'Golden Boy' Review: An Ambitious New Cop Drama
'Golden Boy' Review: An Ambitious New Cop Drama
John Kubicek
John Kubicek
Senior Writer, BuddyTV
Golden Boy, the new CBS police drama premiering Tuesday at 10pm for two weeks before moving to Fridays at 9pm starting March 8, is a different kind of cop show. The staples are there (eager new homicide detective partnered with a grizzled veteran), but it also has an odd storytelling device and one of the most perplexing leading men on any network TV show.

The show begins with young NYC cop Walter Clark (Theo James, forever known as the Turk from the first season of Downton Abbey) in a violent shoot-out where he emerges as a celebrated hero. The show then jumps ahead seven years when, at 34, Clark is the youngest police commissioner in New York history. How did he rise so quickly? That's the story.

These brief flash-forwards are used to frame the action in the present day. It's a bit like the WB's short-lived Jack and Bobby, where testimonials from the future let us know about the president while the present day showed him as a teenager.

What makes Golden Boy so daring, however, is that Clark is not a typical leading man. His rapid rise to power shows a ruthless ambition. In the present, he's overly cocky and willing to take what he wants through any means necessary. To call him unlikeable would be an understatement.

I'm not sure if audiences will be able to embrace a show where the central character is so unappealing. Sure, James looks like he just stepped out of a Dolce and Gabana ad, but it's possible this is the TV equivalent of the Star Wars prequels that showed us how a sweet young boy named Anakin could become Darth Vader.

Early on, Golden Boy establishes its central theme by offering a parable. There are two dogs inside a man, one good and one evil. Which one wins? The answer is "The one you feed the most."

Walter may prefer to feed the evil dog, but his partner, played by the always-terrific Chi McBride, is trying to fix that. He's Detective Don Owen, a weary cop with a biting sense of humor. He's Obi-Wan, an old soul who has seen it all and then some and who tries to guide his young Padawan to become a noble homicide detective.

The rest of the cast is filled with cop show staples. Kevin Alejandro plays Tony Arroyo, a man who shares a lot of bad blood with Don. Bonnie Somerville is the lone female homicide detective in the squad and seems to exist almost solely as a potential love interest for Walter. The most surprising and entertaining performance comes from Holt McCallany (the star of FX's short-lived boxing drama Lights Out) as the comedic relief.

Rounding out the cast is Stella Maeve as Walter's troubled kid sister Agnes, a character who helps provide a little humanity to Walter as he does everything he can to protect her.

However, the show boils down to Theo James' performance, and it's one I'm not sure about after watching the pilot. Walter Clark isn't the best detective in the world, he doesn't see things that others don't, so it's off-putting for him to act so entitled and self-righteous. His arrogance and ruthless ambition at all costs make it difficult to root for him, even though we already know he will succeed.

Golden Boy will put audiences to the true test as to whether major network's can get away with anti-heroes. We've seen gruff, unpleasant leading men before (Dr. Gregory House comes to mind), but he could get away with it because he was singularly brilliant. Walter Clark is no House. Instead, he's more like The Shield's Vic Mackey, a cop who thinks the ends justify the means and is willing to do whatever it takes to get what he thinks he deserves.

Golden Boy premieres Tuesday, February 26 at 10pm on CBS and also airs Tuesday, March 5 at 10pm before moving to its regular time slot, Fridays at 9pm, starting March 8.

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(Image courtesy of CBS)