`Big Apple' has little at its core

Preview: Unfortunately, the pilot episode has little to show by way of substance and character development.

March 01, 2001|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

"Big Apple," a new cop drama from one of the creators of "NYPD Blue," debuts tonight with a pilot full of sound and fury registering almost nothing on the emotional scale.

The hour is filled with: tons of tough cop talk; the blood-splattered body of a woman; a particularly grisly hanging; a Russian mob hit; a dogged murder investigation; semi-clad female dancers sliding up and down poles at a strip club; and all sorts of backstage intrigue and double-dealing by FBI investigators and their supervisors. And it all left me colder than the strippers' smiles.

The pedigree is certainly impressive. "Big Apple" is created by David Milch, co-creator of "NYPD Blue," and Anthony Yerkovich, an executive producer for "Miami Vice." You'll get the "Miami Vice" reference with the very first image - water shot from the point of view of a helicopter flying just above the gray waves.

The opening sequence is representative of both the storytelling pyrotechnics and the feeling that it's all style and no human substance. It starts with sound - here, the unpleasant thwacking of a helicopter blade so loud that we can hardly make out the shouting as the passengers try to converse.

Media has taught us to associate that helicopter sound with Vietnam, and we do have a new soldier entering a war in this sequence. FBI Agent Sarah Day (Kim Dickens) is a passenger on the helicopter approaching Manhattan. Later, we discover that she's being brought in from another field office to determine if investigations in the New York office have been compromised. Riding with her is her boss, Will Preecher (David Strathhairn), a high-level agent in New York.

Preecher apologizes for getting Day transferred into his unit on such short notice, and she responds by saying, "I was ready for a change." Then, after looking down at the city, she adds, "I guess they stay open 24 hours a day here finding out what you're ready for."

From the chopper, the cameras cut to a crime scene with the bloody body of a female victim, then to an office where two people are watching on a computer what appears to be a meeting between two mobsters in a local bar. During the meeting, the mobsters take a trip down the hall to look at a dead man hanging in a meat locker.

Then it's back to the helicopter, which suddenly starts into a nose dive as if it were about to crash. The camera is so jumpy it makes "Homicide" on its goofiest hand-held-camera day seem positively tranquil.

And what's it all mean? Nothing. Viewers don't know who these people in the helicopter are, so we couldn't care less if it crashes. Throwing that scene in the opening is just a little razzle-dazzle from a writer who's showing off, and there's way too much of that in tonight's pilot.

"Big Apple" might get better if Milch and Yerkovich relax and concentrate more on character. Ed O'Neill ("Married With Children"), portrays NYPD Detective Mike Mooney, a cynical local cop drawn into the FBI investigation against his will. He has the best chance to become the emotional center of this drama, the character that makes us care, as we care about Andy Sipowicz (Dennis Franz) in "NYPD Blue."

But right now, it's a drama without a heart.

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