It's difficult to take a story from film to television. Likewise, remakes of British/French/Danish shows almost always lose something in the translation.
Based on the wildly successful French "Taxi" films, NBC's "Taxi Brooklyn" attempts both feats, earning it high marks for degree of difficulty. And those are points the series, which premieres Wednesday, desperately needs almost immediately.
While there are many reasons to like "Taxi Brooklyn," including and especially its two fresh and likable leads, it too often wobbles and stalls, unwilling to commit to one type of storytelling or the other.
As with the Luc Besson films, "Taxi Brooklyn" turns on the unlikely alliance between a detective and a cab driver. Chyler Leigh ("Grey's Anatomy") goes tough and boyish as Cat Sullivan, a police detective obsessed with finding her cop father's killer. Rocking a pixie cut and an expression of irritated stubbornness, she interrupts her personal stakeout to run down a bank-robber attempting a getaway in a hijacked cab.
Driving said cab is Leo Romba ("Inglourious Basterd's" perfectly wonderful Jacky Ido), a French charmer with immigration issues. As these things go, the two clash mightily before forming a banter-heavy alliance — when Cat is stripped of driving privileges, Leo offers to drive her wherever she wants to go in exchange for help with INS.
Leo's past has awarded him not just superb driving skills but insight into the criminal world. Before long, he's not just driving, he's aiding Cat in her investigations. He aids in the search for her father's murderer, which no one else, including Cat's mother, Frankie (the criminally underused Ally Walker), seems to understand. That is just one of the shows unnecessarily blatant manipulations.
Developed for television by Gary Scott Thompson, Stephen Tolkin and Franck Ollivier, "Taxi Brooklyn" continually nails down its potentially unique perspective — Cat is often truly, as opposed to adorably, hostile; Leo is so convincingly charismatic he sleeps with Frankie and it's no big deal — with standard-issue U.S.A. rivets. That so many people, including her captain/godfather (James Colby), keep trying to deflect Cat from her personal search for justice is ridiculous, as is the inclusion of an ex-husband/FBI agent who always manages to be on hand to steal Cat's collars and generally rile her up.
Less egregious but still far too pat are the sympathetic forensic examiner (Jennifer Esposito) and the competitive former partner (Jose Zuniga). Clearly, the writers hoped to ground the more fantastic (i.e. French) elements of the story for an American audience. Given the growing sophistication of television, this is unnecessary and, in this case, counterproductive.
Too many explanations (honestly, you're either going to go with the cop and the cab driver or you're not) and overly familiar B-plots (are there any good cops who have not gone through five partners in a year?) just get in the way of "Taxi Brooklyn's" greatest strength. Cat and Leo may be over-drawn, but they are new sorts of characters for broadcast TV, with the kind of chemistry that can save a show.
Perhaps even from itself.
When: 10 p.m. Wednesday