For many, that new ABC drama The Rookie stars Nathan Fillion, the tastemaker’s David Boreanaz, is a good enough sell. Through shows like Castle, Desperate Housewives, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and especially Joss Whedon’s short-lived space Western Firefly, the objectively charming thespian has cultivated for himself an impressively devoted fan base—known as Fillionites, according to Urban Dictionary, though Fillionaires is also acceptable nomenclature. The recurring bit in Big Mouth where Missy (Jenny Slate) has romantic fantasies about a Firefly-era Fillion (who also voices himself in the series) is not an exaggeration. Fillion is a niche hero, and barring some shocking twist in which his character is killed halfway through The Rookie’s first season, the show has built-in Fillion-dom (I made that one up).
So here’s what the rest of the viewing public should know about the actor’s new series: It’s a by-the-numbers cop drama with a few wrinkles, the perfect show to casually flip to or to watch at the gym. The Rookie is not terrible, but it’s certainly not essential viewing, either.
Fillion plays John Nolan, a 40-something, recently divorced construction company owner in Pennsylvania who finds himself in the middle of a bank robbery in the show’s opening scene. The adrenaline rush of the moment—and the sad acknowledgment that this horrible event is the most exciting thing that’s happened to him in years—leads him to a new calling. We skip to nine months later, when Nolan is beginning his career as a cop in Los Angeles after finishing his training—a framework that lends itself to some jokes about his age, as well as some (perhaps justifiable) trepidation from some in the LAPD that donning the uniform is a dangerous proposition for someone going through a midlife crisis.
The Rookie wastes no time in getting Nolan—plus two other LAPD rookies in Jackson West (Titus Makin Jr.), the son of a famous commander, and Lucy Chen (Melissa O’Neil), who is introduced arresting a moron who tried to steal her car on her way to work—out on the streets with commanding officers who each have vague wrinkles to their personality. Nolan is assigned to Bishop (Afton Williamson), who has her sights set on a promotion; Jackson gets Lopez (Alyssa Diaz), who has a competitive streak; and Lucy is stuck with Bradford (Eric Winter), the kind of stereotypical, intense, militaristic cop who is either wildly passionate about his job or dangerously over-the-top.
From there, The Rookie hits familiar beats—the key distinction being that most shows are about detectives solving big murder or drug cases, whereas this series is focused on the monotonous grind of beat cops working the street and answering a variety of calls. At times, it makes The Rookie feel like a dialed-down version of Fox’s 9-1-1. Unfortunately, nothing in the first two episodes compares to 9-1-1’s multiple women-going-into-labor yoga class or giant, apocalyptic earthquake—the wildest The Rookie gets is in the second episode, when a buff dude on PCP loses it inside a church and is calmly subdued with the promise of water.
Fillion delivers a fine, albeit different performance than Fillies (new name; again made by me) might expect. In his lead roles in Castle and Firefly, Fillion’s characters were cocky types (Firefly’s Malcolm Reynolds should’ve been sued by George Lucas for Han Solo–specific copyright infringement) who rubbed folks the wrong way while always speaking their mind. Nolan, however, has a quieter, more dad-like charm. He has a few one-liners in him, but for the most part he’s the one on the receiving end of brash insults from his peers. The performance doesn’t feel off-brand for Fillion, but rather a natural progression for an actor entering a latter stage of his career—one that lends itself to roles imbued with more maturity and restraint. It’s a much better alternative than becoming a living embodiment of the Steve Buscemi meme. Thank god The Rookie doesn’t give Fillion a skateboard.
Should You Watch It? If you want a low-commitment, low-stress show to pass the time, you can do a lot worse than The Rookie. If you want more high-octane thrills on the streets of Los Angeles, well, 9-1-1 already exists.
Are There Cringeworthy Cop Lines? Unfortunately yes, and none worse than an officer describing a perpetrator as someone who “enjoys long walks on the beach and felony assault.” [Eyes roll out of their sockets.]
What’s the Weirdest Fun Fact About the Show? The showrunner for The Rookie is Alexi Hawley, who used to work with Fillion on Castle. Hawley is also the twin brother of Noah Hawley, creator of Legion and FX’s Fargo series. What the hell?! What are the odds of twin brothers both working in television as showrunners? Now I know where Hawley got the twin Ewan McGregor thing from.