A new set of cops are on the beat!
New police dramas can be risky because we have so many of them, and a sizable portion of viewers distrust cops.
East New York Season 1 Episode 1 was different enough from the many other cop shows out there to be compelling, had a good balance of crime drama and political concerns, and featured a diverse cast of cops and community members. Well done!
It’s difficult not to compare East New York to Blue Bloods, CBS’ other flagship New York City police drama. They are very different series, though they could conceivably be in the same universe.
Blue Bloods is more conservative-leaning and focuses as much on the Reagan family as on the crimes of the week. However, both shows demonstrate that policing is more complex and political than people realize.
Hayward is in a tough spot as the new Deputy Inspector. Some of the cops she now commands assume she got her job merely because of her race and that she isn’t qualified. They also are set in their ways and don’t embrace the sweeping reforms she is putting into place.
At the same time, the brass wants her to slow her roll while also managing to reduce the murder rate, so she’s under constant pressure to perform.
Her determination to succeed despite the odds and refusal to take nonsense from anyone, regardless of their position in the police hierarchy, makes her a compelling, rootable character.
She is East New York’s biggest strength, but cop shows tend to be ensemble series, and this one is no exception.
If there was one weakness, it was that too many characters were thrown at us too quickly, making it hard to sort out who was who. East New York tried to get around this by having Sandeford introduce everyone to Bentley at the beginning of the hour, but it didn’t quite work.
The names sped by too quickly; we got a sense of what roles key players held on the police force, but not their names. Thankfully, there was enough information online about the cast to clear up any confusion during the commercial!
Since this was only the pilot episode, changes will likely come throughout the season. It was surprising, for example, that most of the hour centered around one case rather than different officers investigating different cases.
However, that allowed us to get a taste of the dynamics between different characters and follow Brandi as she moved into the projects and tried unsuccessfully to build rapport with her neighbors.
Brandi started the hour as a wide-eyed, idealistic-seeming cop who probably hadn’t been on the beat long and naively believed she could move into the projects without getting resistance from the people who lived there.
It never occurred to me that she thought this move would look good on her resume or benefit her career in any particular way until Hayward mentioned it. I’m not sure how that was supposed to work; how does living in the projects make her more qualified for her gold shield than anything else?
Brandi quickly learned that the residents didn’t trust cops, especially not white cops that they assumed didn’t have much use for the Black folks who had lived in the projects for years.
Neighbor: What are you doing here anyway?
Brandi: I’m moving in here.
Neighbor: Cause a white cop like you is real eager to live in the same neighborhood as Black people.
When someone spray-painted her door, she quickly returned the hostility. It’s hard to blame her for wanting to stand up to what she perceived as bullying, but it was never going to go over well.
She reinforced the residents’ negative attitudes toward police with how she responded and earned herself a complaint to the Citizens’ Civilian Review Board, which may bite her in the ass later.
Her interactions at the projects also gave us a taste of the dynamic between her and Sandeford.
Some of the things I said yesterday I shouldn’t have said. But I worry about people cause that’s what I do. I don’t want you not calling for backup cause that’s what you do.
She resented being treated as fragile because she’s female, while he was aware of the culture at the projects and what she would need to do to win people’s trust.
I’m not sure why her neighbor was missing some items — it looked like the cops had seized them — but hopefully, her gesture of goodwill in getting them returned to him will repair some of the damage she did and help her build trust.
Bentley also needs to learn a lesson or two about dealing with people in the community. He did a good job building rapport with the teenagers who were playing basketball when they were supposed to be in school, but in the end, he was ineffective.
He also didn’t understand how to handle the hat incident and had to be talked out of confronting the kids after Sandeford resolved it.
His growth over the season should be fascinating. Let’s hope we get a lot more Bentley!
The case of the week wasn’t nearly as interesting as the people investigating it — and those who opposed their investigation.
Killian and Morales make a good team. They’re going to have to learn to stay within the confines of the law — Hayward made it clear she’s not accepting any nonsense that could jeopardize cases — but they’re exceptionally good at what they do.
They wouldn’t have let the Deputy Mayor intimidate them if they wanted to arrest his friend. This is important because he doesn’t appear to be above using his influence to help people he thinks will be helpful to his career to get out of trouble.
There was a silly side story about Killian, Morales, and Killian’s wife trying to buy a restaurant, notable only because several detectives on Homicide: Life on the Street also owned one; that was the only part of this series not worth spending time on. Otherwise, the hour went fast and left me eager for more!
Your turn, East New York fanatics! What did you think of the pilot? Hit the big, blue SHOW COMMENTS button and let us know.
If you’d like to refresh your memory first, watch East New York online.
East New York airs on CBS on Sundays at 9 PM EST / PST.
Jack Ori is a senior staff writer for TV Fanatic. His debut young adult novel, Reinventing Hannah, is available on Amazon. Follow him on Twitter.