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Fall '99: "Ryan Caulfield: Year One"

Curse you, WB. Curse you to hell! Your insipid teen-centered demographic plans have now spilled over to the Big Four Networks. Did we really need Dawson's Creek meets NYPD Blue? Of course not. But, apparently worried about the Frog netlet's attempt to be the network of choice for those too young to vote, Fox has given us exactly that in the form of Ryan Caulfield: Year One.

It's not that Caulfield is such a bad show. Compared to the rest of the new season, it's actually quite middling. But remember when cop shows were about busting bad guys? Not anymore. Now they're about people. Ryan Caulfield expects us to slog through forty minutes of teen angst for every ten minutes of action. Just because the teen angst comes from a guy with a gun doesn't make it any less boring.

The title character, played by newcomer Sean Mather, is a 19-year-old rookie cop who turned down a baseball scholarship to join the force. His friends and girlfriend are starting college without him, except for one slacker who works at a gas station. They like to get together and talk about things like their futures and why the world is such a lousy place to live. Apparently these are the things TV producers think teens today talk about.

TV producers live in a dream world.

Ryan Caulfield talks a lot. Way too much for any cast member on a cop show. He talks about how all his friends think he's crazy for turning down a baseball scholarship to join the force. Except he doesn't talk to his friends about it. No, he talks to the audience.

To tell you the truth, I almost turned the TV off after the show's pre-credit sequence. If there are two things guaranteed to get me thumbing the remote, it's useless voice-overs and aren't-I-hip cultural references. Caulfield has both. Why television producers insist on foisting Tarantino- and Love Boat-centered dialogue on the viewing public is beyond me.

TV characters are far too attractive and stupid to actually exist in the real world. Forcing words about real-world people and other television shows into their mouths just makes them look all the more like beautiful idiots.

Voice-overs are another narrative crutch that seems to be gaining a foothold on prime-time. There's only one show I can recall in which voice-overs actually worked: Magnum P.I. Now every dramatic character on the block feels this need to open up to the audience, usually in overly-solemn, self-important sermons. "I had always ordered pepperoni and sausage. It defined me as a person, I think. But I no longer was that person, was I? Pepperoni and sausage? Was that my destiny? What if I wanted onions and pineapple instead? That would show them, especially Noel. He thinks I can't walk away from the sausage. But I can. I will. I must. I felt like shouting, 'Watch out world, I'm here to stay!'"

If you've got something to say, say it to another character.

But we were talking about Ryan Caulfield: Year One weren't we? The only surprising thing about this show is just how predictable it is. Usually you can count on at least a couple of clichés, but the Caulfield producers were shooting for the record.

The rookie gets a gruff partner who insists on calling him "Mo." Rookie's father is an ex-cop, prompting friends and family to insist rookie "has nothing to prove." Rookie screws up his first assignment and sees a suspect get killed. Rookie freaks out and blows off all his friends because they "just don't understand" what it's like to see someone die. Rookie trots out that most trite of cop show lines: "It's not like the movies, this time it was real." I swear he actually said that.

In fact, I actually wrote this part of the review before I saw the show. And I didn't have to change a thing.

The Caulfield pilot was directed by F. Gary Gray, a big screen director who was at the helm of "The Negotiator," a movie that proved he knew his way around a good crime drama. Yet aside from a nicely put-together shoot-out scene, there's nothing in Ryan Caulfield that separates it from any other show on TV. There was even a sickeningly sweet slow-motion mud fight to show that Ryan's group of friends still cared about him. It was something straight out of 90210.

This review actually sounds a lot more negative than it was supposed to be. It's really not that godawful a show. It certainly is more competent than, say, The Strip. So if you've got nothing better to do on Friday nights and your choice is Caulfield, Providence, Kids Say the Darndest Things or whatever TGIF shows are on these days, your choice is clear.

Rent a movie.


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