The Rookie Episode 1
Right now, I’m just trying to remember to wear pants.
Who doesn’t want a reset button? John Nolan (Nathan Fillion) wasn’t looking for one. But he got one anyway.
We started off in Foxburg, PA where John bleakly waited outside the bank so he could lock up his signed divorce papers, his wedding ring and if we were to read the symbolism here, his old life.
For two years, John and Sarah agreed to stay together for the sake of their son Henry. Now with Henry off to college, John Nolan was given a new lease on life: whether he wanted it or not.
I met a girl, I fell in love, stick turned blue, so I dropped out of college and I got a job.
John wasn’t sure what to do about his life after this. He bought a self-help book (never read it), told self-deprecating jokes and sleepwalked his days, unsure of what to do.
The epiphany came by way of a bank robbery. John delayed the robbers with a monologue about where his life was that was both funny and sad. His friend Stacey, who happened to be the bank manager, called John brave.
Nine months later, fresh out of the police academy, Officer John Nolan arrived at the Wilshire police station in the heart of Los Angeles.
It’s Christmas and “The Purge” in one.
Let’s face it. I bet a lot of you, like me, tuned in for Nathan Fillion. And who can blame us? Fillion can turn on the charm and the emotion at a moment’s notice. And like Castle, chances are any show with him in it can bank on him to carry the first season.
The Rookie is based off a real person (although I highly doubt some of the Grey’s Anatomy bedroom drama actually happened). The show was a marriage (pun intended) of clichés, quippy humor, Cops and self-examination drama.
Okay, we got some new blood this morning. And some pushing the expiration date.
We have three rookies; each represented a stereotype that seemed to be a requirement for every cop show.
We have Lucy Chen (Melissa O’Neil), a tough female rookie who always has to prove herself. Jackson West (Titus Makin), the son of the legendary Commander West. He arrived with a shiny go-get-em attitude and with a legacy on his shoulders.
And then we have John: pushing past forty, Penn State, pre-law. With a “cholesterol level I’ve never seen in a rookie” according to his captain, Zoe Anderson (Mercedes Mason).
It’s time to play the Training Officer match game.
We have the usual rookie hazing; John was ‘punked’ when he arrived. There are age jokes that are cringe-worthy. There’s grumpy watch commander Wade Grey (Richard T. Jones, Hawaii Five-O) who ragged on John because he feared John was doing this as an answer to a midlife crisis. And the exciting shootout reminded us not every day was about writing tickets.
Our rookies were paired off with three other stereotypes: the ambitious detective wanna-be Angela Lopez (Alyssa Diaz), the ladder climbing Officer Talia Bishop (Afton Williamson) and the tough-talking, acerbic Officer Tim Bradford (Eric Winter).
Everything presented like it was going to be forty-two minutes of a cookie cutter show, right?
John Nolan, who was born before disco died.
The thing about stereotypes is their predictability.
But who would have thought West freeze during a shootout? Who would have thought Bradford, with all his drill sergeant talk, go into a heartbreaking plea to bring home his heroin-addicted wife? Who would have guessed between ambitious Lopez and the determined Bishop, who turned out to be the better partner? Or that John and Lucy were secretly together?
The Rookie flipped the stereotypes around we’re used to and tossed in some quirks we didn’t expect. And Fillion was charming and charismatic as ever, but more sedated as Nolan who was tempered with life. This felt appropriate. I adored him in Castle, but that Peter Pan-esque glee wouldn’t have suited The Rookie.
The LAPD isn’t a place for you to “find yourself.”
The format was faithful to every cop drama: arrests and patrols strung together to make up a day in the life. It’s colored with John’s patriarchal wisdom and wry humor that is both funny and a bit self-deprecating.
The show worked for me because the pilot covered the cycle of John’s growth: his optimism when he arrived, his desire to do right by the abused husband and later on with the child in a hot car.
I think there’s value in having a rookie with his perspective.
We witnessed John’s confidence fade after the abused husband died. Saw him humbled, because even though he took down a man without hurting the hostage, he also left his partner alone to chase the perp. We saw his resolve return in the end after he thought he was out and done.
As John settled into his uniform, his partner Bishop saw him in a new light and his fellow officers stopped seeing him as a running geriatric joke (for the most part).
John didn’t arrive at Wilshire the perfect officer. He’s flawed, maybe a little too idealistic, but at the end of the day, he started earning his fellow officers’ respect.
Not everyone was on-board with him. But you could see it coming and the anticipation of it made The Rookie a potential long-term watch.
I earned my place here.
The best payoff was the confrontation between John and Grey towards the end. You could sense the begrudging acceptance from the watch commander.
Grey warned John he was going to “haze, harass, and humiliate you every chance I get in the hope that you choose to abandon this misguided quest.”
When John asked what if the job was his calling, after all, the watch commander gave the perfect reply: “Then nothing I do to you will matter.”
Celebrate the victory, but recognize you got work to do.
The Rookie pilot was a hero’s journey, John’s defeated acceptance of life after forty to a rejuvenated sense of purpose.
Make no mistake: the episode wasn’t dark and gloomy. The humor was well-timed (the hilarity of John’s first foot chase was worth a second look). The banter was as snappy and energetic as you would expect with anything Nathan Fillion was in. The action was fast, heart-pounding excitment.
The pilot relied heavily on Fillion, but the diverse cast members beside him weren’t slouches either. Everything was what you expected with just enough twist to make it different.
The show runs the risk of falling into a cliché and look like every other cop show out there.
But if the pilot is any example of what’s to come, I’m more than happy to ride along with ABC’s The Rookie.
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