Detroit 1-8-7, "Pilot": those who quit don't catch no fish

Quick Take: Detroit 1-8-7, "Pilot"
"We might be the last assembly line in Detroit." - Det. Louis Fitch

Review: Detroit 1-8-7, "Pilot"
(S0101) For a "cop show," there's a tremendous amount of subtle character touches going on in the pilot that work very well. I like the way that Detroit 1-8-7 doesn't feel the need to lay on thick the typical character types (here's the alcoholic cop, here's the super ambitious cop, here's the racist cop, etc.). Instead, we get offhand references to Sgt. Jesse Longford (James McDaniel) trying to close on a retirement house in Tuscany, new Homicide Det. Damon Washington (Jon Michael Hill) getting calls from his wife that gives background on their struggles to have a child, and learning about Det. Louis Fitch (Michael Imperioli) through seeing how his colleagues react and refer to him.

I grew to like this show the deeper into the pilot I got. The little quirks and subtle offbeat moments were what did it most as they transformed what could easily be a run of the mill cops and bad guys show into something else (and a show with potential is just one of those things). Case in point is Fitch's penchant for calling Washington on his cell phone within eyesight when he's looking to make a point (whereas in normal circumstances he's distant and aloof). In the wrong hands this could have felt awfully clunky, but Imperioli pulls it off beautifully.

The subtlety and quirkiness combine for a fantastic crescendo when Fitch rescues Det. Ariana Sanchez (Natalie Martinez) from a car after she gets into an accident during a chase. After Fitch efficiently and professionally gets her safely away from the vehicle, they look at each other and the setup is the classic romantic moment, or the moment where one character or the other would typically make some sort of joke to diffuse the sexual tension.

Instead, we have Fitch, a fairly enigmatic guy who knows how to ramp up his humanity when it comes to the job but otherwise has poor or at least strange communication skills. He brushes Sanchez' hair back, not in a romantic gesture but, as he explains, "You've got some lint." It's played straight, and that moment made me fall in love (or at least a strong like) a little bit with the show.

There are some other things that don't work quite on that level. Fitch's decision to walk into a building to talk down a psycho who took his family hostage is a situation we've seen a million times. While we get more of a sense of his background or at least his motivations as he heroically saves the day, it feels a bit like a Big Suspenseful Scene jammed into a pilot. This goes double for the episode's cliffhanger, where Washington gets shot basically out of nowhere in the stationhouse after he and Fitch finally seemed to be gelling as partners .

Still, there's lots of potential here and I'll be tuning in to see if the show can build on a very solid debut. 

More thoughts on the Detroit 1-8-7 debut:

  • There's an effective use of subtitles to set the scene and very basic character information without interrupting the flow of the story. And then it's additionally nice that the subtitles help us to follow multiple homicide cases and keep basic character information straight throughout the episode (such as "Pharmacy Double" – Shannon Burke's Residence). Some might find that to be a little heavy handed in terms of spoon feeding an audience but I appreciate it as it allows me to absorb what's going on quickly while suspending disbelief.
  • Another subtle touch: the fake puke prank on Washington's desk feels legit to how a real Homicide unit would haze a new guy after he lost his dinner while on his first case.
  • Some good musical selections to set the Detroit mood: Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground," The Temptations' "Papa Was A Rolling Stone," etc.
  • "No, strike that. It's a .45" – Det. Mahajan. Absolutely hilarious that not only did Mahajan and Longford find different shell casings than the ones they were looking for on a highway overpass, but that it doesn't really faze them in the slightest. "That's what happens when you're looking for bullets in Detroit," he then adds.
  • "On a scale of one to ten, ten being totally believable, this is how good that lie was," Fitch says while flipping over a notepad with a big fat zero on it.
  • This may have been the best line of the episode: "Look at you, you green as a f---ing Martian. Come on man, what is this y'all, Training Day?" – Pooch to Washington
  • Video: Detroit 1-8-7, "Pilot"
    Check out the episode in full from Hulu, while available: 

    From Around the Web: Detroit 1-8-7, "Pilot"

  • The Boston Globe: The show, filmed with a hand-held camera, is very much in the vein of “NYPD Blue,’’ but of course with a different and perhaps more depressed city nipping at the cops’ heels. The cops don’t always win the day, and there’s a complicated, Sipowicz-like male figure at the center of the action. He is Detective Fitch, and he is as emotionally unaware and crusty as he is brave. I think Imperioli, as Fitch, is the best thing about “Detroit 1-8-7.’’
  • Chicago Sun-Times: The godson of "The Sopranos" heads the cast of this police procedural, which is having trouble finding its tone. It was originally going to have another "talk to the imaginary documentary filmmakers" structure; praise Jesus, they changed it. But now "Detroit 1-8-7" doesn't know what it wants to be.
  • By Eric - TV Geek Army "Revered Leader"

    About the author

    Eric is the publisher and revered leader of TV Geek Army… at least in his own mind. TV Geek Army is a place for serious TV reviews and news for serious fans of great television. Contact: eric-[at] 

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    On: Wednesday, September 22, 2010
    Mary Williams said:

    I caught this about half way through, and was not intending to watch it. But I got hooked in pretty quickly. And now I am curious about next week.

    On: Wednesday, September 22, 2010
    Mike Proper said:

    Didn't get around to watching this, though this might be one to check out on Hulu or something later.


    However, I can't help but laugh at the title because "1-8-7" is the penal code for homicide in California only.  Whoops.

    On: Wednesday, September 22, 2010
    Eric - TV Geek Army "Revered Leader" said:

    Wow, had no idea that 187 was a California thing... that sounds like the kind of mistake that a company makes when they realize their product name means something horrific in a foreign language !

    On: Wednesday, September 22, 2010
    My DVR works...a lot. said:

    Great write up on what I felt was a great first episode. Also felt great to see my hometown on TV-I'll admit it's the main reason I tuned in for the first episode, but seeing how the writing and performances were are going to continue to draw me in for future viewings.

    I thought Michael Imperioli's performance as Fitch might very well be his best to date.

    On: Wednesday, September 22, 2010
    Eric - TV Geek Army "Revered Leader" said:

    Thanks so much Norm !

    I'm a big Imperioli fan. He was good on Life on Mars though that character always existed as a bit of a caricature. His performance here really drives the show, and I'm curious to get more into his background. In fact I hope we do start to "go home" with these characters and find out more about their backgrounds and home lives. 

    Curious if you watch HBO's Hung, by the way? Another Detroit show, though much more suburban-based in nature. And a very different vibe to the show too of course! 


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