TV Reviews : Humor Saves ‘Commish’ From Self-Destruction

A disturbed man invades the police commissioner’s office to ask how to reach the roof. When the man says he wants to jump off, he’s told that doing so requires a city permit, without which he’d be cited for unlawful jumping.


That’s the way it goes on the premiere of ABC’s “The Commish,” a police series with a comic twist tailored to the talents of its star, Michael Chiklis. It airs at 10 tonight on Channels 7, 3, 10 and 42.

It was Chiklis who caused a brief stir by playing John Belushi in the controversial “Wired.” Now he’s playing a comedian again, a suburban New York police commissioner of ample paunch and punch lines, a man named Tony Scali, whose grating self-righteousness is moderated by his basic likability and playful sense of humor.

After using the latter to victimize the poor soul seeking the roof, he does the right thing by sending the guy off to get professional help, after which “The Commish” gets down to serious business--temporarily.

The son of a prominent attorney appears to have hanged himself in his cell after being arrested for leading police on a car chase. Was it suicide or murder? Police negligence or an unavoidable act? The father blames Scali and pressures the mayor to pull him from the investigation. She gives Scali 24 hours to solve the case. The hands-on Scali acts swiftly, incisively, sensitively.


If only this guy were heading the LAPD.

About halfway through the episode, Stephen Kronish’s script begins falling like a bag of cement. Scali’s sanctimonious behavior toward the victim’s neglectful father is unendurable. Moreover, there’s a major flaw in the story when a cheap hoodlum turns up as a supplier of law exam answers. It’s convenient for the plot, but far-fetched. And finally, the ending is unredeemably sappy.

What saves “The Commish” (barely) is Chiklis’ nice work as a complex, plain-talking family man seeking to distance himself from his modest Brooklyn origins, plus Scali’s priceless clashes with his shiftless brother-in-law (David Paymer). These humorous skirmishes in the presence of Scali’s wife (Theresa Saldana) set an urbane comic tone for “The Commish” that makes you almost forget the program’s lapses.