latest dramas, The Rookie, was on some of our watch lists. According to the network
Starting over isn’t easy, especially for small-town guy John Nolan (Nathan Fillion) who, after a life-altering incident, is pursuing his dream of being a Los Angeles police officer. As the force’s oldest rookie, he’s met with skepticism from some higher-ups who see him as just a walking midlife crisis. If he can’t keep up with the young cops and the criminals, he’ll be risking lives including his own. But if he can use his life experience, determination and sense of humor to give him an edge, he may just become a success in this new chapter of his life.
So, should you try it or trash it? Check out what the Writes of the Roundtable had to say below the cut!
What made you give The Rookie a try?
Lizzie: I just tuned in to see how bad it was; and honestly, it was even worse than I expected.
Joy: Honestly…agreeing to do this roundtable. Plus, I like the opportunity to be pleasantly surprised. If The Rookie is decent, I will be, because the promos and posters really turned me off. The casting seems to feature this older white guy (Fillion) coming into a police department with more African-American and women than most. Then, the premise is that somehow his “life experience, determination and sense of humor” are going to make him the hero? On its face, it’s tone-deaf for the times. Given the showrunner’s last project (season 8 of Castle), I don’t have much faith in him to do anything good with this.
Anam: Mainly to do this roundtable. I was vaguely curious to see why ABC been pushing The Rookie so much.
Shana: Pure. Morbid. Curiosity.
Luci: I just wanted to confirm it was as bad as I thought it would be. Hint: It’s worse.
Logan: I decided to watch it because I wanted to see if it was as bad as the promos made it seem. They really did nothing for me.
Melinda: Well, the whole premise for The Rookie seems ridiculous. I am a former police officer, and I worked with several people who left their careers to finally pursue their dream job of becoming a cop in their 30s, 40s, and yes, 50s. Other than a few “old” jokes, these colleagues were not harassed anymore than the rest of us. I am watching simply as a woman who worked in law enforcement, who was harassed for everything from my size to the day I left pregnant on maternity leave and am truly hoping this is not another show about a man’s struggle in a career change.
What were the pilot’s strong points?
Lizzie: Eh, there is some strong dialogue here and there, but I hesitate to say it has any strong points. Especially in 2018, the show feels out of touch, and the main character adds absolutely nothing to an already crowded TV landscape.
Joy: It’s a pretty good cast. What’s wrong with the show has nothing to do with them; it’s the underlying premise. There’s some decent dialogue, and the female characters aren’t doormats.
Anam: Not really, no. There are just so many cop shows out there that I didn’t really see The Rookie as anything special. Sure, it wasn’t terrible, but who really needs another show centered around a white male? And if I really wanted to watch Nathan Fillion in a procedural, I’d watch Castle’s first five seasons (possibly season six, up until “Veritas”) — before Fillion’s ego got in the way, and he ruined the show by refusing to work with his female co-lead.
Shana: The Rookie would be a lot better if it either focused on all characters equally or centered around folks like Badass Jean Jacket Chick (Lucy Chen, apparently) or Equally Badass Training Officer than it does on Sad White Dude. What about Jackson West, who “broke all his dad’s records at the academy” and what must be an interesting dynamic with a father who’s already made it to the top, despite having the systematic hurdles to jump as a man of color? Would he be a more interesting “rookie” than the bland, one-dimensional, and completely unsympathetic one the series is feeding us?
There are some stories that could be told here, and the actors portraying those characters did some great work in this pilot — in just introducing them alone. But will The Rookie give those stories the attention and nuance they deserve? Can it, when all of its promotional material has promised The Plucky Nathan Fillion Hour?
Luci: If they eliminated Nathan Fillion’s character and focused on the Chen girl or the other dude, maybe it would be salvageable. But then it would be just like Rookie Blue, just set in LA instead of Toronto. Except the Canadian show was really, really good, whereas The Rookie really, really isn’t.
Logan: Every other character besides Nathan Fillion’s. Officer Chen in particular, but I also found Officer West charming. Officer Bishop and her dreams of police chief. Literally, everything other than Officer Nolan.
Even Officer Chen’s jerk of a T.O. was more interesting because at least he was somewhat complex, especially after throwing his estranged wife into the mix. But all of The Rookie‘s strong qualities are drowned out by the show’s one glaring flaw: Officer Nolan.
