The latest of a (never-ending) string of crime thrillers is CBS's Golden Boy, which tells the unfortunately clichéd story of a man's journey to becoming New York's youngest police commissioner. Bright-eyed Theo James plays his character, Walter Clark, with enthusiasm reminiscent of Joseph Gordon-Levitt's John Blake in The Dark Knight Rises minus the empathy. While this should make for interesting character development, the show doesn't do the best job of it.
It opens with Clark playing hero during a shootout, and while he loses his partner in the process, it does give way to a cool flash-forward from the frantic crime scene to an office overlooking a much-changed New York skyline. The supposedly as changed 34-year-old Clark is conducting an interview with a reporter. Clark is a pretty unconvincing 34 though -- I actually briefly thought the flash was to the next day, rather than seven years. Other than sporting a formal, measured tone, Clark doesn't look any more jaded; stubble or a change in hairstyle could've done the job, but he looks as fresh-faced and boyish as he did as a rookie cop 30 seconds before. This is only one thing wrong with this show-defining trope; the dialogue is also cheesy and uninformative. Bringing in the "feed the dogs inside of me" life lesson? Couldn't you have been a little more original with that? Okay, it's meaningful when you see where it came from (one of the closing scenes with his mentor, Owen), but the fact that it's brought up so soon in such a stilted way takes away from any sentimentality. And after unoriginally congratulating Clark for becoming commissioner and being so young etc, the rest of the reporter's lines are prompting him to, "tell me the story," as if we didn't predict that his five-minute-total-screen-time serves as a premise for Clark to explain it. I hate being talked down to, and I hate not being excited or even hooked within the first five minutes of a show I've been looking forward to.
The majority of the actual episode wasn't beyond salvaging, but I now fully admit that only the pretty face really kept me watching. If James were ugly, then this entire show would probably be way less thrilling -- that's how much it relies on its character. The camera gives Clark its exclusive attention. Every scene seemed to have Clark making some observation, meeting some person whose face is shown for a fleeting moment before the camera pans back to him, or someone talking about him... before the camera goes back to Clark, again. He also continuously holds the same facial expression, which makes it worse. From thoughtful to angry to smug to happy, James' acting range only includes a slight furrowing of the brow or a twitch of the mouth. Other than that, Clark looks as boring as his personality is. He's two-dimensional, and never goes to any emotional extreme. While all the characters around him keep implying that he is cocky and prone to heroic tendencies, I have yet to see Clark be as fiery and 'golden' as all the hype says he is. His flaws aren't obvious enough for the audience to have an emotional connection yet.
Maybe Golden Boy can improve by focusing more on the other characters -- who are definitively more interesting. Owen and Arroyo are cops who actually don't get along; in every other cop show, be it Castle or NCIS or Criminal Minds, all the colleagues get along minus the occasional sexual tension or friendly rivalry. An actual conflict of morals/interest between two characters makes for a good story, if only I didn't dread its overshadowing by the screen-hogging Clark. I understand the show's about him, and maybe in that regard a lot of face time is inevitable. But maybe it'd be better for the first few episodes before he becomes an actual big shot to spend time developing his backstory? We can have him messing up more in his personal background to relate to him more, like how Suits is interesting because we can watch events play out relevant to cases main character Mike Ross is trying to settle without overdosing on his face.
Developing Owen's bipolar attitude would also be good. Right now, I'm not sure how I feel about him. Does he want to stand up for this kid he doesn't know at all, or is he going to keep screaming at him every time he unwittingly messes up? Or does he want to be in between as an actual Morgan-Freeman-esque mentor? Make up your mind, already! Arroyo is perfectly slimy yet surprisingly devoted to his causes. McKenzie has potential with her personal background too, but I'd like to see more of her personality play out. She has about as wide a range as James right now, which isn't so bad cause she's a supporting character -- but female detective empowerment á la Kate Beckett, eh?
Clark can also stop making cool observations and then ruining them by saying, "I pay attention." These are only examples in a long string of "that's pretty self-explanatory" references I bit my fingernails over. And a sister with boyfriend issues... ? And absentee parents in trouble with the law? I could barely handle Blake's crusade for justice by virtue of being an orphan. It's the most used backstory in the book. For kicks, it would've been funnier if Agnes had been shallow or completely dense... then it would've been interesting seeing Clark deal with a mundane issue instead of having to kick her jerk boyfriend's ass on top of the other long list of criminals who he needs to depose.
The good things about this episode don't outweigh the bad yet, but I see potential in the brief suspense the confrontation club scene incurs, and the carefully-played other characters. If anything, Clark is a risk-taker, and maybe it'll be fun watching him screw up every single week.
But I do hope that the next time CBS casts a good-looking English man in a hit series, that they keep in mind how interesting he has to be. 'Cause even a fangirl like me gets sick of it after a while.