Let's make this clear so we're all on the same page. Training Day was a damn fine movie. Led by a bombastic performance from Denzel Washington, the 2001 movie from Antoine Fuqua put law enforcement, power and insanity under a microscope and fried them like ants.
What made the film so great was a sense of grittiness and rawness in such a tight package that could only get its message across in a film with a definitive ending. Washington's Alonzo Harris got his in the end, as it should be. The story was told over a couple hours and lessons were learned. You see where I'm going with this?
CBS' adaptation of Training Day for the small screen loosely borrows from the Training Day formula -- old crazy cop shows young idealistic cop the ropes on how to really get things done on thug-plagued streets -- but turns it into a serialized cop drama fit for network television. It's hard to say whether we're supposed to applaud that decision or not. On one hand, we'd criticize the show if it rehashed exactly what the movie did. On the other hand, going in a different direction takes away everything that made the movie so effective.
It's a no-win situation for CBS, so the network chose the option that made the most sense for itself: turn Training Day into a sustainable TV series that doesn't stray too far off brand from CBS' other police procedurals. That meant tinkering with a few things, most notably taking the vet cop -- played by Washington in the film and Bill Paxton in the series -- and humanizing him as often as possible so that audiences will relate to him for seven seasons. You can't have a star of a show be someone you don't like, right? The problem there is that takes away exactly what made the film so great.
Fortunately, Paxton's Frank Roarke is still the most interesting character in the series, if not for how he's written or portrayed by Paxton, then for how the series will try to balance his monstrous and shockingly kind sides. Spend an hour with Training Day and you'll see Roarke engage in terrible actions -- like torturing suspects or blowing up a house -- and philanthropy (?) -- such as when he starts a trust using drug dealers' money for a kid he barely knows. Can the series keep that up for seven seasons let alone the 13 episodes in Season 1 without driving viewers batty? Are we supposed to like the guy or abhor him? If CBS has its way, both.
The good thing is Roarke isn't like any other CBS protagonist. Where most CBS stars of their shows are decidedly heroic, Roarke is a murky -- and I mean murky -- grey. And in Paxton's skin, the sardonic Roarke can be likable (when he's not being a total a-hole) and played with exuberance and fun. Paxton is clearly having a good time in the role, as he told me in an interview.
Riding along with Roarke is Kyle Craig (Justin Cornwell), a rookie cop who has such a good day out on the job that an LAPD deputy chief tells him he's now going undercover to keep Roarke from going Alonzo. Craig is fairly run of the mill here, an idealistic cop who tries to do the right thing and struggles with Roarke's extreme methods.
In order to turn Training Day into a TV show, Craig and Roarke are tethered together by a common goal. Craig's dead father, who also happened to be Roarke's partner, was killed under mysterious circumstances, and these two want to find out who did it. So while they have fundamental differences in the way things are done and nearly get each other killed constantly, they do have this off-the-books murder investigation to keep each other around. And that's how you make a TV show out of Training Day.
Bringing that investigation to life are flashbacks to Roarke and his former partner's old days as well as Roarke's hallucinatory conversations with the deceased Mr. Craig. It helps explain a lot of what Roarke is going through and how he reacts, but it also dominates the series in a way that has no counterbalance for Craig. That leaves Craig feeling more like an add-on with the focus heavy on Roarke, at least in the two episodes I saw. It's clear Training Day has more to say about Roarke, and in a buddy cop drama (even when the cops aren't particularly buddies), that doesn't work.
Despite the flip-flop of races of the two lead characters in the film, race doesn't seem to be a major factor in the series aside from its use of Latino gangs and Japanese gangs. For his part, Roarke seems to treat all scum the same no matter what color they are and has many friends from all walks of life. It's unclear if the show feels like it's trying to avoid addressing race or if its admirably choosing to ignore it and go colorblind. Training Day the film was exemplary in its effort to pull one over on us and show that a black cop could be the worst of all; Training Day the show dances around the idea of a power-hungry white cop, which will no doubt cause many to associate him with some of the bad badges out in the streets now. That doesn't appear to be the case, though.
Also taking away some of the grit of the film, is the series' use of humor. There are some straight up silly scenes, one of which includes a monkey who hates Daft Punk and others involving a pair of detectives doing a Laurel & Hardy routine, and the comedy seems to have been jacked up after the pilot, indicating that the series wanted to change its tone and go even further away from the film and more towards, I dunno, Hawaii Five-O. By the end of the first season the only thing the show and film may have in common is the name
But those of you looking for a network police procedural with just a little more edge than the others, Training Day will probably fit the bill. However, it will probably always live in the shadow of its source material, as most reboots do.
Training Day premieres Thursday, Feb. 2 on CBS.