Rookie series `Ryan Caulfield' shows promise

Preview: `Year One' stumbles a bit but still takes its tentative first steps toward becoming a worthwhile series

October 15, 1999|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

TV's already got teen vampire slayers, teen moviemakers and teen witches. Somehow, you knew teen cops wouldn't be far behind.

Tonight, they arrive -- not without problems and a few missteps, but with enough promise to warrant at least a few hours' worth of interest.

"Ryan Caulfield: Year One," premiering tonight on Fox, follows the exploits of its namesake 19-year-old rookie police officer as he endures his first day on the Philadelphia police force, assigned to an inner-city precinct known as "The Badland."

We first meet Caulfield (Sean Maher) celebrating his last night before his first day at the precinct by attending a college frat party -- which comes complete with women in their skivvies, free-flowing booze and the occasional illicit drug.

In voiceover, Caulfield tells us about how weird his friends think he is for joining the force instead of going to college. But his real fish-out-of-waterness becomes apparent when he gets in the middle of a minor rumble, someone yanks open his coat and his concealed handgun becomes un-concealed.

This incident may illustrate Caulfield's clash with the standard college lifestyle, but it's unlikely his captain would be terribly pleased to know he was packing heat at a beer binge.

Such are the stumbles "Ryan Caulfield" makes as it struggles to give itself a foothold in reality. There's also the unisex police locker room, where Caulfield encounters fellow rookie -- and hot babe -- Kim Veras (Roselyn Sanchez). And there's the chase that has Caulfield pursuing a suspected cop killer into a pitch-black inner-city basement; methinks a real cop would have called for backup.

But the show does a lot of things right, beginning with Maher's nicely pitched performance as a kid cocksure enough to assure everyone he's not affected by seeing a guy shot and killed on his first day but scared enough to confide to his friends that he's already second-guessing his career choice.

Even better is Michael Rispoli as Caulfield's partner, Sasser, a veteran cop who's seen it all but isn't so jaded that he can't appreciate what the kid is going through. There's nothing really new about what has become a stock character, the hard-nosed but compassionate mentor, but Rispoli's too good an actor simply to go through the motions. He gives Sasser a depth that bodes well for this teacher-student relationship. (Rispoli is also on TV this season as the paramedic shot in the opener of NBC's "Third Watch.")

Sure, some of the other players here are little more than walking punch lines, especially Caulfield's friends -- including one particularly irritating wiseacre who insists on relating everything to the movies he's seen.

But the idea of putting a boy in a man's job, and watching as he either grows into it (here's betting he does) or runs screaming back to adolescence, makes "Ryan Caulfield: Year One" one of the season's more promising journeys.

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