Even when he was the catspaw of the First Evil and slaying, erm, Slayers and Watchers in the final episodes of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Nathan Fillion had a kind of affability to him that made it hard to stay mad at the dude.
As the almost-cradle-snatching Rainer Shine on Modern Family, his casually narcissistic TV weatherman brought a small dose of, yes, sunshine into the by-then well-worn comedy.
What we’re getting at is that, even when he plays people who could broadly be defined as “difficult to like”, Fillion has this thing about him that wins us over quite easily.
Maybe it’s just residual sympathy from that early image of his grief-stricken face burned into our memories from almost a quarter-century ago as the “wrong Private Ryan” in Saving Private Ryan.
Or fondness for the truckload of memorable characters he’s played, from Firefly’s Mal Reynolds to Two Guys And A Girl’s jukebox repairman-turned-firefighter Johnny Donnelly to mystery writer/crime-solver Richard Castle.
So in The Rookie, a show that both plays to Fillion’s established strengths and pits him in a battle against rough circumstances, you know that he’s going to kill it from the very first episode.
Sure, the pilot does push our buttons a lot, just to set up the whole against-the-odds premise.
Fillion’s John Nolan is basically a 45-year-old rookie police officer in Los Angeles – the oldest rookie in the city, and one based on an actual LAPD officer (Bill Norcross, who is also an executive producer on this show).
To Nolan, it’s a calling. To his watch commander Sgt Wade Grey (Richard T. Jones, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles), he’s a walking mid-life crisis who is likely to get one of his colleagues killed.
To those colleagues – well, most of them anyway – he’s the butt of stationhouse jokes (initially) and a pain who thinks he knows better just because of his age.
Man, such odds.
And leave it to Nolan/Fillion to half bumble, half charm his way into numerous hearts in the course of responding to his calling.
It’s taken The Rookie a while to find its way to our screens from its 2018 debut (so there’s still hope we’ll get The Orville someday), so we have a lot of it to catch up on.
From the half-dozen episodes aired here so far (at time of writing), I’ve found The Rookie to be a fun and exciting watch, even if the terrain it covers is immediately recognisable to any seasoned viewer.
The cop show tropes and types are all there: the rookie who freezes under fire, the unsympathetic supervisor who doubts the main character, the sympathetic higher-up who sees potential in said main character, the ambitious patrol officer trying to make detective (and beyond), the rebel who joined the force to defy her parents if it’s on a TV rap sheet, it’s all here.
Yet Fillion and the rest of the cast (not all of whom make it past the first season, I’m told) make it a really easy watch, filling their uniforms – even those cut from highly recognisable cloth – with people, not just TV show characters. Yes, even Sgt Grey.
The situations in which these examples of LA’s finest find themselves is a curious mix of mundane street crime to high-octane Crockett & Tubbs-type firefights – maybe a few too many of the latter in such rapid succession to be believable.
But as always, we have Fillion and friends (and here we’ll rope in the creative team as well) to bring this imbalance of supercop antics back down to earth by focusing on what drives each one of them.
And looking beyond the patrol cruisers, guns and uniforms, The Rookie strikes a chord especially in these challenging times because it’s all about starting over and accepting that we are never too old, tired or “past it” to answer a calling, no matter how long ago or from how far away it was heard.
The Rookie Season One airs every Monday to Wednesday at 10.45pm on AXN (Astro Ch 701).
Never tell him the odds