Review: The TV detective satire ‘Carter’ has fun with cop cliches

From left: Jerry O'Connell, Kristian Bruun and Sydney Tamiia Poitier in a scene from WGN's "Carter."
From left: Jerry O’Connell, Kristian Bruun and Sydney Tamiia Poitier in a scene from WGN’s “Carter.”
(WGN America)
Television Critic

Clichés abound in “Carter,” the WGN dramedy that pokes fun at TV detective tropes while simultaneously honoring them.

Harley Carter (Jerry O’Connell) is famous for his role as Charlie Carter on the popular police detective series “Call Carter.” But after the actor has an embarrassing turn on the red carpet — “Does this Malibu meltdown signal the end of Harleywood?!” asks a fictional show that looks a lot like “Access Hollywood” — he escapes the scrutiny of Hollywood in his Canadian hometown of Bishop.

There he runs into his childhood friend Sam (Sydney Poitier Heartsong) who just happens to be a cop. She’s investigating a murder, and he can’t help but slip back into his role. He uses his skills honed on set, which of course aren’t skills at all, to solve the crime.

“Carter,” which premieres Tuesday, is meant for the audiences of comedies such as “Psych” or “Angie Tribeca.” But this 10-episode series takes the “Colombo”-style spoof a step further by having its lead character view real-life crime through the lens of a TV detective.


The show’s hour-long episodes are generally pretty entertaining, thanks to the charm and timing of O’Connell (“Scream 2”). Harley’s identity is so entwined with that of his on-screen character that he actually believes he has the chops to fight crime off-camera. This delusional disconnect generates some of the show’s funniest moments.

During a tense standoff where several guns are drawn, a police officer reveals herself to be on the wrong side of the law when she points her weapon at another officer: “Dirty cop. Staple of the genre,” Carter says to no one in particular.

Harley isn’t the only one who confuses his fictional role with his real-life persona. Everywhere he goes in the small town, people call him Charlie and ask for his help solving cold cases or cover-ups. Much to the chagrin of Sam, he obliges.

The strong chemistry between Harley and Sam is another draw here. They’re fun to watch, as is their third childhood friend, Dave (Kristian Bruun). While Sam fills the generic role of tough, no-nonsense police woman, Dave is Harley’s on-the-street informant. You know, the skeezy underworld source required in every detective procedural. In the small town of Bishop, that means he’s the guy who runs a sleepy coffee stand. But that doesn’t stop him from having dirt on everyone and brandishing a pistol in his waistband.


And what detective series would be complete without the ornery, disapproving police chief? Here, the role goes to John Bourgeois.

“Carter,” which also stars Brenda Kamino (“The Glass Castle”) and Denis Akiyama (“Pixels”) as the couple who partially raised Harley, does infuse its lead character with more substance as the series progresses. It turns out he also has a tragic backstory beyond the red carpet faux pas that may keep him from returning to Hollywood.

“Carter” isn’t a gag a minute, or super edgy or the TV comedy that will beat “Veep’s” Emmy record. It is, however, an easy-to-watch satire with just the right balance of smart jokes for silly situations.




Where: WGN America

When: 7 and 10 p.m. Tuesday

Rating: TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14)