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‘Training Day’ Is the Wrong Kind of Funny

The 2001 film is now a self-serious TV show. This is not a good choice.

(CBS)
(CBS)

The bad news is that the new Training Day TV show is very bad. The good news is you missed the pilot — it was Thursday night. The bad news is CBS may re-air the pilot at some point, plus new installments every Thursday (an upcoming episode is apparently titled “Tehrangeles”); also, if you click the wrong link too many times, the pilot might inadvertently start streaming on your computer. The good news is if that happens you can just slam your laptop shut and throw it into the sea. Where, if you wait long enough, you might get to watch the yacht Bill Paxton bought himself with this check go sailing by. He oughta name the yacht “Oh, Well.”

Anyways, lousy show! Training Day takes place 15 years after the events of Antoine Fuqua’s 2001 film, which finally scored Denzel Washington his Best Actor Oscar and features at least four seconds of transcendent cinema. Fuqua is an executive producer on the show, alongside, most notably, Jerry Bruckheimer. Paxton assumes the Denzel role as a galactically dirty L.A. detective, with relative newcomer Justin Cornwell taking over for Ethan Hawke as an idealistic and theoretically undercover young charge named Kyle.

And immediately you see the problem.

Listen. If you hung up a sign that read “He’s No Denzel Washington,” then every other male human on earth would be obliged to go stand under the sign. Paxton is a fine grizzled-charisma actor of stage (Twister!) and screen (Big Love!). You want a dope movie? Frailty is a dope movie. But Bill Paxton ain’t got shit on King Kong, so to speak. The strain is evident from the show’s opening moments, our man doing some hard-boiled voiceover growling (“I’ve been hunting armed men through this city since O.J. was doing Hertz commercials”). Los Angeles here is grim and watery and menacingly beige, as though submerged in a giant bottle of Michelob Ultra.

Then: copious gunfire. Then: copious flashbacks + exposition. Then: Paxton saunters into the frame, coercing a cute kid to steal donuts out of the police station vending machine for him and pronouncing the word homicide “home-i-cide.” What transpires from there is an avalanche of wayward hard-boiled dialogue that barely qualifies as egg salad.

Cute kid: “Everything you just said is racist.” Low-level drug runner: “One of my overenthusiastic homies exceeded his authority.” Paxton, to low-level drug runner: “Yeah, well, as a great philosopher once said, ‘Mo Money Mo Problems.’” Paxton to Cornwell: “The police works like sex, Kyle. It’s a lot more effective when it isn’t pretty.” Female Paxton crony: “Well, this is an epic fail.” Male Paxton crony: “Welcome to the other side of the mirror, man. It’s dark over here.” Cuban mercenary named Thoreau, to Paxton: “That’ll do, pig.” Paxton to Cornwell: “Calling me a dirty cop, that’s like calling Santa Claus a burglar. Sure I’m breakin’ into people’s homes, trackin’ soot all over the damn carpet. Drinkin’ and eatin’ all the milk and cookies. But just look at all the joy I bring!” [Gestures to myriad dead bodies.]

Look, this is not a knee-jerk “don’t turn semi-classic movies into TV shows” elitist lament: The Lethal Weapon remake over on Fox is buzzing along splendidly, embracing its low-impact silliness. But Training Day takes itself awfully seriously, and its Grizzled-Charismatic bad cop vibe leaves a monumentally sour taste 15-plus years later, especially with the two main cops’ races reversed. “They put us through sensitivity training now,” Paxton hoots. “Hug a thug.” There are major tone issues here. This is the hackneyed fake cop show from The Good Wife; this is True Detective, Season 9. The hardest-working person on set so far is the Candle Intern.

(CBS)
(CBS)

Above is the secret lair of Blowtorch Bob, the pilot’s other nefarious drug lord, played by the great Joaquim de Almeida, who you may remember as Reyes in Fast Five, and who I definitely remember as Bucho from Desperado, a.k.a. the funniest action-movie villain of the ’90s. (“What’s the number to the phone in my car?”) The problem here is that the deliberate attempts at humor aren’t very funny, and all the attempts at stern-faced drama are hilarious. The sooner everyone involved here realizes they’re making a comedy, the better. Until then, it’s just a tragedy. Welcome to the other side of the mirror, man.