REVIEW: L.A.’s Finest Puts a Minor Bad Boys Character in a Dull Procedural

The desperate hunger for content with even the tiniest bit of brand recognition is the only discernible explanation for the existence of L.A.’s Finest, the first original series for Charter Communications’ Spectrum cable-TV service. It’s hard to imagine anyone caring so much about the fate of a minor character from 2003’s Bad Boys II that they’d sign up for an entire cable package (which is only available in certain markets anyway), and the show doesn’t add any real value to an existing cable subscription. If this were some sort of pioneering, visionary piece of television, it might entice curious or adventurous viewers to seek it out on such an awkward platform. But L.A.’s Finest is the definition of inessential, a boilerplate police procedural that plays out exactly like the network-TV castoff it is.

Originally developed for NBC, Finest finds Gabrielle Union reprising her Bad Boys II role of Syd Burnett, sister of Martin Lawrence’s Marcus Burnett and onetime girlfriend of Will Smith’s Mike Lowrey (of course, neither Lawrence nor Smith come anywhere near this show). In her last appearance, Syd was an undercover DEA agent in Miami, but in subsequent years she’s moved to Los Angeles and become a robbery-homicide detective at the LAPD, where’s she’s partnered with the equally tough Nancy McKenna (Jessica Alba). Syd and Nancy have a familiar buddy-cop dynamic, with Syd as the more reckless one and Nancy as the slightly more respectable one, although they both have a fairly cavalier attitude toward rules and regulations. Evan Handler plays the requisite apoplectic captain who sputters, “If you’re going to have a pissing contest, don’t do it on my shoes,” but he disappears after the first episode, and it’s not clear if he’s going to return.

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Both main characters harbor dark secrets that conveniently connect to the same mysterious crime lord, but the effort to create an ongoing narrative is pretty half-baked, and there’s little intrigue in the shadowy cliffhangers that get quickly resolved over the course of the three episodes available for review. Then again, the cases in each individual episode are even more uninspired, and the characters seem to put about as much effort into solving them as the writers did. (In the second episode, the entire case is cracked in a single scene of clumsy techno-babble exposition.) Syd and Nancy get a rival pair of male detectives (played by Duane Martin and Zach Gilford) to fill out the cast and collect evidence while the two women are busy with their individual storylines, and while it’s refreshing that the male characters are the one-dimensional sounding boards for once, that doesn’t make their scenes any more interesting or entertaining to watch.

Creators Brandon Margolis and Brandon Sonnier don’t make much out of the gender-flipped premise (their boldest move is to reveal that Syd is bisexual), and Syd and Nancy are much more traditional cops than their big-screen male counterparts. Director Anton Cropper attempts some cut-rate Michael Bay-style mayhem in the first episode, but none of the superfluous explosions and gun battles capture Bay’s distinctive over-the-top style, which at least gave the Bad Boys movies their own identity. Instead, the violence just comes across as tasteless and excessive, completely out of proportion with the mundane cases the main characters investigate.

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Union and Alba are both veteran professionals who could easily join the team on any NCIS or Law & Order series, and they project toughness and sass in equal measure as Syd and Nancy, but there’s only so much they can do with the terrible dialogue, which strains to replicate the Lawrence/Smith banter from the movies. At one point during the first episode, Syd utters Bad Boys II’s famous “Shit just got real” line, which sounds about as natural as characters reading promotional copy for product placement. Finest is much less comedic than the Bad Boys movies, making the shifts from standard-issue cop jargon to jokey insults particularly jarring.

Anyone coming to the show without any awareness of the movies would have no reason to think that there’s a whole franchise behind this dull, limited crime drama, and shoehorning in John Salley’s Bad Boys II hacker character doesn’t exactly constitute ambitious world-building. Syd’s back story is expanded with an estranged ex-cop father (Ernie Hudson) and a traumatic incident that drove her to leave Miami, and Nancy’s home life includes a district-attorney husband (Ryan McPartlin) and an overly woke teenage stepdaughter (Sophie Reynolds). There’s no explanation, though, for how they can both afford ridiculously lavish homes in Los Angeles.

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Although there’s another Bad Boys sequel set for next year, Finest still feels hopelessly outdated, the kind of thing that could have premiered on a broadcast network at any time in the last 25 years (a few swear words aside). Like Fox’s Lethal Weapon series, Finest is a scaled-back recreation of blockbuster movies that succeeded on the strength of their stars’ chemistry more than their stories, and Finest doesn’t even have the advantage of name recognition. On NBC, it might have limped along, carried by other popular procedurals. On Spectrum, it’ll be lucky if current subscribers even know that it’s there.

Starring Gabrielle Union, Jessica Alba, Duane Martin, Zach Gilford, Ryan McPartlin, Sophie Reynolds and Ernie Hudson, L.A.’s Finest premieres its first three episodes May 13 on Spectrum, with subsequent episodes debuting weekly.

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