This fall, a leaner, keener, more athletic Nathan Fillion hits the mean streets in ABC’s The Rookie, as John Nolan, the oldest rookie cop in the Los Angeles Police Department.
Pushing 40, and newly divorced, Nolan has hit a turning point in his life. Seeking to reinvent himself after a traumatic incident, he decides to train at the Academy, and pursue a life of meaning and purpose as a cop. But that’s not where our story truly begins.
When we meet Nolan again he’s already been through the rigorous 6 month program, and has passed with flying colors (and also with the highest cholesterol level on record. Ahem!). Nolan has made some friends at the Academy along the way too, including Lucy Chen (Dark Matter’s Melissa O’Neill), and Jackson West (Titus Makin), the son of the imposing Commander West of Internal Affairs, and it’s here we officially meet all three characters on “Rookie Day” — or Christmas and The Purge all rolled into one, according to the gleefully malicious training officers assigned to bully (train) each new cop into shape for the streets.
With six new core characters to get used to, one might imagine the pilot episode to be a little heavy on exposition at times, but refreshingly, it’s not. That’s thanks to a collection of clearly drawn characters, a solid but straightforward plot (get through day one alive and try not to antagonize your T.O.), and a tightly written script. And while events on Rookie Day predictably threaten to spin wildly out of control, and each rookie and training officer finds him or herself tested as never before, Fillion’s Nolan remains the centrifugal force that keeps the hour firmly on track with a combination of heart and humor.
What you won’t find in Fillion’s spin as John Nolan however is hubris. As the force’s oldest rookie, Nolan faces an uphill battle for acceptance from his superiors who harbor suspicions that his career choice is born out of a mid-life crisis — a crisis that might jeopardize the life of one of their own if Nolan can’t manage to cut it among younger peers and streetwise criminals. An executive producer on the show, Fillion is nonetheless happy to play the buffoon when necessary, whether that involves being hazed by the precinct training officers, teased repeatedly about his age and fitness (ironically, he’s never looked fitter) or struggling to climb a fence in pursuit of a felon, and then having the entire precinct watch his efforts on body cam video footage afterwards. The comedy pays off. Nolan emerges as the kind of relatable everyman we all want to root for and never once do we feel we’ve strayed into Police Academy territory. We want to cheer Nolan on when he begins to realize his life-experience and sense of humor might be just what he needs to give himself a much needed edge.
Overall, there’s much to like in The Rookie. This new series rests comfortably somewhere between drama and comedy, and is from former Castle E.P. and co-showrunner Alexi Hawley, who takes up both writing and producing duties here. While The Rookie comes from lead studio Entertainment One (eOne), it’s also a co-production with ABC Studios, which means that in this volatile ratings-led landscape, this partly in-house production may be likely to stick around longer than some other shows on your fall schedule too.
The series also stars Alyssa Diaz as Angela Lopez, Richard T. Jones as Sergeant Wade Grey, Titus Makin as Jackson West, Mercedes Mason as Captain Zoe Andersen, Melissa O’Neil as Lucy Chen, Afton Williamson as Talia Bishop and Eric Winter as Tim Bradford.
The Rookie premieres Tuesday, Oct. 16 10:00-11:00 p.m. on ABC.
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