The intended appeal of The Good Cop is fairly obvious.
The new Netflix cop series stars TV icon Tony Danza and eternally earnest singer-actor Josh Groban in a story about a father-son detective duo. Danza has enough cultural cachet to be recognizable even to those who aren’t familiar with Taxi or Who’s the Boss? (“Hold me closer,” etc.). And Groban is one of the most easily likable performers working today — if you need proof, just look at how seamlessly he integrated into The Muppets — and isn’t afraid to skewer his squeaky-clean image, as he’s done in the past via cameos on Glee and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.
Put the two of them together in a cop show, the thinking probably went, and voilà — fun and audience-friendly magic.
In practice, however, The Good Cop — created by Monk’s Andy Breckman — doesn’t achieve the desired effect. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the show, but it’s so aggressively harmless and eager to please that it ends up being a bit of a slog. It’s so low-stakes that there’s no real need to binge it, per Netflix’s typical model, but there’s not much need to keep up with it as if it were airing week to week, either. You could watch the episodes in any order and it wouldn’t make much of a difference.
On top of that, The Good Cop’s central gimmick of the show — Groban is the titular good cop, in contrast to Danza as his more morally loosey-goosey father — remains a gimmick rather than prompting any real character growth. Why keep tuning in?
But that’s not to say there’s nothing of merit about the show. While it’s hard to buy Danza and Groban as father and son, their rapport is charming enough, and the supporting cast, which includes Isiah Whitlock Jr., is great. If you’re simply looking for something lightweight and easy watch, you could do worse.
The Good Cop is less than the sum of its parts
There’s something distinctly old-school about The Good Cop in just how determinedly mellow it is. The music throughout the 10-episode season is gently jazzy, and the gags never get any sharper than, say, Groban spraying Danza with a fire extinguisher. Then there’s the show’s sense of topicality — or rather, the lack thereof. While some series can get away with operating as an escape from reality (utter detachment is Trial & Error’s bread and butter) there’s not enough meat on The Good Cop’s bones to justify its seeming absence of connection to the world it’s set in.
The cases that Tony Caruso Jr. and Tony Caruso Sr. (Groban and Danza, respectively) take on all follow such a similar pattern — one of the two Carusos is hoodwinked, and someone’s innocence must be proved — that it falls to The Good Cop’s character dynamics to keep the episodes interesting. Unfortunately, the role of stick-in-the-mud puts a damper on Groban’s natural charisma.
Meanwhile, the show consistently relies on Danza to literally sing and dance, in several minor scenes that beg the question of why, given Groban’s involvement, The Good Cop isn’t a full-blown musical. (It also repeatedly insists that he’s irresistible to women, which is not a hill I’m inclined to die on one way or the other.) Something just doesn’t add up.
There’s promise in the fact that the show is built atop a fundamentally emotionally knotty foundation. Part of the reason Caruso Jr. is so clean is that Caruso Sr. went to prison for being a dirty cop. In other words, there should be more to the story. It’s clear that Caruso Jr. grew up in his father’s shadow, especially as Caruso Sr. doesn’t seem to be suffering any consequences after getting out of jail. He’s still beloved by his peers, and though he’s no longer a police officer, nobody stops him from getting involved in his son’s cases (out of nosiness or coincidence, depending on the episode). Caruso Jr. is usually just dragged along in the tide.
That lack of fallout is part of why The Good Cop fails to register. After a few throwaway comments about Caruso Sr.’s past in the first episode, his history of corruption doesn’t really come up again, and his more freewheeling tendencies are played as a joke. Caruso Jr.’s neurotic habits are similarly made light of; his character traits aren’t really essential as, for example, Tony Shalhoub’s Monk’s were. They come and go as is convenient to the story, which makes one wonder why we’re bothering with the “good cop” to begin with.
To succeed, The Good Cop needs to get out of the mellow middle lane
Some of the jokes on the show are genuinely funny. Whitlock fares the best with selling The Good Cop’s fluffy humor, including a running bit in which he refuses to ever run, even when in pursuit of a known criminal. However, none of the show’s humor manages to rise to the level of comedy contemporaries like Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
The Nine-Nine comparison in particular also makes The Good Cop’s refusal to address its cultural context seem like a more major failing, as the place of law enforcement in the modern world is inherently thorny. (Even the recent Spider-Man video game drew attention for its supposed “copaganda.”) Brooklyn Nine-Nine walks the line by engaging with the political issues of the day, but The Good Cop does no such thing, choosing instead to send its characters on wild goose chases such as bringing a restaurant up to code. And that’s to say nothing of a strange extended visual gag in which a male suspect is dressed up as a woman in order to escape attention.
The best The Good Cop can do in terms of existing in the current cultural moment is indulge in occasional subversion by way of its guest stars. One of the most interesting episodes features Bob Saget as a beloved TV personality, coasting on the goodwill of people who grew up watching him. Unfortunately, it’s not an act that the show manages to carry through, despite the caliber of talent involved. (John Carroll Lynch and C. Thomas Howell also pop up throughout the series.)
In the end, the show never quite proves its case as worth watching. It’s fine enough, but it will need to make a stronger case for itself going forward — just as Caruso Jr. needs to step out of his father’s shadow — in order to bring audiences back for a second season.
The Good Cop is streaming on Netflix.