There’s a moment in the early stages of “The Oath” — a frenetic but dim crime series debuting Thursday on Sony’s streaming service Crackle — that makes the unfortunate choice of inviting comparison to “The Wire.”
“The Oath,” which was created by former L.A. County Sheriff’s Department deputy Joe Halpin (“Hawaii Five-O”), will not be as well remembered as the revered HBO series, which just received the oral history treatment in a book by Jonathan Abrams. In an early episode, “The Oath” finds a crime boss (Kwame Patterson, who also appeared in “The Wire”) asking a corrupt cop about a street drug called WMD, which he describes as “Oxycontin on steroids.”
“The Wire” also drew from the headlines to name its corner products, and by tribute or coincidence, that line is the first and last time “The Oath” approaches the same airspace as the many far better programs about police, corruption, crime and drugs.
To be fair, the series isn’t aiming nearly that high. Executive produced by Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, whose contributions to Starz’s “Power” left a greater impression than his recent hip-hop output, “The Oath” builds on a title card that opens each episode to explain the existence of criminal organizations within police departments. The colorful gang names (Berserkers, Vipers and the like) are so common that there seems no decent cop in the whole city, which seems L.A.-adjacent in spirit but was primarily shot in Puerto Rico.
Our “hero” is officer Steve Hammond (Ryan Kwanten, known in happier times as the goofily dumb Jason Stackhouse from “True Blood”), who leads the Ravens. We meet the masked Steve and his crew in scenes blatantly ripping off the Al Pacino-Robert De Niro thriller “Heat,” pulling off bank heists armed with automatic rifles. One of the Ravens, Steve’s brother Cole (Cory Hardrict, “American Sniper”), angers the rest by roughing up a guard during the robbery, which is a rare instance of any of the show’s characters exhibiting a flicker of morality.
In the early going, “The Oath” is most interested in establishing that everyone is very bad, especially given how seldom they’re distracted by any actual police work. The cartoonishly harsh Beach (Katrina Law) has a mostly insult-driven relationship with a cop from a rival gang, and Ramos (Joseph Julian Soria) has shady in-laws and an extraordinarily careless way of covering his tracks.
Then there are Steve and Cole, who don’t like one another much but are theoretically united by an incarcerated patriarch (Sean Bean of “Game of Thrones,” who mostly stays out of sight) and a cancer-striken mother (Linda Purl). Both could serve as some kind of justification for the brothers to have turned to crime and maybe inspire some sympathy, but “The Oath” isn’t that kind of show. Everyone is corrupt because they are.
Even with its stiff storyline and performances, the series shows a flash of potential with the quick arrival of the FBI, which has been investigating the Ravens. But agent Damon Byrd (Arlen Escarpeta) is the least capable undercover cop on TV and quickly gets mixed up in their dirty business too. Without someone to actually root for, “The Oath” functions on the hope that viewers have the time or patience to watch dirty cops evade justice if the twists come fast enough.
The show delivers decent enough action-movie pacing in a gruff, amoral universe that really wants to be reminiscent of “Training Day” or “The Shield,” but with so many one-dimensional characters saddled with leaden dialogue, it falls well short. Some half-hearted groundwork is laid for the possibility of redemption in a few Ravens, but there’s so little evidence of something deeper or surprising anywhere on-screen that it’s difficult to care. “The Oath” just shows too little promise.
When: Any time, Thursday
Rating: Not rated
Follow me over here @chrisbarton.