Three episodes were provided prior to broadcast.
What would happen if Elon Musk’s billionaire cousin was to take over a police bureau, transform it into a high-tech playground and act out his Tony Stark fantasies against the criminals of Chicago? That’s the question APB posits, the new Fox show kicking off next Monday.
Enter Gideon Reed, AKA Elon Musk-Stark, a wise-cracking billionaire who flies rockets to space and turns drones into human wrecking machines in hours. Reed has made a lot of money selling his toys to Saudi oil magnates but when his best friend is murdered he decides to pursue law enforcement instead.
The billionaire strong-arms the local mayor into giving him full reign of the precinct that failed to find his friend’s killer – Chicago’s 13th district – and it’s not long before Reed is standing before his new toys: a group of Chicago PD’s most disgruntled. Now in charge, the playboy shows off an app he’s designed – dubbed APB – which lets civilians triangulate the position of crimes and call them to the police’s attention. Think of it like Uberfiying the old 9-11.
The Bruce Wayne benefactor ushers in a host of new toys to boot, including a new coffee machine that costs more than one character’s house. The old printers are shipped off (who uses paper anymore?) and the Gen Y jokes are front and centre (there’s even a hacker chick who wears a tank tops covered in skulls like a character out of Watch Dogs). The police don their new Robocop suits, buckle up behind the wheel of their pimped Chevrolets and get to work as Reed puts his feet up in front of an enormous television screen to dictate proceedings like a warmongering Mark Zuckerberg.
What results is flash, not substance: a pure power fantasy that imagines what fun it would be if you could spend more time beating up criminals than performing dreary policework. Series creator David Slack (Person of Interest, Law and Order) pleasurably aims a middle finger at the bureaucrats who slow down the proper sleuths and turns his billionaire pin-up into a maverick commander-in-chief who’s even got a tool that takes care of paperwork. My, what a fantasy this is. That Reed can be so above the law is breezily ignored in favour of more happy-go-lucky what if scenarios.
Reed is a missed opportunity, at least in the early going, and that makes APB all the worse for it. He’s supposed to be a Howard Hughes eccentric but he’s really just a bashful playboy who spits lines from The Guys’ Guide to Getting Chicks. Three episodes in, he’s a cipher, full of chipper one-liners and very little depth. What he’s not is an actual person that you can believe exists.
All told, Jason Kirk does his best with what he’s got, having found fame for his work in the Showtime dramedy Weeds. Weeds lined up American suburbia and whacked it over the head with an irony stick. APB is far less subversive and far less funny, though it tries to be light-hearted, pairing jazzy one-liners with back-and-forth banter. But the lines don’t stick and the dialogue is often laughable for all the wrong reasons.
It’s a story full of aching stereotypes pitting the bad guys against the good guys with no grey lines in between. These aren’t real cops, or real crooks, just hyper caricatures of both. Reed’s entry into vigilantism could have carried the season if the crime – and the criminal – was interesting. Instead, the plot point is rushed off the screen during the pilot episode; shelved in favor of new criminals and new toys for episode 2. The villains amount to nothing more than cardboard cut-outs; a robber here, a shooter there. Simply cannon fodder for the brand of vigilante justice APB dines out on at every turn.
It has fun with its toys at least, serving up super-powered bikes, gravely-throated Chevys and plenty of drone action (piloted by Reed himself, of course) and three episodes in, there are hints of bigger storylines to come, including a standoff between the new police division and the mayor. In a cops and robber story where the lines are so clearly drawn, the big bad wolf in the harmless suit might prove to be the most interesting bad guy of all – if only the script can sustain it.
In the end, APB is serviceable entertainment at best. The basic premise (of one entrepreneur soundly invigorating the police force) is fun if wildly implausible and gets to the heart of a question we’ve all likely asked: wouldn’t it be nice to shake up the system and actually get things done? It’s a pity Reed is such an unlikeable smart-arse. For all his toys, it’s the entrepreneurial attitude he invests in his police force that feels most timely, but he spends most of his time cracking limp jokes instead.
But while APB might be a satisfying power fantasy, it’s not a satisfying story – yet. There’s only so much drone action you can stomach before the wooden characters and plastic smiles start to ring hollow.
After only three episodes, Fox's new drama, APB, feels instantly forgettable.