Saturday, June 19, 2010

Detroit Deserves Better Than "1-8-7"

ABC will premier a new documentary-style drama this fall called "Detroit 1-8-7", which is supposed to follow a group of homicide detectives in the D. Ever since I watched "The Wire" I had hoped for a similar sort of series that would take a nuanced view of this troubled and beloved city. I have no such hopes for this series being half as good as "The Wire" or even "Homicide: Life on the Streets". That's why I'm not surprised by this underwhelming trailer.

Okay, to be fair, I will first focus on the positive, or at least the neutral aspects of this production -

1) Although the pilot was shot in Atlanta, the series itself will be filmed entirely in Detroit. In addition to this being a nod to authenticity, this decision will lead to more jobs and money in the region (assuming the show lasts). Also, I hope that the writers and producers of the show will be less inclined to paint a thoroughly awful picture of the city if they wind up spending time here.

2) Michael Imperioli. "Christopher!"

3) The voice over narration on the trailer is unfairly cheesy. It gives this the feel of a very low budget film from 25 years ago, when it is actually a TV show.

Okay, I think that's all I've got. Here are my misgivings -

1) I cannot ascertain that there is a single native Detroiter connected to this production. As far as I can tell, the creator, Jason Richman, was raised in southern California. I don't know who else is slated to write or direct episodes going forward (I'm not that familiar with television production - perhaps it is too early to say), but beyond including a few shots of the Ren Cen, "The Spirit of Detroit" and some burned out buildings, I don't expect this show to say anything unique or insightful about the city. And that's a shame, because Detroit is awfully interesting.

2) More nitpicking about authenticity - the names of the characters simply don't ring true. According to the cast list on, there is an Ariana Sanchez (Latina - check), Aman Mahajan (South Asian - check) and there are obviously a lot of black characters in the trailer. In other words, I can tell there's some basic understanding of the region's ethnic mix. But the white people's names - Louis Fitch, John Stone, James Burke - are awfully WASPy. I don't know, maybe all of their homicide detectives commute from Oakland County, but I'm wondering where Ricci, Szymanski, and Serdenkovski fit in. When I was growing up in east Dearborn, all the white people I knew came from (or descended from those who came from) Poland, Italy, Ireland, Hungary, Romania, Albania, etc. I didn't know many WASPs. And everyone else I knew was Arab American. Oh yeah, where does Hammoud fit into this picture, while we're at it?

3) If it isn't authentic, then no one will care. "The Wire" was special for many reasons, but particularly because it made Baltimore fascinating to people like me who have never been there. And as gritty and upsetting as the show could be, I fell in love with it and the screwed up city it represented. "The Wire" dignified the people of Baltimore by showing us how interesting their lives are. This is why I have longed for a similar program about Detroit, because our politics, neighborhoods and people are just as complex and deserving of that lens. But if "1-8-7" is going to be just another action-oriented cop show with a "mystery of the week" storyline, no one is going to care. Well, Detroiters will care for a little while, until they get bored with the "Hey, look! That's us on TV!" thrill of it all, and then the show will be canceled. So much for those jobs and fresh dollars.

I hope I am wrong about this - I often am in my predictions about pop culture successes (like when I saw the trailer for "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective" and thought "The white dude from In Living Color? No one cares about him. What a waste of time!"). I hate to say it, but even if the show is as down and dreary and shallow as the trailer portends, I have to say (as I barf in my mouth), I suppose it will be good for the city. Like when a CVS opens, or the girl from Wayne State wins "America's Next Top Model", or Kid Rock has a hit song, or some other thing that would be embarrassing to most other towns...


  1. "I don't know, maybe all of their homicide detectives commute from Oakland County." Ding ding! Seriously - it may be a small observation, but I think it's quite on target!

    The voice-over made me unsure if this was actually a real show. I though it was a spoof all the way through the first time I saw the trailer!

  2. Yeah, that voice-over just says "bad old movie" to me. My instincts were, "Is this new? Straight to video? Made-for-TV? Do they even make those anymore??"

    I'm really curious how this will turn out.

    Speaking of nitpicking, I enjoyed this comment on -

    "Does anybody have any contacts at ABC? I could use some extra income. My job would be pointing out dumb *beep* I would love for people to ask what I do, so I could respond with, "I point out dumb *beep* For instance, ABC, 187 is the California police code for homicide. In Michigan, the code is 0900."

  3. Looks pretty crummy -- would that a David Simon-caliber writer was taking this on. Would that a pay cable channel was taking this on. Would that...

    Ah, well. Sigh...

    On the other hand, a couple of years back Hayley and I saw the following Detroit-based 'crime' reality show on airplane TV and it was RIVETING. We started mentally casting the movie version -- Kathy Bates, 'Andre' from OutKast, etc. -- and I'm still convinced that such a flick could work as a great movie about Detroit:

  4. I saw some of that show! The only thing that kept me from flipping past it was the fact that it was shot in Detroit. This is some sad shit. There are so many abused dogs in Detroit. I have the utmost admiration for those who take care of these creatures. I'll be sure to check out some more of this.

  5. Detroit 0-900! I love it!

    Seriously, though, this show will last for 6 episodes, tops. And while I appreciate the economic impact it could have, I'd rather it come in a less trite way.