Casting a non-actor in a lead role based on their other fame is always a risky business. On the one hand, it can draw in an audience. On the other, you could sabotage your entire show. I confess, I only watched The Good Cop because it stars Josh Groban. He always comes across as warm, charming, and with a fantastically self-deprecating and self-aware sense of humour (his appearance on Never Mind The Buzzcocks was hilarious!). I’m showering the praise now because, despite a wealth of natural likability, he struggles here. This combined with a flat direction, lack of sub-plots per episode, and rather empty soundtrack, means that the whole show is delivered in a stilted and unengaging way.
Groban plays TJ, a ‘Nancy Drew’ goodie goodie cop who is so straight-laced that he labels even minor indiscretions as ‘infractions’. But his father is the infamous Tony Caruso (Tony Danza) – a good-hearted but corrupt ex-cop imprisoned for taking bribes, committing fraud, conjuring evidence, and so on. Now released, and living with TJ as part of his parole agreement, their clashing of personalities was clearly designed to be the core of the show.
For most of the run, the back and forth with TJ and his father is laboured at best. Groban plays TJ with single focus, meaning that there is simply no nuance to his character. A more experienced actor would have extra elements to add weight to the performance. A look here, a pause there; body language betraying inner conflicts. Groban does the rookie thing of simple doing what’s in the script, which isn’t enough.
For his part, Danza plays the ‘loveable rogue’ to the hilt as you’d expect of a man with the wealth of experience he brings. But his characterisation of ‘cheeky’ labours the point with basic intelligence at times. When he decides to try to hit on a 20-something supermodel the effect is creepy, not charming.
Which takes me to another problem with the show: the stupidity factor. The Good Cop can’t quite get its tone right. It tries to strike a balance by being light-hearted but dealing with some nasty murders. And while I’m no murder mystery genius, I still figured out who the killer was in the first 10 minutes of most episodes (hint: it’s always the first new character and there is never a red herring). But when blindingly obvious points are missed by these apparently excellent detectives, it breaks the show’s grip on you. Caruso believes that the 20 year old supermodel is genuinely into him? Come on. TJ can’t identify their male prime suspect when he is wearing a wig and dress? Please. TJ goes into business with his father to run a restaurant? Really? Cora Vasquez goes from Caruso’s parole officer to essentially working as a partner with TJ in the city’s major homicide detail in one episode? What? How?
Now that I’ve spent 5 solid paragraphs criticising The Good Cop I will provide a counter point: it does get better. It takes a long time. It isn’t until episode 7 where the elements started to come together for me. Featuring a murder where two people get on a ski lift but one comes back stabbed, and the woman swears she didn’t do it, this was the first time that I was kept guessing throughout. It was also the first time that the team of supporting characters started to feel like a team rather than background filler. The sparky dialogue between TJ and Vasquez gets more fizz and bounce. Burl, the lazy cop close to retirement, gets more depth than, well, a lazy cop close to retirement. For its last few episodes the pieces start to slot together and The Good Copy finds its footing. Come the end, which features an excellent straight performance from the heartbroken Danza (who’s wife was the victim of a hit and run years prior to the show), the balance between comedy and drama is weighed just right.
Unfortunately at the heart of everything is Groban’s TJ. It is around him that all the comedy, drama, romance, and family are supposed to rotate. So until his character is written with better focus (his pathological honesty is never tested and is more of a quirk than actually relevant to his police work) and until Groban’s acting develops beyond the one note delivery he is currently providing, The Good Cop is going to have to turn itself in.
Words by Michael Record