Tuned In

A Second Look At: Detroit 1-8-7

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The night Detroit 1-8-7 premiered on ABC, I had a Twittter window open on my laptop, specifically following tweets about the show, which seemed to be running heavily from Michigan natives. There had been a lot of advance concern about how the cop series would portray Detroit, whether it would exploit the city’s rough image and make it seem like a murderous hell on Earth. But that was not the reason that, about halfway through the pilot, the Twitter stream boiled over with outrage. It was this: a suspect in a murder investigation asked for a soda.

You do not ask for a “soda” in Detroit. You ask for a pop.

There were other knocks like this against the series’ authenticity in the early episodes. Someone in the mood for pizza, for instance, got “a slice.” Speaking as a Michigan native, selling pizza by the slice is rare if not unheard of west of the Appalachians and east of the Mississippi (at least outside of ballgames or gas stations).

Well, there was a pointed callback in last night’s 1-8-7 when the same suspect (who turned out in the pilot to be an innocent fast-talker) turned up as an informant in another case. At the precinct, the cops plied him with a pizza—a pizza, in a box, from which you pull a slice covered in the thick carpet of toppings Midwesterners are fond of. (I cannot be certain there was hamburger on that pizza, but I would not be surprised.) And he asked, with a twinkle in his eye: “Can you get me a pop?”

Several episodes into its run, Detroit 1-8-7 is showing itself as a series determined to get the details right, and how.* The show is shot on location, and the episode was crammed with locals-only references to prove its bona fides: references to paczkis, the Lenten donut treat beloved in Polish Hamtramck; to Eastern Market; to the urban-farming trend reclaiming Detroit’s abandoned blocks. I’m surprised there wasn’t a closing title card mourning Sparky Anderson and Ernie Harwell.

* Update: There’s still the title—”187″ is code for homicide in California, not Michigan, which got the show some flak—but there’s not much to do about that.

Of more interest to me, though, the show is maturing as a series not just about crime fighting but about the connections among the officers doing the job (and, yes, about their particular ties to this city). Michael Imperioli and Jon Michael Hill continue to be strong as cynical vet Louis Fitch and Damon Washington, the protege who Fitch won’t admit is his protege. But I’m also drawn in by James McDaniel (NYPD Blue), whose Sgt. Jesse Longford is a wry, low-key twist on the seen-it-all lifer approaching retirement.

If there were, say 500 fewer cop shows already on TV, I might watch Detroit 1-8-7 weekly. As it is, while it hasn’t exactly developed into The Wire, it’s also far from the thoughtless Detroitsploitation work that it was charged with being before it even debuted. It’s a solid, character-based network drama with a better-than-average sense of place. And even a transplant who now believes New York pizza is better can appreciate that.