Judge Dylan Charles' rookie year as a DVD reviewer is about to become a A&E reality series.
Remember your first day on the job? Now imagine it as a police officer.
My grandparents, on my mother's side, were both cops. They've often told stories of what it was like to be on the force and, as a result, I've had a lingering fascination with the job. I figure if I'm ever jonesing to be a cop, I should know what the job entails. What better way to educate myself than by watching a reality TV show? Enter Rookies: The Complete Season One and a whole season's worth of cringing at rookie mistakes. Cripes, I couldn't even make it through the first paragraph without using that pun.
Facts of the Case
Rookies follows a group of fresh-faced academy graduates as they tool around town patrolling the streets for the first time. For some unknown reason, they've chosen to expose their every mistake on national television, risking not just the ridicule of their Field Training Officers (F.T.O.'s), but the average American television viewer. There are sixteen, half-hour episodes, divided equally between two cities: Tampa Bay, Florida, and Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. Disc One features Tampa Bay and Disc Two features Jefferson Parish.
Rookies revels in the inglorious and the unglamorous. Make no mistake, this isn't C.S.I. or even Cops. We get to watch as the rawest of recruits get thrown into the mixer and have to deal with all manner of nastiness with the guiding hand of their F.T.O.'s at their backs shoving them into the fray. Dead bodies, angry drunks, crazy folks off their meds, and piles of the resulting paperwork are on display here. If anything were to discourage folks from joining the force, Rookies would be it.
Amidst this down-and-dirty look at police work are some truly cringe-inducing moments. Every job requires some on-the-job training, but it seems most of police work is learned on the job, and, Lord, it can get messy. From F.T.O.'s detailing proper handcuffing techniques as suspects are being handcuffed to one rookie scraping the mirror off the side of a civilian's car as he opens his door, it's one wincing mistake after the other. In fact, it's a little disturbing the number of mistakes that they make while driving: driving too slowly, driving too quickly, making illegal U-turns in the middle of the road, destroying civilian cars, etc. Considering that the other day I saw a cop driving while chatting on his cell phone, I'm starting to think that maybe police brutality ain't the problem, it's that so many of them were issued driver's licenses.
As with any reality show, the editing can truly make or break it. If they can't somehow salvage some sort of cohesive narrative from the massive amount of footage they've recorded, then there is little reason to tune in, week after week. Luckily, Rookies succeeds at this. Each episode focuses on two different rookies (with the notable exception of the season finale) and sometimes they even manage to intertwine the two stories. For instance, two of the cops in Jefferson Parish happen to be dating as they're going through their field training. Each one relies on the other as a kind of emotional support as they make their way through some rough patches, like when one of them has to deal with the death of a small child.
Rookies manages to stay on the right side of the line between schlocky manipulative voyeurism and actual emotionally gripping television. It tells its stories without giving me the creepy feeling that I'm wallowing in someone's pain for my own enjoyment. It keeps its distance and tells its stories and then moves on.
Unlike Crime 360, A&E's other cop show that deals with two separate departments, Rookies is far better show at splitting the season equally between the two cities. The viewer gets to know both groups of cops fairly well instead of the show spending most of its time focusing on a single department. There is, however, a slight difference in tone between the two halves. The Tampa half of the season has a slightly goofier tone, with each episode being tagged with a two-sentence wrap-up about the rookie, a mixture of what the person is up to and some lame gag reference to the person in question. The second half of the season in Jefferson Parish is a little more somber and the humor at the end has been dropped. The fact that the final episode in the series also has a fairly grim and somber reminder of the dangers of police work further enhances the feeling that Rookies is not quite as jocular as it was. That's for the better.
The disc, in all its nonanamorphic glory, looks as good as a show can when filmed with a handheld camera. There are a bevy of deleted scenes included, with some of the funniest ones being a two-part prank war between two of the F.T.O.'s. For once, the deleted scenes don't just feel like some crap they found lying around and just heaved onto the disc to quiet the fans. God bless A&E.
It's definitely not a show for everyone. There is a lack of guns blazing and explosions booming. It's all about a select group of people doing their best to do a difficult, tiring, and mostly thankless job; quite a few of the people featured decide they just don't have what it takes. If you're looking for a show that revels in sex, explosions, and high-tech investigative work, then look elsewhere. If you want a show that shows the actual trials and tribulations of becoming a police officer and does so in a classy and well-constructed way, then grab a copy of Rookies: The Complete Season One.
Judge Charles begs Rookies to please, for the love of God, drive more carefully in the future and lets it off with a warning.
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