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'Chase': No Doubts

Chase might want to toss out everything else and just give us a full hour of nonstop chase.

Chase

Airtime: Mondays, 10pm ET
Cast: Kelli Giddish, Cole Hauser, Amaury Nolasco, Rose Rollins, Jesse Metcalfe
Subtitle: Series Premiere
Network: NBC
Air date: 2010-09-20
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Amazon

The pilot for Chase starts and ends with one. On both occasions, it is U.S. Marshal Annie Frost (Kelli Giddish) who is in hot pursuit of a much larger bad guy. Given that this is the latest installment from the Jerry Bruckheimer TV police procedural factory, it is a foregone conclusion that Frost prevails in both contests.

We know the plot for Chase will be simple: identify the fugitive, pursue the fugitive, catch the fugitive. It is the comfort of knowing that the criminal will be brought to justice within an hour that makes procedurals so popular and also, so hard to do well. For starters, they need to offer intriguing characters and meticulous plotting. The first episode of Chase provides neither.

Frost does have a backstory, involving an absent father who was probably a criminal. She alludes to it in unprompted commentary to at least three peripheral characters, including two young girls who are in the midst of trauma of their own and don’t seem particularly comforted by hearing about Frost’s family history. In fact, she comes off as a bit tone deaf in her conversations with these victims, confusing their pain with her own. An inability to separate her own story from the victims might be an interesting trait if it felt intentional, except that here it is not so much a flaw in her character as a flaw in the show’s writing.

Her emotional limits also affect her cursory relationships with her team members. Her interactions with Jimmy (Cole Hauser) are supposed to be endearing and respectful -- he calls her "Boots" for some unexplained reason and praises her every time she beats someone up -- but already it feels like the clumsy set-up for the inevitable moment in Season Three or Four when admit they are attracted to each other. For now, Frost lives up to her name, and so adheres to the show's all too typical character shorthand, which sometimes verges on race stereotyping: Marco Martinez (Amaury Nolasco) is hyperactive, and Daisy (Rose Rollins) is a sarcastic black woman, and the rookie of uncertain ethnicity (Jesse Metcalfe) is naïve.

Such one-dimensional characters might be forgiven in a procedural if the mystery ignites and maintains viewer interest. Here again, Chase falls short. A couple of half-hearted surprises punctuate the pilot, but they feel overly convenient. More problematic is that every time one of the Marshals has an epiphany that brings them a step closer to the criminal, the revelation feels unearned and scripted.

As if to fight all this predictability, Chase has come up with a gimmick, alternating its point of view between the Marshals and the criminal they're chasing. This could be a very interesting premise if the fugitive was fleshed out even to the minimum extent that the Marshals are. Unfortunately, in the pilot, the criminal-of-the-week (Travis Fimmel) is never an intelligent adversary one step ahead of the law, but instead appears to be a psychopath who's only lucky not to have been caught earlier. (After all, even the stupidest crook knows better than to visit his mother while the cops are after him.) We never doubt that Frost will get him.

Such a lackluster start leaves Chase looking deeply inferior to the obvious comparison, The Fugitive, a classic example of U.S. Marshals facing off against a criminal on the run. On TV and in movies, that story featured an innocent man trying to clear his name, a shortcut to viewer investment in his plight. Still, the lesson it offers Chase is that viewers need to find the fugitive as compelling as the Marshals. Otherwise, there is no reason to split the time between them. The real danger, given the clichéd characters that comprise the Marshals’ posse, is that the villains become more interesting than the heroes. But that might make for a better series: a little uncertainty about the outcome of each episode might help to hook viewers.

Another direction would be for the show to take its name even more literally. After all, the action sequences at the beginning and end are lively and well made. It's during all the standing around talking about how to catch the criminal in the middle that the show drags. Bruckheimer has made his name with movies that keep enough adrenaline pumping to forgive the gaping holes in plot and characterization. In the end, Chase might want to toss out everything else and just give us a full hour of nonstop chase.

4

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