Episode 1: Pilot
By: Carlos Uribe
Golden Boy is a show about the seven-year rise of an ambitious cop who becomes the young Police Commissioner in New York City history.
Golden Boy is basically a cop show but with an interesting twist. The idea is that it's about a young cop who becomes a hero. He's able to use his fame to be promoted to detective. The assignment of his choosing is the Homicide department. It's pretty basic so far, right? The promise is that in seven years this cop will become the police commissioner. This basically does two things. The first is that it sets up the endgame. We know where the series is heading which basically locks down what's going to happen. The writers aren't just going to be leading us through seven seasons to an ending they'll come up in the last minute. They already have the ending in mind. This is so different from what you would expect from a television show. A television show doesn't know how long it's going to last so it has to keep the wheels spinning for as long as possible. If it's lucky enough to get a final season then the writers have to wrap up everything into a satisfying conclusion. This means having to fit all the pieces into a large puzzle which can be challenging. In other words they have to come up with the ending after years of pretending to go somewhere. Golden Boy is different in that the writers are going to be writing towards an ending. It even seems to have a gameplan of how to get there as the pilot promises some promising plot points. Basically this ending provides the writers direction. The downsides? Do viewers want to watch a show where they know what's going to happen? The writers having a direction is also a curse as they have to take the story in the same direction. This restricts what they can do. It also hurts the stakes as we know where he ends up so it'll be difficult to care when his career or life are at stake. We know he's going to turn out on top so the series isn't going to be able to sell those stakes.
The pilot does three things right in terms of plot. The first is that it basically sets up the premise well. There is no question about what this show is about-which is a good thing in such a high-concept show. The second is that it sets up how every episode is going to go. There's going to be the normal weekly case that are at the heart of every procedural. There's going to be developments in the serialized plots. While the weekly case was okay, the serialized aspects were mostly the pilot's strengths. It'll need to come up with more interesting weekly cases in the future. We're going to see the future protagonist tell his story to what I believe is a reporter. I'm not entirely sure who he's talking to. The third thing is that it made me want to see what happens next. The answer to the question of whether the viewers are going to want to watch a show where they already know what's going to happen next is going to be subjective to everyone but I do. This is because I don't believe the destination matters but the journey. That's what Golden Boy gets right: it's never about him being the police commissioner but about how he got there. We might know where he's going but that doesn't make the journey any less interesting. I'm not sure if I'll watch any future episodes-my plate is full-but I very well might since the pilot did intrigue me to see future installments. I would definably be watching if the show had been able to hook me but there was one reason why it didn't. I'll get to that in a bit.
One of the reasons that the show works so well is because of the main character. His name is Walter Clark. He's not a particularly complex character but he does have some depth. He starts the pilot as a cop until he's able to save the life of his partner and stop a gunman after getting shot. This gets him promoted to detective. It's as detective where we get to really know him. He's an ambitious detective who seeks the best partner and cases. The pilot had began with a simple question of whether Walter Clark is just a savvy cop or a master politician. They're both basically the same thing and we get to see Walter playing the game of politics rather well. He uses the media to ensure he remains in the spotlight while exchanging information for leads. He manages to reveal a break in the case when the commissioner is visiting. He's basically building up a very public career. Casting is crucial to this project as the show needed to find someone with the ability to sell a proud and young politically-minded individual who still had a lot to learn. Theo James does a pretty good job with bringing the role to life. He's not as good as the pilot's first choice, Ryan Phillippe, but he still delivered a good performance. When one of the detectives compliments him as a golden boy, you get the feeling that he defines the term. The final version you see is Theo in the police commissioner's office who reveals he has made a lot of sacrifices to get where he is at. Overall, Walter is a winning protagonist who charmed me as much as he charms the populace.
The show has mostly good side characters. Walter might be a character you could root for but it's Owen who steals the show. Chi McBride is pretty amazing in the role. Owen is Walter's partner and it looks like his wit and wisdom will prove invaluable to Walter. Owen's rival is Arroyo ever since Arroya killed Owen's criminal informant and laid the blame on him. Their relationship begins pretty cold in the pilot but it's hinted it will only get worse over time. Arroyo is a good cop who is threatened a bit by Walter. His partner is Deb McKenzie, a character who didn't really make any impression. I think her most defining characteristic is that she has two brothers and one of them had died off duty. The final homicide officer is Joe Diaco but he doesn't do anything to really establish himself. The final character is Agnes. She's the reason that I wasn't hooked. She's basically there because she's Walter's sister. It makes sense to include his family into the show but I could care less anytime she was on screen. I was never given a reason to like Agnes and her character was woefully undeveloped. Her scenes basically dragged the episode down. I'm not going to say that she's a showkiller at this point but the series is going to need to find something interesting to do with the character. The side characters are mostly good: Owen and Arroya are strong but Joe, Deb, and Agnes need some serious fleshing out in future episodes.
Golden Boy is a solid cop show. The weekly case was average and there's a lot to like here. The premise is a bit bold but it also manages to work surprisingly well. Theo James and Chi McBride are able to really sell their characters and I would watch this show just for Owen. The serialized aspects hold a lot of promise especially since it promises that the relationship between Owen and Arroyo is only going to get colder. Considering how their dislike towards each other is an entertaining aspect of the show, I approve. I do recommend checking it out because it's a pretty good cop show with a lot of potential.
I wouldn't fall in love with this show. With the ratings it began with, it won't make it past the first season much less complete it's seven-year journey.