Monday, May 13, 2013

Golden Boy: Reaction To Cancellation

You can't cancel me!

Rookie Retired...

Alas, I have not had time to catch up with Golden Boy's newest episodes, but fortunately, I won't have to worry anymore about keeping up with future Commissioner William Clark and how he rose in seven years from Homicide Detective to the youngest New York City Police Commissioner in history.  (They really thought Golden Boy would last SEVEN years?  Optimists....) 

CBS announced that Golden Boy has been cancelled after its first and only mid-season.  Let us remember that this was a mid-season replacement, so already Golden Boy was a bit of a stand-by in case something (say a Made in Jersey) flopped.  Thus, the entire series will run a mere 13 episodes, which is ten fewer than CBS' true success story for 2012-13, Elementary.

As a side note, Elementary has been renewed for Season Two, making it at 23 episodes longer than both Golden Boy and its rival, Sherlock...which has been on the air for two years and has cranked out only six aired episodes.  Granted, Sherlock features three 90-minute episodes per season (almost three feature-length films) versus Elementary at 60 minute episodes per season (42 if we skip commercials, something Sherlock does not have).  However, if we go by hours, Sherlock's 90-minute episodes total 810 minutes or around 13 and 1/2 hours overall (and this is including the unfinished/unaired Season Three).  Conversely, Elementary's 60 minute length (including commercial breaks) total an astounding 1380 minutes or close to 23 hours...nearly a full day's worth.  Therefore, there is simply more Elementary than there is Sherlock.  In fairness to both shows, American television is different than British television, or at least it is when it comes to Sherlock Holmes.  After all, the thoroughly British Doctor Who clocks in routinely at 42 minutes or 60 minutes with commercials per episode (even two-part stories which are split per hour) when it airs on BBC America.

However, I wildly digress.

Today, I want to explore WHY Golden Boy failed, at least when it came to attracting an audience.  Personally, I thought the show was quite good.  As I look at the grades for individual episodes, I find that they've rarely dipped under 6/10 (at least of the four I've reviewed, with at least four before I formally grade them).  Conversely, the long-running and wildly praised Doctor Who's recent season can't get past a 4/10.   It had strong promotion, and let's face it: Golden Boy's lead star, Theo James, is delicious to look at. 

That being the case, why did it fail?

I'm too sexy for this show...

I think part of the blame may be the entire concept itself.  Co-creator Greg Berlanti apparently can't let a good idea go.  This flash-forward concept of seeing a character between where he is now (at the pinnacle of success) and where he started from was tried once before in his Jack & Bobby.  The idea isn't a bad one; it's the lack of mystery that is.

Think on it: we already know that Detective Clark will in seven years time become Commissioner Clark.  Again and again I wrote that because of this, I never worried that Detective Arroyo (Kevin Alejandro) would ever rise triumphant over his rival.  That robs us of some of the tension or suspense that might exist if we didn't know what was to happen.  In itself that isn't a bad thing, but it does make us wonder whether people would have invested time in a character that we all knew was guaranteed success.

Take something like Eleanor & Franklin, the miniseries about the 42th President and the First Lady.  We know how the story ends, but since we basically start in the beginning (minus the framing device of the Widow Roosevelt taking her husband's body) we see HOW their courtship, marriage, his affair and relationship carried on and how they went on to change history.  With Golden Boy, it wasn't that much of a mystery: Clark rose to power.

Now the real mystery was in exactly what kind of person did he become.  Did he become like his partner/mentor, Detective Owen (Chi McBride) or like his nemesis, Detective Arroyo?  Every week (of the ones I've seen) little hints are dropped in the 'future' scenes, but frustratingly we are never pointed in one way or another.  The clues as to what kind of man Commissioner Clark turned into are so cryptic audiences who did watch never had much to latch onto.  If Clark shifted to the Arroyo side, he would be a rather loathsome individual, and who would want to have as their hero someone we wouldn't like?  Who would watch a show, invest time and emotion, into someone we would find reprehensible?

If he became more Owen, he wasn't giving much indication that he became a good person (primarily because he rarely listened to Owen's words of wisdom).

I think another thing that damned Golden Boy was the actual crimes were not that interesting.  If Golden Boy had been set in Congress and William Clark would end up as Speaker of the House or maybe even President, we might have basically had the same show that Golden Boy turned out to be.  The first crime investigated in the pilot was almost irrelevant, and in a few episodes the crimes were not important.  They almost felt like they had to be there because that's what cops need to continue working.  Once in a while we had good cases, but on the whole the actual crimes didn't seem that big a deal.

Now I give Golden Boy credit in that it was the interplay between the various officers that was the more important thing, but one can't have a good police procedural without having at least some good crimes.  I found nothing wrong with the more realistic take on police work, but perhaps the audiences did.

It was clear from the get-go that A.) Golden Boy was not about the crimes (which is the main reason people tune into procedurals) and B.) the framing device was not sustainable.  I predicted that it would be dispensed with quickly, and I think by Episode Three we just got a little mention that in seven years time he would achieve power.  We also had the opening and closing in gray, indicating the future, and almost always tied into the crime-of-the-week.

Maybe if HE'D been the lead...

One other thing that might have doomed it was the fact that at times the supporting character, in particular the villain, was more interesting and complex than the title character.  I point to Kevin Alejandro's Detective Arroyo.  Again and again in each episode I marveled at how I was more interested in him than in somewhat wishy-washy Clark.  Yes, James is pretty, and yes, he managed an American accent well (though he never convinced me he was a former hood from Queens), but it was Arroyo who was the more interesting one.  He was a good cop but a bad man: cheating on his wife, sometimes behaving badly with witnesses, but always determined to solve the case and having remarkably good instincts about the killer or suspect.  In fact, I think he more often than not knew who the killer was and just had to work out how to prove it.  This is opposed to Clark, who usually suspects it isn't who it ends up being and then slowly starts to see that it really is.

The mystery in Golden Boy was William Clark, and I don't think people cared all that much as to how or what he ended up becoming.  This is especially true when the villain of the picture was the more complex and interesting character.  Granted, Alejandro isn't as pretty as James, but Arroyo was the character I found more interesting because he was not evil but nowhere near as good as the grizzled veteran.

A side note: having the grizzled veteran and the cocksure rival is a bit clichéd.  Just a thought.

I didn't give Golden Boy much of a chance of going on to a second season despite its efforts to always introduce mysteries about the characters in the end.  Lots of suggestions that something will happen to Owen, suggestions of a mass shooting that might take out a few characters...that might be a good idea on paper but when you keep teasing the audience it might just irritate them more than pique their interest.  However, I liked the show and thought it well-acted and with a strong effort to build characters (even if some, like Clark's recovering alcoholic/unreliable mother and his sweet sister were also pushing two-dimensional...and a credit to the actresses who made them better than what was on the page).  Sadly, not enough people cared and thus, Golden Boy died. 

A combination of weak crimes, a frustrating main character, and a framing device that has failed TWICE (Jack & Bobby and now Golden Boy) killed an OK though not brilliant show. 

It is a curse of mine to watch shows no one else watches.  I loved Street Hawk (cancelled in its first year).  I loved Due South (cancelled in its third year but consistently low ratings and a third year twist that was disastrous).  I loved The Cape (cancelled in its first year) and Journeyman (cancelled in its first year). I loved Live Shot (cancelled after one season). Now, sadly, I must add Golden Boy to my unenviable list of flops that I actually watched and thought well of. 

And I STILL haven't seen a complete episode of Friends...      

Sometimes, a pretty face just isn't enough...

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