Apparently, no one calls New Orleans "K-Ville." Creator Jonathan Lisco says the title of FOX's upcoming series (shown by the newly launched E! in Canada) was inspired by some graffiti scribbled post-hurricane, graffiti that appears in the pilot's opening sequence. Those glimpses into a city rebuilding after disaster signal how much the new New Orleans is a character in this new cop show.
That tidbit comes from an article Bill Carter of the New York Times wrote about the show's economic impact on a city that so desperately needs to rebuild an economy.
Is it a faithful portrayal? Of course not. It's a TV show. But its aftermath-of-Katrina backdrop gives the show's atmosphere a poignancy and depth that the scripts don't quite deserve yet. K-Ville's pilot includes flashback scenes from the hurricane, showing our central characters in the thick of it, and the present-day central case of what's ultimately a straight procedural springs squarely out of issues in post-Katrina New Orleans.
Now that I've been converted, I'm going to be one of those insufferable people comparing anything that smells like a cop show with a purpose to The Wire, which is nominally a cop show, too, also set in a city spilling over with untapped-on-TV vistas, also exploring a city and its people. But The Wire is a searing look at the guts of a city and, by proxy, the issues of a country. K-Ville is not that, not yet, though it seems to be striving for something similar, giving it the potential to be something more than a conventional cop show in an unconventional setting.
Still, HBO's The Wire, soaked in hopelessness and despair, barely making a dent in the television viewing landscape, is hardly the model to emulate to attract large numbers of viewers. The network-broadcast K-Ville is wisely going with an air of optimism.
Marlin Boulet (Anthony Anderson) is the show's moral centre – with some immoral tendencies, like beating up suspects who, oops, turn out to be innocent. He's a cop torn between loyalty to his family, a wife and daughter who fled to Atlanta and are reluctant to return to the Upper 9th ward, and to the city he loves and has vowed to serve and protect. As he says when neighbours put up For Sale signs and his wife implores him to leave New Orleans with her, it can't be rebuilt if no one will fight for it. Boulet even provides the show its stab at symbolism, defending the few cypress tress left after the salt from the storm destroyed the once-ubiquitous trees. He makes me hope K-Ville will be about the struggle to reclaim a city from crime and despair and disaster, instead of just another excuse for a cop show.
Anderson in particular brings his character to life, but he's been given the advantage of having the only character given much to do in the pilot episode, and with copious amounts of motivation for his actions. He appears to be the bad cop to Cole Hauser's good cop, Trevor Cobb, the mysterious, by-the-books partner from Cincinnati who has arrived at the New Orleans Police Department after a stint in Afghanistan and seems to know the city a little too well. He becomes far less mysterious by the end of the pilot, but like much of the plot here, the mystery dissipates with a credibility-stretching revelation.
So far the supporting characters are nonentities, so it seems the show will live or die on how quickly it can make us care about the uneasy detente between its two leads, and how it can explore cases in its unique setting without relying on the setting itself to do the heavy lifting.
It could also use a better-defined sense of humour. It's not completely humourless, but it aims for the usual cop bluster we've seen a million times before, usually better. For example, there's a dig at the forensic magic of CSIs not being available to them –- and, as a bonus, it's also a dig at CSI — a joke that's not quite funny, not quite making a point. The Wire did the whole underfunded police department thing a lot more subtly and powerfully. And CSI is a lot slicker in the procedural arena. And Bones has a sharper sense of humour.
K-Ville has a powerful setting, and solid leads, and the potential to explore issues people care about. But on the basis of the pilot episode, it needs stories that rise to the level of its backdrop in order to really connect with viewers.
Catch the debut of K-Ville Monday, September 17 at 9 p.m. on FOX, or E! in Canada.Powered by Sidelines