Melinda: If Lucy Chen was the main focus of The Rookie, then I would possibly stick around for the ride, but there is literally no point to Fillion’s character. He drags down a show with already little potential, stereotypical police caricatures, and no direction. The pilot attempts to tackle PTSD in law enforcement but barely addresses it before completely disregarding it. The kid who was too afraid to act is a more realistic storyline than anything having to do with the middle-age man being harassed by his colleagues.
Was there anything you didn’t like?
Lizzie: If i’m going to be honest, I found The Rookie unwatchable at times. It never made me care about anyone; and in fact, for most of the pilot, I felt really sad for the poor girl who is clearly being set up as the love interest to her 20-years-older co-star, which I guess was supposed to be the main draw? Zzzz.
Joy: There’s a ton that’s been said that I agree with, so I don’t want to say much on points already made. Suffice it to say that the relationship between Nolan and Officer Lucy Chen (Melissa O’Neil) was an awful and unrealistic choice. It was made even worse with the crack about her loving him because of the beach house he rents. Besides that, this storyline was unnecessary at this point.
In general though, the problems with The Rookie come down to bad development and writing. First of all, that opening! John Nolan should be dead! Sure, we get it. Nolan’s just gotten divorced, and he’s sad. Then, these serious but angsty bank robbers come in, and he gets his mojo back by distracting them enough for the banker to hit the silent alarm.
Fillion is great at these kinds of scenes — we’ve watched him do them for years. The problem is this: Because of how the bank robbers were written and portrayed, the fact that Nolan kept talking and wasn’t shot was completely unbelievable! This show is billed as a drama, not a dramedy, but if even with a dramedy you’ve got to make the humorous bits feel plausible. There are two distinct moments where Nolan should have gotten his head blown off.
Another point that bothered me as soon as I saw it was the approach taken by Sergeant Wade Grey (Richard T. Jones). As Melinda dug into, Nolan’s real story is interesting enough without throwing in a sergeant of a police department that has no age limits, who is determined to root out this one guy because he’s older. Like, how did Sergeant Grey make it up the ranks not knowing his department’s philosophy?
Yes, every story needs an antagonist and obstacles. However, the writers could have focused on the real physical challenges John Nolan has as a legitimate concern — especially after the fence climbing incident. Instead, the sergeant’s mind is made up before he’s even met John Nolan. If Grey had made light-hearted jokes about Nolan being born before disco, and then events occurred that made Grey feel Nolan was a danger to his officers, this dynamic wouldn’t feel so artificial.
Still, I doubt the above change alone could fix The Rookie. The show’s structural issues come from the choices made in creating this star vehicle for Fillion. For instance, the decision to have the three other male principal characters have these negative character defects.
I’ve already discussed Sergeant Grey. Officer Tim Bradford (Eric Winter) is rookie officer Cheng’s overtly racist, sexist, power-abusing training officer. (Because sexism or racism is never subtle, right?) Yet, we’re supposed to be all forgiving towards Bradford because his wife’s a drug addict? Heck, with a husband like that…Meanwhile, Officer Jackson West (Titus Makin Jr.) isn’t much better. This son of a prominent higher up is a polite know-it-all who’s afraid of actual police action!
Only Nolan gets to be Mr. Amazing Nice Guy. Hence, Nolan gets the young badass girlfriend, and the young female bartender thinks he’s hot. Nolan’s got the right touch for everything, even if he can’t jump a fence. He’s perfectly imperfect.
This white male fantasy through-line in The Rookie reminds me of Castle season 8. As such, there are a lot of gunfights, tempered with rescuing a cute kid.
The one difference with The Rookie is that they’ve bent over backward to make the women interesting…Except, of course, the badass still has to sleep with the guy being portrayed as Mr. Amazing.
Anam: Honestly, I didn’t get it. It seemed like The Rookie was set up like a procedural, but then halfway through, they finished off their case of the week and jumped to a new one. This might work as a 30-minute sitcom if they added some humor and changed up their lead to someone who isn’t a middle-age white male. (Seriously, though, you’re claiming Fillion is only 40 years old? There weren’t actual 40-year-old white dudes you could cast?) With the right changes, The Rookie might work — but nah, it was boring and all over the place. Clearly, the writers were trying to pull on the “ship” between the two rookies, but chemistry can’t be created. And there was none there. It was cringy at best.
Shana: God, where do I even start? How about we discuss the fact that the entire concept of The Rookie is trash? Poor middle-aged white dude, can’t get everyone to love him right away when he tries to become a cop. Not only is this pretty unrealistic, but like…At one point, we get the line, “I’ve got to work twice as hard, three times as fast” from said middle-aged white dude — just after the woman of color who is his training officer said she wants to be captain one day.
