To avoid any suspense, “Training Day” is not a strict, nor worthy, adaptation of Antoine Fuqua’s film. It’s barely a loose interpretation of the moral battle between a young, principled police officer and a corrupt veteran detective. Bill Paxton — while not trying to channel Denzel in any way — does elevate his character beyond convention, making his scenes fun, engaging, and earnest, even when they’re under siege from ennui-evoking familiarities. But even if using “fun” as a descriptor wasn’t enough to tip you off, without anything or anyone of equal excitement to match his talents, the latest CBS cop show fails to make a case for its existence.
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The differences pile up quickly in the crowded, fitfully entertaining first hour. Rather than a green trainee randomly thrown into a partnership with one of the nastiest, dirtiest, and most dangerous cops working today, the CBS version assigns its ambitious young police officer, Kyle (Justin Cornwell), to a cop suspected of taking things too far (Bill Paxton as Detective Frank Rourke) with the express purpose of smoking him out. By the end of the pilot, the day is over, but Kyle’s decided to use the rest of his time with Frank to “train” him into a model officer.
Hey-o! What a twist! While the line works to establish a long-term goal for the series, we’ve already come to see that Frank Rourke is no Alonzo Harris (Denzel Washington’s bad cop in the film). Sure, he’ll tell a kid living in South L.A. to take a job as a lookout for the local gang, but he’s also going to protect him from anything too dangerous. He’ll torch a drug house to smoke out its occupants, but only to arrest the guilty and further his own investigation. He’s even got some polarizing ideas on how policing should work, but his intentions are as pure as a baby’s conscience compared to Alonzo’s maniacal corruption.
Frank is all talk when it comes to his bad boy ways. Later on, perhaps he’ll dip his toe in the poisoned pool of police corruption, but he’s not a hard guy to root for; not when it comes to those watching at home. This isn’t “Training Day: The TV Show,” where our moral expectations of the boys in blue are slowly subverted as the Los Angeles underworld is further exposed.
If it was airing off broadcast, we’d be more inclined to tear it down for the missed opportunity of casting a white cop as the bad guy and a black cop as his progressive partner. There’s plenty to be said about what motivates the police to do what they do in 2017, especially from a racial P.O.V., but CBS isn’t interested in tackling that tricky beast. It just needed the familiar name to set up a proven good cop/bad cop dynamic for one more police procedural.
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If you can make your peace with that, well, there’s still not a lot here. As mentioned, Paxton is in particularly fine form, bringing all the nuanced character building you’d expect from the Emmy- and Golden Globe-nominated actor. The little things add up to more than what’s in the script, and the “Big Love” veteran is clearly ready to have a little fun. His partner (Cornwall) delivers a less layered turn. Far from damaging but also not adding a lot to the experience, the two don’t share chemistry so much as Paxton exudes it himself.
Viewers could do worse than tuning in every week to see Frank troll department heads about a lack of donuts in staff meetings, but “Training Day” doesn’t show enough in three episodes to merit its origins. Or, as Alonzo might put it, this “Day” ain’t got shit on his.
“Training Day” premieres Thursday, February 2 at 10pm on CBS.
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