Smartphones have revolutionized nearly every aspect of our lives, making it easy to manage our finances, book a flight or take selfies at the touch of a finger.
Unfortunately, they’ve also given TV writers an easy way to disguise otherwise uninspired shows.
Take “APB,” a drama premiering Monday on Fox that puts a high-tech spin on the well-worn big-city police procedural.
The show’s Gideon Reeves (Justin Kirk) is an eccentric tech billionaire — is there any other kind? — who decides to take over the crime-ridden 13th police district of Chicago after a friend’s murder.
Gideon throws $90 million or so of his own money into the experiment of urban policing, outfitting the district, seemingly over the course of a single weekend, with an array of gadgets and gizmos worthy of James Bond (think souped-up cruisers, extra-potent stun guns, futuristic-looking bulletproof uniforms, surveillance drones).
But Gideon’s most critical innovation is APB, an app that citizens can use to report crime instead of the inefficient 911 system.
As one might expect of a fictional engineering genius, Gideon is arrogant, overly confident about the powers of technology and not particularly good at the human side of his job. He meets his match in Theresa Murphy (Natalie Martinez) a hard-working, idealistic beat cop turned detective who prefers doing things the old-fashioned way. Not only does she complement his professional weaknesses but — bonus! — she’s also single. You can see where this is going, reader.
If “APB” is a bit far-fetched in execution, the underlying premise is rooted in reality. The show is inspired by a 2015 New York Times Magazine article about Sidney Torres, a wealthy New Orleans entrepreneur who used his own money to launch an experimental private police force, activated via mobile app, in the city’s French Quarter.
“APB” relocates the action to Chicago, whose crime problem has drawn national attention of late. It also happens to be the second show to premiere in the space of a week portraying tensions in the Windy City, following “Superior Donuts” on CBS. But aside from a power struggle with the mayor and the occasional accusation that Gideon is a “dilettante” playing games with the safety of Chicagoans, “APB” doesn’t really consider the various implications of privatizing criminal justice.
Similarly, there’s plenty of clunky dialogue like “Your computers are great, Gideon, but you’ve got to let your cops do their jobs first,” but the show doesn’t have much to say about the most effective ways of fighting crime.
Instead, show runner Matt Nix (“Burn Notice”) is more invested in Gideon’s arsenal of fancy toys, which get silly fast (by episode 3, he’s MacGyver-ing a lie-detector chair). “APB” is the latest network show to be afflicted by touchscreen-itis, a crippling dependency on the use of impractically large monitors to display mugshots, digital maps and criminal records (curiously, these supposedly cutting-edge computers constantly emit whirring noises, like hybrid cars).
It also has a premise almost identical to CBS’ "Pure Genius,” a short-lived medical drama about an eccentric tech billionaire who opens a state-of-the-art experimental hospital.
”APB” at least has the benefit of an appealing cast, and Kirk is especially good at the wisecracking banter that’s become standard on network crime procedurals (thanks, “NCIS”). There’s a hint of “Sleepy Hollow” in the quasi-romantic sparks between Theresa, the straitlaced, diligent young cop, and Gideon, her oddball colleague. (Both shows share an executive producer in Len Wiseman.)
Unfortunately, the gimmicks and the solid cast aren’t enough to elevate the ho-hum storytelling. The cases at the center of each episode aren’t especially engrossing — another armed heist, yawn — and they inevitably seem to end up with police chasing suspects down ominous trash-filled alleyways. Don’t be fooled by the upgraded packaging: “APB” is pretty much just a Network Cop Show 1.0.
When: 9 p.m. Monday
Rating: TV-14-LV (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with advisories for coarse language and violence)
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