Training Day is what happens when you take the Antoine Fuqua movie of the same name — the one that gave Denzel Washington his second Academy Award — and put it in a transmogrifier that turns it into a typical CBS crime drama.
There is some overlap between the Thursday night series, debuting tonight at 10, and the film that inspired it. Both focus on the relationship between an unethical L.A. cop (Washington in the movie, Bill Paxton in the series) and the younger officer who becomes his partner (the Oscar-nominated Ethan Hawke first time around, newcomer Justin Cornwell the second). The show even references the misdeeds of Washington’s character, Alonzo Harris, and implies that Paxton’s Frank Rourke is following a similarly corrupt path, which is why the upper echelons of the LAPD install Det. Kyle Craig (Cornwell) to gather intel on Frank in the guise of his mentee.
But that’s where the general similarities between the two end, and where Training Day, the series, becomes its own hackneyed, dreadfully written carbon copy of every crummy cop show you’ve ever seen. What could be, like the film, an exploration of the dangers posed by unscrupulous, vindictive men with too much power is, instead, a Jerry Bruckheimer–produced excuse to show a maverick cop and his colleagues taking down bad dudes and hombres every week.
As Frank, Paxton certainly comes across as a “bad dude,” but he’s also the sort of grizzled law-enforcement officer that the audience is supposed to respect for being a badass working within a broken system. “I’ve been hunting our men through this city since O.J. was doing Hertz commercials and one thing I can tell you: Nothing ever changes,” Frank says in the first episode, via voice-over narration that’s just one of the many cliché storytelling techniques Training Day overuses.
“Here in L.A.,” he declares in a subsequent hour, in a voice so gravelly it sounds like he’s auditioning to play the role of Emphysema, “Honor’s just a name they give girl babies in Westwood.” Frank Rourke isn’t Dirty Harry exactly. But he might be McGarnagle.
The heart of the show is, theoretically, the relationship between Frank and Kyle, the son of a late man of the force who was Frank’s partner and closest friend. Kyle comes across as a blank slate defined mainly by his integrity, loyalty to his father, and interest in making love to his seemingly always available wife (Lex Scott Davis). At one point, he tries to fib to her about an evening he spent with Frank, saying it involved, “you know, locker-room stuff,” an extremely unfortunate echo of the Trumped-up term “locker-room talk.” But he can’t even hang on to a simple white lie for long. It’s clear from the get-go that Kyle is a good man who feels a certain warmth toward Frank that’s commingled with his feelings about dear old dad. And at some point, all of that will confuse his assigned mission to bring down the crooked cop.
Even more predictable than that framework are the regular efforts to take down various drug dealers and nefarious types, in the same wild shoot-out fashion that crime-of-the-week shows have adopted for decades. Within that context, Training Day is soured further by its reliance on cultural stereotypes of bad guys, involving Latinos and other groups. In the current cultural climate, these broad characterizations aren’t just tired, they’re infuriating and irresponsible. Upcoming episodes deal with the Russian mafia and Muammar Gaddafi’s Amazonian Guard, but because CBS did not provide all of them in advance or even in the proper order, it’s hard to say whether things improve in this area. But I’m guessing not, since in an episode due to air next month, a Japanese baddie enters a scene and says, “Konnichiwa, ass clowns.”
How lousy is Training Day? So lousy that I felt compelled to type the words, “God, this show is terrible” in my notes. So lousy that it makes me annoyed with Bill Paxton, an actor whose work and presence I usually appreciate. (Yes, even when he was Chet in Weird Science!) So lousy that it makes me worry for every single CBS viewer who lazily turns this on and decides, “Oh, this isn’t too bad.” Because it is too bad, and you — all of us, really, including Bill Paxton — deserve better.
Homer Simpson may have thought that McGarnagle “eases the pain.” Training Day induces it.