TV Review: Tricia Helfer Brings Color to TNT Cop Drama ‘Dark Blue’

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CHICAGOTNT’s hit-and-miss cop drama “Dark Blue” returns tomorrow night, August 4th, 2010 with a great pair of episodes featuring the addition of the always-excellent Tricia Helfer of “Battlestar Galactica,” but the improvements aren’t merely in the supporting cast, as the first two hours of season two hint at the opposite of a sophomore slump. “Dark Blue” is still a deeply flawed program but the technical elements of the show have improved, the cast seems much more comfortable, and the writing is more tightly-paced. It may never be a great show, but it’s developing into a pretty damn good one. Television Rating: 4.0/5.0
Television Rating: 4.0/5.0

The set-up is simple enough for this Jerry Bruckheimer-produced program. Lieutenant Carter Shaw (Dylan McDermott) heads a group of undercover cops into a different case each week. It’s basically just a cable variation on the success that Bruckheimer has found on the networks with the “C.S.I.” franchise with a few more drug busts and a bit less DNA evidence.

Dark Blue
Dark Blue
Photo credit: TNT

Shaw’s team includes a family man named Ty (Omari Hardwick), a bad boy who goes by Dean (Logan Marshall-Green), and a young lady with a shady past known as Jaimie (Nicki Aycox). They operate deep under the radar to bust the truly evil residents of Los Angeles that the regular cops can’t seem to touch. Dean, being the most believable as a wannabe criminal, usually guides the way, but Carter is always in charge.

Dark Blue
Dark Blue
Photo credit: TNT

In the first episode, Dean is working on a sting when he crosses paths with FBI Special Agent Alex Rice (Tricia Helfer), who happens to be running her own undercover operation on the same group of scumbags (and also happens to be the hottest FBI agent your television has seen in years) led by the always-slimy Rhys Coiro (he played the loony director Billy Walsh on “Entourage”).

Alex and Carter play a few alpha dog games as to who’s really in charge while they flirt their way to the action climax and set up future appearances for Helfer. Their dynamic is not just the best thing about the premiere but her scenes are stronger than the entirety of season one. More on that later.

Meanwhile, Dean and Jaimie continue their secretive love affair while Ty takes something of a back seat in episode one before getting a little more time as he takes on a former cover in the second hour. Jordana Brewster (“Chuck”) appears in the second episode as an art gallery dealer who flirts with Dean and will appear again before the season is over. Yes, Tricia Helfer and Jordana Brewster on one show. When your show is struggling to find an audience, why not grab two geek goddesses with loyal followings? The plan has worked creatively and time will tell if the viewers follow.

Like most Bruckheimer shows, “Dark Blue” has noticeably strong technical elements that make it look more like a feature film than your average TV show. These shows are a tough balance of slick style over the gritty realism needed to make the plots effective. Sometimes “Dark Blue” is too flashy for its own good but the sizzle seems to have been toned down a bit in season two, allowing the characters and the plots more prominence than the production values.

Dark Blue
Dark Blue
Photo credit: TNT

As for performances, Marshall-Green is easily the most interesting regular actor but that’s partially due to the meatier role he plays on the show as the “lead man” in most undercover operations. Aycox and Hardwick still too often feel like actors that could be easily replaced and they’re not quite convincing when they do take the spotlight. As for McDermott, he’s the most inconsistent element of the show. Being a fan of “The Practice,” I’ve always liked McDermott, but I don’t quite believe him in the role of a man so deep undercover that he’s basically lost his humanity. I wish they’d allow McDermott to really explore the dark side of this character and stop thinking that five-o-clock shadow means dark. It should be noted however that he excels most in the scenes with his gorgeous new co-star and it feels like the inclusion of Helfer has inspired McDermott to give more than he did in season one. Sometimes it takes a great leading lady to make a real leading man and McDermott is simply more believable in the romantic moments than the criminal ones.

The real key to the premiere is the addition of Tricia Helfer, who feels like she holds all of the ingredients that were missing from season one. Her addition to the cast sparks the entire show, including even the scenes in which she doesn’t appear. I still think that “Dark Blue” is too often a game of smoke and mirrors where the action takes precedence over the characters, but the strength of Helfer’s performance balances that out much more effectively than in season one. McDermott and his team of cops were buried under the Bruckheimer flash in season one. It was hard to tell exactly what was missing even though most viewers knew something was not quite right. Who would have guessed it would take a sci-fi icon to turn “Dark Blue” into the cop show it promised to be all along?

‘Dark Blue,’ which airs on TNT, stars Dylan McDermott, Omari Hardwick, Logan Marshall-Green, Nicki Aycox, and Tricia Helfer. The show returns on August 4th, 2010 at 8PM CST. content director Brian Tallerico

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