Deputy comes at you like a ’78 Ford Bronco smashing through your living-room wall just to respectfully request that you abide by the local lawn-watering restrictions during the drought before tipping a cowboy hat and bidding you a good day. It’s got all the trappings (and tropes) of traditional cop dramas but without the teeth of hit cable shows like The Shield or gritty feature films like End of Watch and Training Day. Deputy desperately wants to play in a higher class of cinematic storytelling but is held back by its broadcast network restrictions.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Despite the rah-rah nature of Fox Sports or the insane neoconservative ramblings of Fox News, the flagship Fox network has a history of airing edgy, subversive, and alternative programming. Deputy, perhaps surprisingly, fits into this trend. Rather than settle into a tired, black-and-white, “good guys vs bad guys” police procedural, which is the territory of CBS if we’re being honest, Deputy centers on the no-nonsense Bill Hollister as he takes literally everyone around him to task, be they fellow cops, career criminals, or his very own doctor-wife. Stephen Dorff absolutely delivers as the charismatic sheriff; it just remains to be seen whether or not the show’s narrative will loosen up its reins and let him run free.
David Ayer (End of Watch, Bright, Suicide Squad) directs the first two episodes, “Graduation Day” and “10-8 Outlaws”, to give some continuity to Deputy as it finds its legs, be they astride a police horse or kicking down a door to a drug den. Ayer’s big-screen aesthetic and experience is clear from the get-go: We get Hero Hollister packing up his horse while the sun sets (eternally) in the distance, followed by a smash-em-up car chase and a bang-bang drug bust, punctuated by highlights of Hollister giving the business to cops and criminals alike. The pilot plays out like Bill Hollister’s Greatest Hits: The plot ushers him along from one talking point to the next faster than a handler for a problematic actor at a red carpet premiere. I know Hollister only has a few months to whip the LA County Sheriff’s Department into shape before he’s likely elected right out of office, but can we just let the man breathe for a minute?
Pacing issues aside, Dorff delivers as Hollister. He’s immediately likeable (unless you’re a corrupt cop, criminal, or a federal employee, obviously) even if his dogma is delivered as subtly as a captive bolt pistol to the forehead. He’s what America needs right now, a rough-and-tumble natural-born leader with conviction who stands up for the oppressed and the downtrodden, even if it means taking on his fellow law-bringers. So when Hollister suddenly finds himself in a position of power, he immediately gets to work: He reminds a group of freshly graduated recruits that their job is to protect and serve, not line their pockets with federal funds; he stands by his decision to warn immigrant populations in his jurisdiction of impending ICE raids; and he doesn’t hesitate a nanosecond before rushing into danger, be it on horseback or in a big ol’ vintage American steel truck, climate change be damned. You know where you stand with Bill Hollister, so you can either get on his side or get out of the way.
The only time Hollister plays the end-around instead of going head-on is when he tries to get his late partner’s son, a new recruit, pulled from prison duty as a way to protect him; the plan doesn’t work exactly the way he intended, but it makes for some good drama and personal connections to our hero. Rounding those relationships out are Hollister’s partners Deputy Cade Ward (Brian Van Holt) who deals with PTSD from both his time as a Marine and his past as a foster kid; Deputy Rachel Delgado (Siena Goines) who’s less fleshed-out; newcomer Deputy Brianna Bishop (Bex Taylor-Klaus), who is somehow simultaneously a seasoned investigator in the department, Hollister’s driver and bodyguard, and his voice of reason, despite initially butting heads; and, of course, his wife/local trauma surgeon Dr. Paula Reyes (Yara Martinez). They’re all turned up to 10 to get their respective character quirks across, forcing Dorff to go one notch higher, but for a pilot’s purposes, they get the job done.
Deputy may overstep the bounds of reality with how far the show lets Hollister push his new powerful position, but I admire its commitment. Creator Will Beall, who took a crack at the gritty police procedural for CBS in the TV version of Training Day before star Bill Paxton unfortunately passed away in 2017, clearly wants to use Deputy as a stage to show how power should be used: responsibly, for the greater good of the least among us, and to take down those who have corrupted the system to their own gain. That’s admirable, indeed. But the broadcast network model holds Deputy back from achieving its greatest aspirations. Give this one a chance; Dorff might just have given us the TV character we need in 2020.
Rating: ★★★ Good