The buddy cop genre has a simple, dynamic essence. A variation on The Odd Couple, it opposes a by-the-book professional with a hunch-driven gun-slinger. They engage in explosive action and witty banter. The Good Guys brings this formula to the small screen, nodding to its influences without being derivative or satirical.
Series creator Matt Nix (heavily promoted as the mind behind Burn Notice) stays true to genre essentials, and adds an element of self-awareness. Dan Stark (Bradley Whitford) incarnates the 1970s grizzled cop cliché. He’s a has-been hero whose anarchic personality drove his last partner to a nervous breakdown. He swaggers into every room, eying every woman he sees. At the scene of one crime, he beds the “witness” after sending his partner, Jack Bailey (Colin Hanks), to look for nonexistent clues. The clean-shaven college boy, primly dressed in suit and tie, sees police work is a career, not a calling. Inexplicably bad at playing office politics (he can’t resist correcting the captain’s grammar), he’s been saddled with babysitting Stark.
There’s a point to be made here about shifting notions of masculinity, especially in stereotypically “macho” jobs like police work. A product of the police academy, Jack is a reserved technocrat with a carefully maintained image. You get the sense that every day he puts himself together in front of the mirror, gradually building himself as a cop and as a man. Dan, in contrast, is his dishevelment, and there’s nothing calculated about his brown leather jacket and aviator shades—the sunglasses simply protect his hangover-sensitized eyes. Perhaps needless to say, Stark’s old-school virility enthralls women, while Bailey still pines over his ex-girlfriend, Assistant District Attorney Liz Traynor (Jenny Wade).
Stark’s traditionalism isn’t always charming: he fears computers and says of DNA, “I’m just sayin’, the jury’s out.” He insists on calling a stolen humidifier a “humidifinder,” while his partner seethes. He would rather go in guns blazing than call for backup. Though he and Bailey get stuck with Code 58s—routine investigations—he optimistically opines, “Crime is like a sweater. You pull one thread, you find it’s all connected.”
The “special series premiere” that airs 19 May (the series begins 7 June) proves him right, after that stolen “humidifinder” leads to a web of drug crimes and intrigue. In fact, The Good Guys takes Stark’s side at every turn, from its hard rock soundtrack to the revelation that while the Powers That Be may hate his methods, they respect his results. Not only does he enjoy his job, but he’s also good at it. The Good Guys, true to its genre, presents an opposition between order and anarchy and asks the audience to embrace the apparently crazy cop who, in the tradition of American pragmatism, cuts through the red tape to get things done. Not incidentally, he also educates his partner—because being buddy cops is supposed to be fun.