Monday, August 8, 2011

Against the Wall

     One of the great things about television is that establishing shots can be used to place the characters in a city well away from where the filming takes place (so Toronto becomes Chicago because of some iconic shots of the Windy City's skyline).  This happens all the time and viewers know that there must be an amount of suspension of disbelief.  It takes a lot to utterly break that sensation of being in the town in question, but the pilot for Against the Wall (airing Sundays on Lifetime) does this about fourteen minutes in when it has two native Chicagoans – police officers no less – add ketchup to their dogs, and do this before adding mustard or any other condiment.  Chicago dogs with ketchup?
     Ultimately, the pilot episode is just too soapy and wants to introduce too many quirks about Abby Kowalski (Rachel Carpani).  A driven career woman from a little-nonsense family, Abby is somehow oddly shy, self-conscious, clumsy, and emotionally damaged to the point where she essentially makes herself available only for secretive, intense trysts with her brother's (police officer) partner.  She has (or had) a thing for musicians, bakes cakes for her mother's business (because police officers are notorious for their free time), and lives with her best friend – who knows surprisingly little about her.  Maybe these features should have been written into the show bible – I would have excised most of them were it my project – but when presented all at once, the viewer has to question why this woman is a detective for a major police department.
Abby has to break the news to her brothers that she's a detective.
     Carpani spends most of the show looking like an Australian Meg Ryan, and has a little bit of the latter's voice from When Harry Met Sally (1989).  She fusses around with her brothers, mother, father, new partner, old would-be flame, and piece of meat on the side.  Little of what she shows in the character screams that she should be the center of attention, except that she is usually the most attractive person on screen – Brandon Quinn and Treat Williams may challenge her in some scenes – and is in center frame most of the time.  There is little more than the familiarity from previous cop shows to give credence to the notion that her joining Internal Affairs is somehow going against the code of being a cop.  Also disappointing is that while Abby is driven, she seems oblivious to the politics of the department; it makes her desire to graduate to the homicide bureau appear more fantasy than career goal.
Williams and Baker
     Having written all that, the show does move at a decent pace.  Much of the needless background and severely used we're in Chicago references should lighten up after the pilot episode and allow for some type of character growth to go with a more feminine procedural show than is available on the broadcast networks.  Williams and Kathy Baker appear to be comfortable in their limited roles, ones that I would hope expand without delving into more soapy family drama.  The production values are top-notch, better than what I have come to expect from the cable shows I tend to watch (so kudos to Lifetime and Universal Cable Productions for not doing it on the cheap).  It simply looks better than The Chicago Code (2011) did; I'm hoping it provides better stories as well.
     Knowing that there aren't too many episodes in its first run – and that I can watch them online at my leisure – I'm thinking that I'm going to give it a chance to grow and develop into something harder.  The fluff of the pilot may be nice for introducing nice characters, but this is Chicago.  I want to see police corruption and real moral dilemmas for more than just Abby.

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