Detroit 1-8-7 – Where the weak are regulated to Sunday Nights

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Real quick and dirty like because NCIS is on and I’ve got words to write.

Decided to tune in last Tuesday  (9/21) to watch the ABC Premier of Detroit 1-8-7, getting all caught up in the excitement of watching my hometown get the kind of police procedural treatment larger cities like Chicago, New York and Los Angeles have been getting for years. I wasn’t going to, if only because I thought I’d either be out running the streets or watching something else. I don’t watch Primetime ABC as a general rule, since they have a nasty habit of canceling shows that I like before giving them a chance to get legs. (Push, Nevada, Happy Town, Pushing Daisies),  but I thought, ‘what the hey’.

I logged into my Tweetdeck, which is how those of us keep up with our multiple lists, chats, and mentions,  and kept the conversation going with the hashtags #detroit187 and our very own #backchannel.  It was a fantastic first hour of a new police procedural and while I kept an eye on the TV, I also noted the chat explosion.



They will find yo' ass


I discovered two things that night:

1 – When Hollywood puts its mind to it, it can produce a realistic, gritty, drama-free from (most of) the  usual tropes of prime-time television

2 – Some Detroiters will never be happy with anything that doesn’t portray Detroit how *they* want Her portrayed.

Seriously, you should have seen some of the ridiculous comments made that night. I’m embarrassed for all of us.  But more of that in a minute.

I have to say, for a show about a City no one wants to admit to visiting on purpose, the producers made a real effort in getting some of the nuances of the D down. You’ll hear a lot about the scene in the Coney Island, where one cop is drowning his Coney dog in ketchup and his partner gives him the look like he’s just roasted a baby over smoldering pages of the Constitution. Funny, and it made me smile, but the that stayed with me was in the scene in the interrogation room.

The rookie detective Washington (Jon Michael Hill) has lost his cool trying to get information, and Pooch (Mo), local entrepreneur of chemical oddities, lawyers up. Anyone who’s ever watched any procedural knows that the questions end and you wait for the Public Defender to show up while the baddie gloats.  Typically the scene ends here and the detectives gather  behind the one-way glass and conspire to find a back door way into a confession.  This however is just a slice of the curveball thinking Detroit 1-8-7 plans to bring to the steel table.

Detective Fitch, our veteran (played by Michael Imperioli) walks into the room, sits down and just stares. First Pooch laughs it off like it’s some staring contest and plays along, but the Fitch doesn’t budge, doesn’t say a word.  It’s the Silent Treatment and I grew up in a house where it was improved upon, patented, and franchised, with the family secret kept in a safe deposit box in Switzerland. My father (DPD, Sgt, Pct #12, Badge 2414) taught my mother, and no criminal or teenager alive wouldn’t crack under that.  Sure enough, it’s just a matter of time before Pooch is just running his mouth because he can’t stand it. He’s filling the air with as many words as he has because it’s better than that awful, awful stare.  That resonated with me because as I was laughing and high-fiving on Twitter, I was also cringing and commiserating with fellow cop kids. I felt vindicated for Fitch and deeply sorry for Pooch, because dude never stood a chance.

I enjoyed the show, even if it eventually fell into some of the usual clichés of cop television, and I even liked how it ended. It’ll find its own way if given time. Pilots almost never grab me from hour one, and two-hour pilots are becoming more of a rarity in the valuable real estate of Prime Time Television, so I like to give it a few weeks to develop. Shows like this are like a good pasta sauce. Sure you can throw it all together in half an hour and serve, but it’s best when allowed to simmer for a few hours. Every test sip of the wooden spoon is like a teaser for the greatness of the coming meal. That’s the development of a great show. Please, let this one simmer a while.

I really liked the look of the show, in hues of grey and a Glaucus Blue (look it up), and not the blue you might associate with shows like CSI:NY or even NYPD Blue.  It’s a blue that suggests a vibrancy it once held, but the sun faded it a bit and it was washed in cheap detergent.  I’ve seen Detroit 1-8-7 described as “gritty” and it does have that feel, because it’s not a sterile show. It’s not designed to make Detroit look like a diamond in the rough, but like a grand old lady that’s just fallen on harder times, yet still has that fire and will to not let circumstances get the best of her. Detroit isn’t a virgin city by any stretch.  She’s seen her share of triumphs and mortifying lows. There may be greatness in her future again, but this show isn’t about that, either.  From a writer’s angle, I see this show as being a study in the people that fight the crime every day, not looking towards the glory that will come but trying to make the here and now livable.  In other words: people that do their jobs.

