Crime & Punishment

Once Hopeless, 'Detroit 1-8-7' Stands A Chance

'Detroit 1-8-7'

"Detroit 1-8-7" is a new police crime drama that airs Tuesdays on ABC. Mark H. Preston/ABC hide caption

itoggle caption Mark H. Preston/ABC

In Detroit, we say pop not soda.

When the writers of ABC’s new cop drama “Detroit 1-8-7” got this wrong in the pilot episode, I criticized the show for its lack of authenticity. Sadly, what local folks call carbonated beverages was not the only misstep.

The characters, with the exception of a few, didn’t act or talk like Detroiters and the on location shots were little more than a blur of local landmarks and abandoned buildings. Why wasn’t anyone complaining about the Detroit Lions or high property taxes? Where were the ripped-from-the-headlines local crimes such as bus-stop shootings and stripper homicides with possible ties to the city’s scandal-ridden former politicians?

There’s more to the area than Motown songs and high crime and unemployment rates, and the essence that makes Detroit one of America’s most soulful and wounded cities was painfully overlooked.

Instead, the series felt like a generic crime procedural that could’ve been shot anywhere – a large portion of the first episode was even shot in Atlanta – leaving me and others to surmise that the “Detroit” in the show’s title was an afterthought.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons “Detroit 1-8-7,” which stars Michael Imperioli (“The Sopranos”) and James McDaniel (“NYPD Blue”), has dropped in the ratings since its September premiere. It debuted to just under 10 million viewers and now attracts about a million less.

The lack of verisimilitude may not be obvious to non-Detroiters but it doesn’t take someone from 8 Mile, a state trunk line, to know when a show feels phony.

Although ABC has agreed to pick up five more episodes of “Detroit 1-8-7,” giving it 18 in all, the move is not quite a vote of confidence. If the drama doesn’t attract more viewers and fast, this show will be just another footnote on the network’s long list of short-lived TV offerings.

Such a casualty, if the show is canceled, would be tragic when one considers the $25 million the show is set to pump into the local economy now that the series is being shot exclusively in and around the city.

But there is hope. The episode titled “Broken Engagement/Trashman” airs Nov. 9, and is the best installment of the show so far.

Not only does the low-level criminal say “pop” this time (producers even brought back the same actor, Mo McRae, to do the honors) but homegrown topics and places are interjected in believable ways.

For instance, Det. Vikram Mahajan (Shaun Majumder) visits and references one of the city’s urban farms in a couple of scenes and stops by a popular fishing spot in another.

No, this vastly improved attention to detail doesn’t guarantee a spike in ratings but it’s a start in the right direction.

Mekeisha Madden Toby is the television critic for The Detroit News and is based in Los Angeles. She was born and raised in Detroit.

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