‘Boston’s Finest,’ fine but far from finest
New TNT documentary series about cops offers few surprises
February 22, 2013
Even when a documentary is generally successful, sometimes the most memorable thing in it is a little off-subject.
That’s the case in TNT’s new documentary series “Boston’s Finest,” which chronicles the lives of Boston’s police detectives and beat cops. The bulk of the show is footage of the men and women working on cases or performing their routine duties, but what most viewers will take away is a brief scene in which a young female cop meets with a troubled family member.
Unlike the rest of the two episodes that were made available for review, that scene has the element of surprise. Police work has been the subject of so many documentaries and realistic scripted series that most viewers will feel they’ve seen almost everything else before. Although we identify with the subjects and would never wish them any harm, the general lack of violence doesn’t help.
Premiering next Wednesday, Feb. 27, at 9 p.m., “Boston’s Finest” focuses on a small group of cops. Two partners, Jen Penton and Pat Rogers, spend most of their time in their car stopping drivers for minor infractions. From what we see, a high percentage of these drivers have records or are otherwise looking for trouble.
A group of detectives working the night shift for the department’s Gang Unit try to arrest a suspect who takes a shot at them and then flees, leaving his gun and his cell phone. They detectives spend the rest of the episode tracking him down.
Meanwhile, a member of the Fugitive Unit, Gregory Dankers, whose wife is also on the force, pursues a crook who is wanted in New Hampshire.
The narration, provided by one of the show’s executive producers, the actor and former New Kid on the Block Donnie Wahlberg, is refreshingly subdued, if somewhat bland. At one point, he says that beat cops, having grown up on the streets they’re patrolling, know that “the best way to prevent crime is to stop it before it starts.” Anyone who looked up “prevent” in the dictionary would know that.
Like any honest documentarians, the creators of this show have to settle for what they’ve shot. When one arrest goes perhaps too smoothly, Wahlberg says, “The number of patrol cars at the scene is a reminder of just how ugly these arrests can get.” Cynics may detect a note of disappointment in his voice.
When a group of cops wearing vests surrounds a house where a suspect may be hiding, we search for details that we haven’t seen before. The only such detail is the battering ram, on which someone has painted the words “May we come in?”
The second episode features an investigation that has a more satisfying beginning, middle and end. Dankers comes up with a clever way of trapping a fugitive crack dealer.
But the focus of the episode is Jen Penton. She’s visibly shaken after dealing with an abusive driver and a gang member who violently resists arrest. Then she tells us that she can sympathize with people on the wrong side of the law because she has a twin sister with a criminal record and substance-abuse issues.
When she tracks down her sister, the contrast between them is startling and haunting.
By contrast, most of the off-duty footage is forgettable. Penton, who has a charmingly flirtatious relationship with her partner, has him to dinner at her place. One feels the invitation was the producers’ idea, not hers.
When a couple of the detectives decide to baby-sit so their significant others can have a night out, the women get dolled up and go to a club. For a few moments, we could be watching scenes from “The Real Housewives of Dorchester.”
In these video-saturated days, everything looks familiar. “Boston’s Finest” is fine, but for a documentary to stand out, it needs novelty in its subject, creativity in its approach or just plain luck. This series doesn’t have quite enough of any of those.
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