For all its very real pleasures as an action entertainment, Training Day was far from a perfect piece of filmmaking. In fact, its major flaw was its filmmaking, which showed little of any personality from director Antoine Fuqua, who instead (smartly) leaned on kinetic pacing to keep the energy of the film constantly up. The real triumphs of the film were the work done by a superb cast that put heart, soul, and unpredictable, personal nuances into David Ayer‘s script, which featured wonderful flourishes of dialogue but was weighed down by Screenwriting 101 structure and plotting. I mean, really: the girl who Ethan Hawke‘s character saved from rape turned out to be the niece of the powerful gangster who almost blows his brains out and ends up being his saving grace? Boy, what luck!
This is all to say that the idea of bringing Training Day to the small screen, to try a new tactic and see how the material and themes can be explored in new ways or be used as a Petri dish for fresh ideas, is not an inherently bad one. Considering how police corruption has been in the news lately, most notably in a damning FBI investigation that gives real proof of white nationalism agents infiltrating police departments nationwide, timeliness would almost be a given. Instead, showrunner Barry Schindel and his team have opted for a rigid, unoriginal route for the adaptation: force the material into a familiar series structure and hope that no one will make too much of a fuss about it.
In this version of the story, Bill Paxton is Detective Frank Rourke, a compromised, all-knowing veteran of the LAPD, who takes up-and-coming officer Kyle Craig (Justin Cornwell), the son of his late partner, underwing. Little to Rourke’s knowledge, Craig is investigating some of his father’s hunches about some unsolved or problematic cases, a hunt for clues that could end up at Rourke’s doorstep. That’s the arc of the whole series, and whenever the show is looking to eat up runtime in its case-of-the-week episode structure, this becomes a subject of interest but little movement is made. As with Chicago P.D., Shades of Blue, Lethal Weapon, and any number of other cop-based series, the show wastes time and patience by spending more time building up a far-off, pseudo-revelatory plot twist than it does give any sense of respect to the real work of police officers, lawyers, and other denizens of Los Angeles.
This tactic might keep a certain contingency coming back week after week but each episode is devoid of memorable detail, insight, or genuine emotion. The writing leans heavily on a frustratingly unimaginative concept of proxy fathers, as well as a suspiciously unquestioning vision of police fraternity, and has exactly nothing fascinating to say about either. Each episode feels barely held together by its predictable plot points, which is all the writing seems interested in. There are no moments of introspection that aren’t clearly calculated to move along the story rather than give us any sense of who Rourke and Craig are away from their job and their relationship. Everything just seems to coast along on the presumed comfort of its familiar storyline. Even Paxton, a brilliant, energetic performer, seems tranquilised by the innocuous and irrelevant material.
Television has done well with movie adaptations in two very specific cases, namely Fargo and Hannibal. There are certainly others worthy of discussion but these two series stick out amongst the brood for good reasons. Most prominent amongst those is the fact that neither series attempts to either entirely replicate the source material or fit the story into an easily digestible form. Hannibal took place in a world where there was a serial killer on every corner, two sadistic kidnappers in every garage, and for all the delicious talk about the titular character’s revealing of his true self before he actually does it, the series felt consistently in the moment, filled with intellectual, physical, and exquisitely designed details. The entire narrative of Thomas Harris‘ novels had been reconfigured into a far more imposing, intricate, and challenging beast than any of the film’s made out of the same material proved to be, even the formidable Silence of the Lambs.
On FX, Fargo similarly took apart the chemical make-up of the original movie and built a new proverbial compound out of the materials before wandering into its own wild world for Season 2. The reevaluating of the Coens’ narrative led creator Noah Hawley to a story that seemed to be almost entirely his own in Season 2, and it quickly reconfirmed Hawley’s tremendous gifts at character building and gallows humor of a distinctly violent sort. CBS has never been much for getting at the dark impulses behind violence in its programming, but that makes you wonder what they saw in Training Day in the first place. To indulge my cynical side, I imagine it was primarily because of name recognition: people who liked Training Day the movie will likely give Training Day the TV series a fighting chance. That may not be the truth for those who worked on the program, but there’s simply no evidence that any care or passion was put into Training Day from what’s been put on the screen.
Rating: ★ – No.
Training Day airs on CBS at 10 p.m. EST on Thursday nights.