TV Review: 'The Cleaner'
A&E's return to drama features a meaty role for Benjamin Bratt
With "The Cleaner," that star is Benjamin Bratt, stretching his acting muscles and exuding effortless scruffy charm as William Banks, an addict who, after hitting rock bottom, made a promise to God to help other drug users achieve sobriety. By any means necessary.
Bratt's team is made up of recovering addicts determined to give others the same second chance they were given.
Created by Jonathan Prince ("American Dreams") and Robert Munic, "The Cleaner" walks an interesting line when it comes to the difference between faith and religion. Banks may talk to God, but he isn't born-again and his desire to help people isn't based on any sort of conversion experience. The result is an absence of dogma that will either be refreshing or frustrating for viewers. Personally, I appreciated that depending on how you choose to interpret it, Banks' God can be either as generic or specific a higher power as you choose. Another alternative, though, would be to call the device contrived and wishy-washy. I can buy that, too.
It would be fair to call "The Cleaner" a scripted version of "Intervention," which not-so-coincidentally happens to be one of A&E's biggest hits. That show's tag line is "It's Life or Death" and "The Cleaner" sets up very similar stakes from the very first episode, in which its made clear that not only is Banks' team trying to save the lives of the weekly victims, but their own lives are very much in jeopardy, because every exposure to the urban underbelly exposes them to the sorts of demons they're trying to outrun.
While the show's structure is strictly episodic and procedural, the very nature of addiction forces serialized elements into play, which is likely what attracted the solid cast.
Bratt is immediately effective as the drama's anchor, conveying just hints of the man Banks used to be to sell the difficulties of his attempted transformation. His capable support includes Grace Park -- obviously having a tremendously good time stepping out of her "Battlestar Galactica" confines to play a sexy bad girl -- Esteban Powell and, in the pilot, Gil Bellows. Kevin Michael Richardson barely features in the pilot, but promises to be more involved in the episodes to come.
"The Cleaner" is a safe foray back into scripted drama for A&E. The material is a little edgy, but in no way controversial. The show breaks no barriers in form -- though the pilot, directed by David Semel ("Heroes") is quite handsome -- or content -- don't look for nudity, language or even graphic drug use. So it isn't an FX or a Showtime or an HBO drama, but it lays a simple-to-reproduce framework for what an A&E drama can be.