Review: NBC’s Chase Lacks Character, Consequence

Review: NBC’s Chase

September 20th, 2010

If NBC’s Chasedebuting tonight at 9/8c – were the only show on the air about U.S. Marshals, I’d probably be more inclined to recommend it. There is nothing particularly terrible about its premise, the cast is perfectly acceptable if a bit bland, and the dynamism of the Marshals Service really does make for a strong foundation for a procedural series.

However, tuning in to see the Jerry Bruckheimerization of the type of premise which made FX’s Justified so compelling this fall, or which has served USA’s In Plain Sight moderately well, doesn’t have the same appeal. Chase captures the problem with network procedurals: instead of trying to find a way to set yourself apart from similar series, the goal is to create something so vague and sterilized that it will avoid turning off potential viewers.

In the process, Chase becomes stripped of anything which could make it truly compelling, leaving us instead with a functional procedural and not much more.

Kelli Giddish’s Annie Frost appears to be an effective U.S. Marshal, but the pilot struggles explaining precisely why this is. The argument the show makes, in the end, is that Frost is a successful agent because she’s good at profiling her target (in this case, a five-year fugitive who is robbing and murdering rich people), but nothing she does feels particularly impressive. She listens to music that she knows the fugitive listens to, and pieces together some logical conclusions based on the evidence in front of them, but it isn’t anything that any agent with field experience wouldn’t be able to figure out. She is competent, and I believe Giddish in the role, but outside of being good at her job there is nothing which makes her unique or compelling.

David Nutter, known for his perfect track record when directing pilots, also directed the pilot for The Mentalist, and what Chase is missing is someone like Patrick Jane who brings something unique to the table. His character brought history – in his wife and daugher’s death at the hands of a serial killer – that went beyond generic daddy issues (which constitute the entirety of Frost’s characterization here), and it separated the series from other crime procedurals. And, as noted above, Chase’s problem is that it’s following a show like Justified which developed into a serialized procedural, and shows like In Plain Sight which (in the USA tradition) balanced procedural cases with glimpses into the personal lives of its agents. Sure, In Plain Sight’s non-Marshal storylines were pretty excruciating at times (I stopped watching after the first season), but it helped provide context for who Mary is beyond her job.

Chase has none of this, at least not within its pilot: while we get hints that Annie has daddy issues, and there is definite sexual tension between Frost and her male partner (Cole Hauser), there is nothing which differentiates Chase from any other procedural of this nature. There isn’t even a compelling workplace dynamic to be found, as each co-worker seems more generic than the next, and having Jesse Metcalfe play the young upstart from out of town is pointless when we learn nothing more about him than the fact that he is from out of town. It also doesn’t help that the show is less willing than either Justified or In Plain Sight to give the fugitive a character in their own right: while there are attempts to emotionalize the pilot’s murderer, they never escape the same sense of generic storytelling the rest of the episode falls into.

The one part of the series which doesn’t feel generic is its Texas setting, which Nutter does a nice job of capturing. However, even then it feels like a big cliche: a chase runs through a rodeo and a cattle drive, and the show still needs to put on a show since it is filmed in Dallas yet set in Houston. Ultimately, the only reason I knew it was actually filmed in Texas was the presence of a number of Friday Night Lights alums in bit roles – this was pleasurable, certainly, but it wasn’t the sense of place that I feel the show would benefit from.

Chase is not a bad series by any stretch of the imagination, but it is unquestionably generic. If the show told us more about its characters, or was willing to add some sort of stakes to the proceedings, then I think there is room for a network approach to the Marshals Service. However, there is not a single risk taken within this pilot: everything that happens is carefully calculated to reveal just enough to get the pilot picked up but not so much that viewers find something to actively enjoy or dislike.

Even if you haven’t seen a series based on U.S. Marshals, Chase is unlikely to become must-see television; if you have, meanwhile, Chase will come off as a bland imitation without character or consequence.

Cultural Observations

  • One of Chase’s problems is something that Burn Notice has really grappled with in the past: there is a lot of murder going on here, and yet there is rarely a point where the magnitude of those deaths feels as if it influences how the Marshals operate. While the focus on a surviving child as a source of purpose and inspiration is one way of looking at it, it sort of glosses over the path of destruction actually wrought in the hour.
  • Amaury Nolasco, late of Prison Break, is notable here only due to a ridiculous moustache.
  • It’s really unfair to Jesse Metcalfe that they would have him playing a character who is out of place in this Marshal’s office, considering that he seems out of place as a U.S. Marshall period – give the poor guy a chance, folks!
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