Or how about the fact that Nathan Fillion, who I know is damned well capable of far better, looks like a rookie himself in this pilot? His character’s emotional range is basically a flat line: Held at gunpoint? The fear isn’t there. Unsure of who you are/down on your luck? Same mid-range nothingness! It’s Fillion-meets-Castle-meets-empty-shell, which is really sad, considering he has — and always has had — the ability to be great. See also: Firefly, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and the first several seasons of Castle. Or, hell, even Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. Whatever made that hard-working, talented guy start phoning everything in is a curse on this television landscape.
Then again, if you can be the star of your own procedural without doing much more than showing up and saying words — and, as a bonus, the network will promote you hardcore — why bother with the effort to do anything more? It’s so hard being a middle-aged white dude, guys.
Luci: Where do I even start? The weak dialogue? Nathan Fillion basically playing himself, as he always does? That first scene felt like I was watching Castle all over again, and it was the exact same character. Exact same delivery. Exact same everything. Clichéd characters and overused tropes. Horrible, horrible jokes. That so-called test Mr. Macho Training Officer pulled on Chen, by making her translate an awful racist rant, was where I drew the line. I watched maybe five minutes after that and called it a day. I have better things to watch than this.
Logan: He…he called himself a pioneer. Sure, Nolan was joking, but I feel like that set the tone for the whole show. This sad white dude thinks he’s a pioneer because he was “born before disco died?” Yeah, okay. An actual pioneer would be literally any other character. The issue with The Rookie is that it’s built around Fillion, which means we will see the most of the least interesting character on the show; and no matter how many other characters may be more deserving, Fillion’s character will always be the hero. Which is more than enough to induce an eyeroll.
Not only that, but I groaned out loud when they showed Nolan in the locker room after his first day was over and he was drowning in his man pain. There is already too much man pain on television. Please, ABC, do not add any more of it. Let me also say, why did the writers feel the need to have Officer Chen involved with Fillion’s character? Was that really necessary? Did I have to sit through watching 47-year-old Fillion wade his way through a secret relationship with a character played by an actress who is 17 years his junior? I vote no. Can they not?
Melinda: The Rookie is a law enforcement disaster — TV show or not. Field training is generally done in stages. These characters would not actually be running their own calls on their first day; never mind the human resources disaster that this department is. The supervisor threatening to get rid of the older guy because of his age? I don’t think so.
The worst part of the show, however, isn’t the TV version of a police department. It is yet another show that could’ve been a representation of women and people of color in law enforcement and instead focused on the wrong person — once again because of an actor. The second worst thing about The Rookie is Chen’s field training officer. In no way would a bodycam-clad police officer use racially charged slurs as a “training tool” to show authority in his training. In no way would an officer be allowed to stop a person without a reason, tell his trainee to search a person of the opposite sex, and then let the same trainee get her ass kicked a little to prove a point. This is just poor writing and a poor attempt at over-dramatizing a career that doesn’t need to be made “Hollywood.” There is enough discrimination of women in police work to be written about without creating nonsensical drama from an asshole character.
Final verdict: Try it or trash it?
Lizzie: Trash it, without a doubt. This is nothing more than a nonsensical conduit for an actor who’s well past his prime and entirely out of his comfort zone. And considering that actor did that thing, you know, where he threw his female co-star under the bus, I’m not inclined to give The Rookie anything resembling a chance to get better.
Joy: While there are many shows designed as a star vehicle, most do a far better job of it. I look forward to seeing all of these actors working on better shows. Trash it.
Anam: Take out the trash, please. Hard pass on The Rookie.
Shana: To quote one of the supposed bullies, who’s really just spilling the tea, on The Rookie: “I hate what you represent: a walking mid-life crisis.” So, um. Yeah. Trash it.
Luci: Trash it. One hundred percent. The Rookie is a sad attempt at keeping Fillion on the air, and it just didn’t work. But the worst part is, this is the kind of mediocre content that will probably manage to stay on the air for a few seasons. Because people are idiots.
Logan: Trash it, but maybe pull a The Conners and kill off Nolan. Bring the show back as The Rookies. I’d watch a show about literally everyone else. Seriously, I’d watch it as long as they could promise me there would be no more Sad White Dude sidewalk marches to thumping melancholy pop music.
Melinda: I don’t know how anyone could continue watching The Rookie without feeling like they are wasting an hour of their life every Tuesday night. Trash it.
The Rookie airs Tuesdays at 10/9c on ABC