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The Good Guys: A Look Back

The cast of The Good Guys (from left): Colin Hanks, Jenny Wade, Diana-Maria Riva, and Bradley Whitford (photo courtesy of Fox)
The cast of The Good Guys (from left): Colin Hanks, Jenny Wade, Diana-Maria Riva, and Bradley Whitford (photo courtesy of Fox)
Four years ago around this time, you could have tuned into Fox on a Monday night and watched an hour-long action-comedy called The Good Guys, shot in Dallas and set in a semi-accurate but definitely made-for-TV version of Dallas. Prior to its debut in June 2010, I spent some time on the set and wrote several thousand words about the show. Some of those words were dedicated to what The Good Guys could do for our city, both economically and culturally. It could give the city’s rank-and-file members of the TV and film production community steady work and maybe (maybe!) change people’s perception of Dallas, the ideas formed by J.R. Ewing’s various machinations and Chuck Norris doing spinning axe kicks in a cowboy hat.

Well, it didn’t.

I enjoyed the show when it was on, but hadn’t thought much about The Good Guys since it was canceled after 20 episodes. And, honestly, I don’t think I even watched all 20. I had a lot of things going on back then. But recently, I noticed the entire show was on Netflix, so I decided to re-watch (and, toward the end, watch for the first time) the entire thing.

The setup, if you don’t remember or never knew: Detective Jack Bailey (Colin Hanks) is assigned to what amounts to babysitting a fellow detective, Jack Stark (Bradley Whitford). Bailey is the straight arrow — so straight, in fact, that he has ticked off just about every one else in the department. Stark is the hard-living, mustachioed husk of a former DPD star, the guy who once saved the governor’s son and had a TV movie made about the case. They are both working routine investigations, the cases no one else wants to do; it’s more like busy work. Their tough-but-fair lieutenant (and one of Stark’s former partners), Ana Ruiz, is played by Diana-Maria Riva. Jenny Wade plays Liz Traynor, an assistant DA and Jack’s ex-girlfriend.

The routine investigations give the show a crime-of-the-week structure; Stark’s past (and, to an extent, the relationship between Liz and Jack) lends a bit of ongoing mythology. It’s pretty standard stuff, albeit shot in an engaging way, bouncing back and forth on its timeline. The show was created by Matt Nix, who was coming off the success of his USA Network show, Burn Notice. The Good Guys may have done better if it had also been a USA show. As it stands, Fox could never figure out what to do with it. In their defense, that might have been impossible. It was — and is — unlike any other show on the network. The answer to why it didn’t work is pretty much the same reason any show doesn’t work: not enough people watched it.

If they had, I might have been right about the show’s potential to create a new narrative about Dallas. At the time, there were still rumors of a Dallas movie, but the series hadn’t been rebooted yet. And the Dallas The Good Guys showed was a lot more like the Dallas I know — no Ewings, few cowboy hats, more urban, less country — though it’s hard to see it at first. It’s actually harder to see their Dallas if you’re from here. It can be distracting. Their police headquarters — at least the exteriors — is a mix of Dallas City Hall and part of Fair Park. A car will take off from a storefront in Deep Ellum and a block later be in the Cedars, then take a left and be in Lakewood. There are streets called something else, and recognizable street names miles away from where they actually are.

It’s a tall order, but you just have to ignore it. Well, except when Hanks’ Bailey says that a suspect just went west on Houston Street, and pronounces it “House-ton” like he’s in New York, and that’s just super-sloppy.

UPDATE:

Noted.

Anyway, it ends up being maybe not enough to make the city a character, but it definitely makes it all feel different than other cop shows.

As for the rest of it: Whitford is fantastic and charismatic as Stark, a bit sozzled and stuck in the past, but actually a great detective. Hanks does well with the tougher straight-man role, holding his own. The two of them have real chemistry, and the show is smart to bond them together early on, so it makes sense that they remain together; otherwise it would be 20 episodes of Hanks’ Bailey rolling his eyes and saying “Here we go again.” The cases are clever, there are some great guest stars (including National Treasure Gary Cole as Stark’s former partner), and it feels like a show that could have been reliably entertaining for another four or five seasons. Not everything has to be Lost. TV needs shows that don’t always swing for the fences, instead focusing on just getting on base. But, oh, well.

If you haven’t seen it, give it a shot. And don’t base that on my Netflix history. I share that account with my 10-year-old son, my ex-wife, and the 6-year-old daughter of her boyfriend. I don’t know which one of us watched Click, but I still can’t get that “Because You Watched Click” off my recommendations screen. Anyway, it’s worth your time, especially if you were at any point a fan of 1980s cop comedies or enjoy pointing at your screen and going, “Oh, lookit, it’s AllGood Cafe.”