TV Review: 'Flashpoint'

Given that just-above-generic procedurals are what CBS does best and given that just-above-generic procedurals are what CBS viewers have proven most likely to embrace, it's surprising to see CBS casually dumping "Flashpoint" in the mid-summer in a Friday night slot which, under the best of circumstances, would make it a hard sell.

Originally created and developed in Canada and picked up and co-produced by CBS when it looked like the writers strike might prevent the return of domestic scripted programming, "Flashpoint" isn't so necessary for CBS' current success and it's being treated accordingly.

It isn't going to help matters that despite a confident visual style and a likeable cast, "Flashpoint" stops its creative process at "generic."

"Flashpoint" focuses on a group of cops in the SRU, an elite group based on Toronto's Emergency Task Force. The team is trained above-and-beyond the traditional police expectations, mixing search-and-rescue and infiltration techniques with a background in negotiating and profiling. They're the all-purpose Swiss Army knife of crimefighting teams, but viewers may have a hard time getting that after Friday (July 11) night's premiere.

The main problem for "Flashpoint" is that between movies like "The Negotiator" and variably successful TV projects like FOX's "Standoff" and FX's "Kill Point," this world is already all-too-familiar for viewers. The strategies and tactics are far-from-foreign and we're accustomed to the haphazard manner in which these procedurals parcel out the limited character details.

In its pilot, "Flashpoint" makes a few minor structural tweaks. The episode's main negotiation involves a hostage-taking Croatian baddie whose motives are minimal and it pick-ups mid-crisis, skips back to the beginning and then resolves the tension with at least 20 minutes remaining, giving an unexpected amount of time to dwell on the aftermath. A well-conceived procedural finds the unique language in every specialized profession, but "Flashpoint" indicates that no matter where you go, cops all seemingly sound the same. These cops just do it with a Canadian accent.

The biggest twist in "Flashpoint" is that the show allows Toronto to stand in for Toronto, and freed from the responsibility of impersonating New York or Chicago, Toronto gets to be a star. Shot on film and composed to emphasize concrete grays and steely architectural silvers, "Flashpoint" looks like it was produced on a far higher budget than most Canadian productions.

Because the members of the team all have the same diverse training, it's impossible to instantly gauge their individual roles within the team, which prevents most of the characters from getting any sort of shading at all. Because of familiarity to American audiences, Enrico Colantoni and Amy Jo Johnson will probably seem the most memorable, though both actors are just part of an ensemble, though their seasoning from previous roles helps to create characters when the writing falls short. Colantoni, in particular, makes the transition to action lead so fluidly that you might not care that he has nothing to really play.

The actual hero of the first episode is Hugh Dillon's emotionally conflicted sniper Ed. With his bald head, strong jaw and protruding ears, Dillon makes an immediately strong impression, which is only enhanced by the fact that his is the only character with an arc, much less a personal life, in the pilot.

Message boards and forums are full of regular viewers unhappy that the summer months have become entirely the domain of cheap-o unscripted programming. "Flashpoint" is an odd sort of gift for those viewers.

"Here," CBS seems to be saying, "have some scripted programming. It isn't necessarily any good, but if you watch this, maybe we'll repeat the process with something better next time around."

To my mind, that's a good enough reason to root for "Flashpoint" to have a little success. I just can't say that I'll watch may more episodes.