DETROIT 187 “Beaten/Cover Letter” Review

DETROIT 187

DETROIT 1-8-7 “Beaten / Cover Letter” Episode 14 – Moving away from the star of a show can be a source of trouble for most television dramas (see my latest review of Harry’s Law for a few stellar examples of that quagmire). Detroit 1-8-7 did so with its latest episode, shuffling Fitch (the smooth Michael Imperioli) into a quasi-background role even in the murder investigation he was assigned to.

Sure, he got chased – both literally and figuratively – by the returned Special Agent Jess Harkins (a foxlike Megan Dodds), but for the most part he stood back … and he got by with a little help from his friends.

I suppose the answer varies show to show, since this time it allowed some of the background players to have a broader swath of real estate in the spotlight. See, this blows up in your face if your supporting cast sucks eggs. But if you have quality acting (and Detroit 1-8-7 seems to have plenty of it), then what you get is sweet serendipity.

I’ll go on the record and say it: I think this show has assembled some real quality up-and-comers, especially where minority players are involved. And I’m talking territory approaching somewhere within the realm of The Wire. (Call me blasphemous if you want, but even Idris Elba had to start somewhere). Jon Michael Hill, who plays Detective Damon Washington, may look like a shorter Carl Lewis, but he reminds me of a young Chiwetel Ejiofor, and I think we’ve barely seen what he can do. He’s got more than enough energy in the eyes, his physicality is impressive (moreso that it’s generally held back, deferring to Imperioli), and I can’t wait for something to happen that really makes this quiet man explode.

Natalie Martinez, who plays Detective Ariana Sanchez, is also impressive in the physicality department; in “Beaten/Cover Letter” she showed she can play a believable boxer (nice jab), but also knows exactly when to go with a more playful touch. I like that Lieutenant Mason (steady-as-she-goes Aisha Hinds) is on to Sanchez’s “relationship” with Stone (promising but as-yet underused D.J. Cotrona). Martinez reminds me of Michelle Rodriguez, but less intense – and much less surly.

I also like that they’re going in an anti-Outsourced direction, as far as portraying an Indian man is concerned; before this show you wouldn’t be able to tell me Detective Mahajan (Shaun Majumder) is of Indian descent and make me believe it. Dude’s more like someone spliced together Adam Corola with Tony Shaloub, and I like Mahajan’s slightly offbeat Mahajancentric humor, which plays exceptionally well when bounced off the long-suffering Danny Gloveresque Sergeant Longford (a wry James McDaniel).

Sure, a few of the players still seem like caricatures. You have the ingénue intern Wendy (Erin Way) who still seems to be trying to find her way, and medical examiner Abbey Ward (Erin Cummings) who looks thus far inserted only to play the role of “hot-but-smart redhead.” I’m not giving up on either of them, however, since it seems the casting department (tip o’ the hat to Sharon Bialy and Sherry Thomas) have dug up little goldmines in what we’ve seen already.

In the “Beaten” portion of the story, we also saw a standout in young boxer Tommy Westin (an extremely sharp Chadwick Boseman), and of course you can’t get more Detroit than an appearance by the real Thomas Hearns; they even name-dropped Kronk Gym, which is nearly as symbolic to the city as any GM plant.

Detroit 1-8-7 is good enough to make me forgive the smaller storytelling gaffes, like giving a 12-year old girl an 8-year old’s dialogue, or attempting to wrap up her sad little “Sorry kid, but your dad killed himself” story with an awkwardly saccharine reunion with the girl’s ex-addict of a mom.

(Okay, I take back the “completely stellar” label I had to the casting, since they were guilty of choosing the most put-together woman on the planet to play an ex-addict.)

All in all though … man, I want to see where this goes. Every story interests me, and I have yet to solve any of the cases completely before the detectives do.

What else can you ask for in a crime drama? More Imperioli? Sure. But it’s nice to know they can go a few stories without him and not drown.

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