Ideally, the pilot for a new TV series puts its best foot forward. By the end of it, you should know how you feel about the show. Just as importantly, you should have a sense of how the show feels about you.
Judging from its pilot, TNT’s crime drama Wanted thinks you’re an idiot. It figures you won’t notice or care about cavernous plot holes, hackneyed storylines or even cheap sentiment, so long as every frame is jammed with gadgets, guns, and a regular procession of nearly nekkid ladies.
Wanted follows an elite team of law enforcement officers tasked with tracking down Los Angeles’ 100 most wanted criminals. Exactly 100. Targeted perps are referred to by their rankings — #45, or #93 — and literally checked off the white board when apprehended or, more likely, killed. Recordkeeping is a snap!
Each of the task force officers has a specialty. Formerly of L.A. SWAT, team leader Lt. Conrad Rose (Gary Cole) is the tactical smart guy. Handsome Tommy Rodriguez (Benjamin Benitez) is new-school FBI, a specialist in undercover work. LAPD tech guru Rodney Gronbeck (Josey Scott) handles the gadgetry, and DEA agent Joe Vacco (Brendan Kelly) provides the muscle. Two characters depart from the central-casting list: Carla Merced (Rashida Jones) is a hostage negotiator from Naval Intelligence, and ATF officer Jimmy McGloin’s (Ryan Hurst) specialty seems to be that he’s a devout Christian.
These last two are the only squad members who distinguish themselves in the pilot, wherein the team tracks down a dangerous convict who escapes custody at mom’s funeral. Merced, being a girl and all, is mistrusted by the boys but finds a way to be useful that involves wearing a tight sleeveless shirt. McGloin brings his own burden: chaste and mindful of sin, he nevertheless seems to enjoy the violent aspects of his job. Must be an Old Testament guy.
Tracking down the escapee leads McGloin and Rodriguez into a strip club. Very convenient — the camera drinks it all in, offering relentless glimpses of partial female nudity. Then something happens and people start shooting and then something else happens and Rodriquez is in bed with the perp’s ex and people start shooting again and so on. It really doesn’t matter. One scene changes abruptly from bright daylight to a cooler-looking nighttime. No explanation. Wanted doesn’t care. Neither should you.
But, hey, it gets the important stuff right. The action scenes are adequately kinetic, there’s plenty of tough-cop talk, and the expositional refrains are comfortably familiar: Connie gets called on the carpet by the bitch commissioner lady and is suitably manly. (Cole looks a lot leaner and meaner than we’ve seen him before). Connie also gets a home life, that is, he’s going through a divorce and child custody issues. In one scene, Connie drops off his young teenage son at school and says he’ll pick him up after practice. “Promise?” the kid says, doe-eyed. “Promise,” Connie replies gravely. Music swells. Back to the kid, smiling hopefully. Back to Connie, looking fatherly. At this point, of course, it is a 100 percent guaranteed lock that Connie will not be making that rendezvous.
Superior cop shows — NYPD Blue, say — plot the domestic turf as carefully as the field work. or leave it out altogether. Crime thrillers and procedurals aren’t required to offer meaningful human relationships. The CSI and Law & Order franchises don’t stray too far from the workplace. They trust that their basic material — urban law enforcement, forensics, the legal system — is intrinsically compelling. They give us something to chew on, ethical or scientific dilemmas, and assume we’re smart enough to be interested, and to understand.
By contrast, Wanted offers the occasional high-tech instrument (a GPS tracker, remote listening devices), but even these are familiar. Wanted borrows its concepts from better shows, and dutifully puts them on display. But it’s actually peddling junk: chases, shootouts, newly liberated basic-cable swear words, and softcore sex. In the end, it’s all testosterone and hardware fetishism. TV for the Maxim crowd. Using Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive” as its theme song (recalling CSI‘s use of “Who Are You”), Wanted suggests a handy analogy: as Bon Jovi is to the Who; Wanted is to CSI.