Saturday, July 12, 2008

A Different Kind of Cop Show, Eh?
Life these days is stressful. It costs over a hundred dollars to fill the belly of that behemoth SUV, and that’s only going to let you run everyday errands for a week or so, and that’s if you consolidate lunches, meetings, shopping, grooming trips and just getting to work. Once you do get to work, you have to deal with office politics, and the gossip of who’s stabbing who to climb another flimsy rail up the corporate hierarchy. And to top it off, you have to worry if your cherished salsa and chips are going to end you up in the hospital with a case of salmonella. As if that weren’t enough, a retired senator/economist from Texas has the audacity to tell us, in perfect “I’m alright, Jack” style, we’re a nation of whiners.

We’re not whiners by any means—we’re stress junkies. We thrive on it, and when real life doesn’t feed us with enough tension, we’ll get a vicarious fix through the TV. Seeing those hopeless souls on game shows and reality series give us a momentary sense of smug superiority, just knowing we would have chosen the obvious “T”, and not the what kind-of-idiot-are-you “L.” In the comfort of our living rooms, we lord over all we survey, and pity the poor souls dripping in flop sweat on the screen.

Flashpoint (premiering on CBS Friday, 11 July, 10P EST, and on CTV—check your local listings) is all about stress, at least in the pilot episode. This Canadian import begins in the height of the conflict, as we see a really, really stressed out Croatian holding a gun to a woman’s head while a negotiator (Enrico Collantini) tries to talk him down, despite language barriers. Meanwhile, a police sniper is perched on a rooftop, coldly awaiting orders to neutralize the perp. It’s a brief moment that establishes the tone of the show. It cuts to a few hours earlier, when the day was just another day. The police sniper (Hugh Dillon) is a family guy, thinking he’s planning for a colleague’s retirement party, despite it conflicts with his wife’s fortieth wedding anniversary. The Croatian hostage taker began the day thinking he’ll reconcile with his estranged wife, despite a restraining order to the contrary.

It’s in the backstories that Flashpoint differs from the usual procedural cop show. It’s not the slam-bang take no prisoners action adventure to which American audiences are accustomed. There’s plenty of tension and stress in the pilot episode, but it’s tempered with an underlying sense of emotion. It achieves something very rare in television—it causes you to empathize with all the characters, rather than just dropping bodies to and fro.

As it stands now, Flashpoint is slated for a thirteen episode run. On CBS. But if the pilot is any indication, this is a series that should be picked up for the fall season. It’s a well-crafted show, full of irony mixed with action, served up in a balanced blend that’s more cinematic than episodic. It would be a shame to lose a show that illustrates how our day to day lives really aren’t that stressful, relatively speaking.