A funny thing happened to "The Commish" between the episode ABC was going to premiere and the one it will air instead tomorrow night: The series found a new and intriguing direction.
The police drama, which debuts at 10 p.m. on WJZ (Channel 13), originally had the look of a second-rate "Hill Street Blues." Though the pilot centered on suburban police commissioner Tony Scali (Michael Chiklis), it was suffused by a dark vision of mean streets and how hard it is to be a good cop in a society full of criminals with too many rights.
There's still some of that thinking in the new episode. But the focus has shifted to a multi-dimensional look at Scali as a human being. He's serious, ambitious, confident and hard-working. But he's also funny, insecure and worried about whether he'll know when he's crossed the line between compromise and sell-out.
In that sense, the fortysomething commish is facing a passage that a number of real-life baby boomers are going through: the movement into management. Many members of this generation, which once rebelled against authority figures, now find themselves in authority. And some of the new managers may be feeling what Scali feels as he tries to do his job yet not lose touch with who he thinks he is.
This Scali-in-passage story line is still subordinated to standard cop-show stuff. In the premiere episode, a rich man's son dies while in police custody, and the rich man applies political pressure to get Scali fired.
But listen to the commish talk with his wife (Theresa Saldana) about the American Dream, watch how ineffectual he is with some of his subordinates at the office and note his insecurity with a snotty Realtor or his tentativeness with his son.
There's an individual worth getting to know lurking just beneath the surface here. He's not there yet, but the movement from the episode ABC planned to debut to the one its substituting is definitely in the right direction. Let's hope they keep going that way and get it right.