I think I love that.

Earlier I mentioned some really ridiculous comments about the show as read on #backchannel and #detroit187.  Of the top of my head:

“We don’t say soda, we say POP” First of all, I say soda, because saying ‘pop” got you one in the mouth.  I kept seeing it re-tweeted and I thought – seriously people, get a grip. It’s a word on a label  that refers to a sound.

People complained about how dirty the City looked. Um … have you seen downtown? It’s dirty. It’s a City where cars drive, and people walk, and bums pee.  Parts of Detroit have a great lived-in look, because that’s how real cities that have seen

Landmarks that were clearly Atlanta and not Detroit – since it was shot in Atlanta, that doesn’t surprise me. All subsequent episodes are being shot in the City, so it’s a moot point. PA’s can run around covering up every Atlanta landmark, and you have to admit –the SteadiCam and overhead shots of Detroit were really nice – but why? A little suspension of disbelief is worth it here. Stop trying to identify every landmark and just enjoy the show.

Accents – lots of complaints that the actors didn’t sound like Detroiters. I don’t even want to know how some of these people think Detroiters sound, because on any given day I can sound Southern, Canadian or SoCal Valley.  I’ll admit to a subtle cadence to the City and I recognize it when I’m downtown or in the shops, but again, the feel of the show will probably come in time — like the look, the atmosphere, the storylines.

I actually read comments that our sports teams weren’t mentioned, nor did anyone have any sports paraphernalia on their desks. Really? My dad was never a big sports fan, I didn’t attend a Tigers game until I was 12. Not every cop is a NY stereotype where all they talk about is the sports. They have crimes to solve, not stats to memorize.

Finally, there was a general grumble about how a show like “Detroit 187” might make others see our City, because how others see the City somehow affects the citizens’ sense of self-worth. It’s that kind of schizophrenic mentality that makes the City spin Her wheels. On TV there are shows like CSI:NY and Law and Order filmed in NY, yet those FICTIONAL murders haven’t affected their tourism or image. This isn’t a reality show, nor is it pretending to be one. I don’t see Detroit 1-8-7 as a reflection of the crime in the city, but spotlight on the determination of Her police force to make things better. Cops win, bad guys got to jail. It’s still a happy ending.

If anyone wants to complain, we should give that honor California, since 1-8-7 isn’t a Detroit code at all (Detroit’s Finest opt for plain English), but the CA penal code for murder. If you want to get specific, the Michigan penal code for Homicide is found in Act 328, Section 750.316, but that’s not as catchy on a billboard as 1-8-7.

I’m still going to participate in the chats and the conversation, because I love talking about a great show. I love how the water cooler is now bigger than our offices. Bring it people. Let’s have a conversation without the constant hum of whine.

So anyway, I liked the show and I’m looking forward to more episodes.  I also look forward to Detroiters shutting up and sitting down to enjoy a show about our City that doesn’t glorify the stereotypes they seem to be comfortable seeing.

Haters to the left, please. You’re blocking my view.

(Pardon the errors, I wanted this out before the second ep I think I got most of them)

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Just this fox. I'm a writer of horror and dark fantasy. I totally don't brag about it. The latter statement is an utter lie.
  • MIcah
    September 29, 2010 - 4:08 am

    Well said, very well said.

    We’ve had the same “but it’s bad for Detroit’s image” conversation at work. I’ll condense that 15 minute rant into a few points:

    Homicide is over-represented everywhere. There are no police procedurals which focus on the crimes which are most prevalent. Law & Order: Larceny Division just doesn’t have the right ring. Besides, it’s a show focusing on the Homicide division. Of course it’s going to feature a murder or two.

    If people want to focus on something, why not focus on the fact that the boys in blue actually catch the criminals? If the fact we have crime is bad for tourism, doesn’t it follow that the showing the police as having crime under control is good for tourism?

    Finally, as you said it is a work of fiction. Last time I looked there was no law stating things had to be represented in a positive light (or even accurately) in fiction. Imagine how boring recreational media would be if it did.

    Detroit 1-8-7 should be reviewed the same way any other television show should. The writing is good as is the acting. It will definitely get another look from me.

But how do you really feel?

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