Detroit 1-8-7 TV Review

ABC‘s Detroit 1-8-7 (premiering tonight) has a few stumbling blocks to get past if it hopes to draw in the kind of ratings that are going to keep it around. The first, and most obvious, is the simple fact that it’s a homicide investigation series swimming upstream through a flood of new and returning cop shows and legal dramas. As much as the genre has a lot of historical momentum, there are probably only so many people can watch.

The second is that it is a police drama that abandoned its shtick. Originally working a “documentary” angle, the show ditched that idea midstream in favor of a simple, straight-forward drama. The first couple of episodes still tell that tale by way of the camerawork, and the occasional glimpse into the lens. It still looks like its working the gimmick, there just isn’t any mention of it. I’m not sure if that will continue as new episodes come out, but it’s provides an interesting view.

As a result, it’s now a show without much in the way of specific sell, and I hope that isn’t the kiss of death, because the first episodes are promising. It’s a tricky sort of promise though, now relying on audiences to trust that it will be able to figure itself out in the near future. The loss of the documentary push means the show is reinventing its style and tone, and probably losing several minutes per episode of detail, as we imagine a few beats here and there were probably aimed at the cameramen, or acknowledgement of same.

Michael Imperioli (“The Sopranos,” “Life on Mars”) stars as Detective Louis Fitch, the main focal point of the show, and he’s a strange hybrid of Old School and very nearly out of control (assuming those aren’t the same thing). As gruff to his fellow cops as he is to the bad guys, Fitch strikes many as not quite doing things by the book, but that doesn’t seem to really be the case… he just has his own book. With a great track record, Fitch has earned some leeway, but his unorthodox, angry style causes a bit of disharmony to follow him wherever he goes.

Of course, when you have such a detective, he has to have a new partner, and recent homicide acquisition Det. Damon Washington (Jon Michael Hill) is the upbeat, “too excited to be working homicide” answer. It’s bad enough that their styles and dispositions clash, but Fitch kicks things off in a huff at having to babysit the fresh meat, and he isn’t about to make things easy for him.

It may turn out to be tough for viewers to get behind Fitch, a problem possibly softened had we stuck with our documentary style, and that will be the key to the show’s success or failure. The clash and balance between Fitch and Washington may win out, especially considering the plot points of the first two episodes, but it’s a roll of the dice. The supporting cast provide a somewhat more rounded experience, but this isn’t really an ensemble. You like Fitch, or you don’t watch.

This in itself makes you wonder just how much the show adjusted itself to fit the change in theory, because certain characters are so far in the background as we enter the show that as an audience it becomes difficult to know what to do with them. Shaun Majumder and Natalie Martinez are on board, but so far in rather limited roles. Erin Cummings pops up as a medical examiner (I guess), but being on screen for about ten seconds in the first two episodes, it’s hard to get a grasp of her role, or how often she’ll show up in the future.

There’s a good game in here somewhere, and Imperioli delivers well in a tough role, but I’m not sure that enough viewers are going to bother sticking around for this one to get its feet squarely underneath it, and I’m left on the fence as to whether or not I should try to convince them to do so. I wish there were a little more to get hold of in our initial ventures, not least because the show attempts to showcase Detroit pretty well, but this one is a tough call. If it manages to contort itself into something that can deliver the kind of appeal that pulls in a serious fanbase, I don’t think it will be until we’re into double-digit episodes, and it might not be around that long.

What does it take to be a detective in one of America’s toughest cities? Follow one homicide unit as Detroit’s finest reveal the crisis and revelation, heartbreak and heroism that characterize these inner city cops in this series shot entirely in Detroit, Michigan, which premieres Tuesday, September 21, on the ABC Television Network.

There’s the damaged but driven Detective Louis Fitch, a wily homicide vet who is the most respected — and most misunderstood — man in the division; Detective Damon Washington, Fitch’s new partner, who finds the first day on the job is a trial by fire, complicated by the imminent birth of his first child; Detective Ariana Sanchez, sexy, edgy and beautiful, who has emerged from a rough background to become a rising star in the department; narcotics undercover cop John Stone, a streetwise smooth talker, clever and quick with a smile made for the movies, who is teamed with Sanchez — a combustible pairing rife with conflict and sexual tension; Sergeant Jesse Longford, a 30-year veteran and sage of the department struggling with his impending retirement from the force and the city he loves, who, together with his partner, Detective Vikram Mahajan — a fully Americanized son of Indian immigrants — form an amusing mismatch of experience and enthusiasm, intellect and instinct, old school and new world, but whose combined skills have never encountered a case that couldn’t be cleared; and all are headed by Lieutenant Maureen Mason, a strong-willed single mom struggling to balance home and work. The unit works with the primary medical examiner, Dr. Abbey Ward, who has an unusual hobby in her off-hours-roller derby.

The men and women of Detroit Homicide are as smart and tough as they come. They have to be, as they struggle with their own inner demons, using only their sharp sense of humor to keep them grounded while working the neighborhoods of the historic Motor City.

“Detroit 1-8-7” stars Michael Imperioli (“The Sopranos,” “Life on Mars”) as Detective Louis Fitch, James McDaniel (“NYPD Blue”) as Sergeant Jesse Longford, Aisha Hinds (“True Blood”) as Lieutenant Maureen Mason, D.J. Cotrona (“Windfall”) as Detective John Stone, Jon Michael Hill (Broadway’s “Superior Donuts”) as Detective Damon Washington, Shaun Majumder (“24,””Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle”) as Detective Vikram Mahajan, Natalie Martinez (“Death Race”) as Detective Ariana Sanchez and Erin Cummings (“Mad Men”) as Dr. Abbey Ward.



Marc Eastman is the owner and operator of Are You Screening? and has been writing film reviews for over a decade, and several branches of the internet's film review world have seen his name. He is also a member of The Broadcast Film Critics Association and The Broadcast Television Journalists Association.