Nathan Fillion is his generation’s Mark Harmon, only with more self-awareness. He’s almost a parody of handsomeness, and there’s just enough edge to his wit to make him cool but not so much that he’s ever alienating. He’s kind of fantastic in that you can plug him into nearly any genre, and he can fit nicely as either a conventionally good-looking leading man or a caricature of one (he can even play creepy sexist, as he does so well as a zombie on Santa Clarita Diet).
I feel like Fillion really leans into these procedural roles, though, because they pay the bills, appeal to older viewers, and he can do them without alienating that Firefly base. Like Harmon, I think he’s probably very appealing to grandmothers, too, who will no doubt follow him from Castle.
In The Rookie, Fillion plays John Nolan, a 45-year-old Pennsylvania construction worker who — in the midst of a divorce — thwarts a bank robbery attempt and decides to parlay that high — and his middle-age crisis — into a job as a police officer, an absurd notion that I literally used to contemplate after every episode of Southland. The Rookie, however, is decidedly not Southland, which was a brilliant almost plotless slice-of-life series shot in a handheld documentary style and designed to provide viewers a glimpse of what police work is actually like (ugly, frustrating, corrupt, dangerous, often futile, but occasionally rewarding). The Rookie is shot with the standard procedural cam and it’s more interested in using police work to tell a formulaic story about these characters, and that’d be fine if these characters were more interesting than paper cutouts with guns.
The Rookie comes from Alexi Hawley, a frequent writer on Castle and also the twin brother of Noah Hawley, with whom he worked on the amazing The Unusuals. The Rookie is at about the same speed as Castle, though if the pilot is any indication, each episode will probably track several cases that revolve around a particular theme. Fillion enters the LAPD along with two other rookies, each of whom are given more experienced partners, assigned to train them by generally being assholes and busting their chops. The series takes a passing interest in these other characters, and most likely will endeavor to do so more in subsequent episodes (if only so that Fillion doesn’t burn out with 16-hour workdays), but honestly: The show is about Nathan Fillion. He runs slow. He’s out of shapes. He makes mistakes, but he learns from them. He throws himself into the job. He’s got something to prove. But also, he can’t jump a fence or chase down a gunman without losing his breath.
There’s not a lot to it, but as background viewing, it’s both easy on the brain and the eyes, which in a way makes it the ideal procedural, great to watch while washing dishes, making dinner, or napping. That’s both a knock against it and not — these shows have their place and Fillion’s opportunity to play Green Lantern has expired, so I’m OK with him settling into cop roles. The Rookie is also a surprisingly diverse series (of the 8-person ensemble, only two are white guys — one is Fillion, and the other is the requisite maybe racist but definitely asshole cop). I ain’t mad at The Rookie, but I also can’t imagine watching it on a weekly basis, though I might give it another couple of episodes to see if it grows into something more akin to The Unusuals and less I’m Too Old For This Sh*t, But I’m Going To Do It Anyway Because the Hammer is My Penis.
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