(apologies right up front, I get really damn longwinded with reviews instead of just being conversational. I can do the conversational if it's easier, I do reviews for a blog.)
S1E1, An Instinct for Murder
Let me say right up front that I like Star Cops. I want that right up front because I'm having a serious problem reviewing it. I've seen the first episode twice and have no idea what to say about it. It kinda puts my brain on hold, and I haven't been able to pin down why.
The name had me expecting something quite different. Didn't Gerry Anderson do something about a space precinct? Rather Star Warsy (think cantina scene), I saw a few minutes of it. Sounds like an action show. Could be drama, could be humorous.
What I got instead: Chief Superintendent Nathan Spring is comfortable in his job and would like to remain so. Where he's at is conducive to the family he's planning to start. His superiors, on the other hand, have zero interest in his plans or what he finds comfortable. He's being forced to take over another department, a move that means personal upheaval. Nathan is a man old enough and secure enough in his position that he likes to wear sweats to work while the younger officers under his command dress chic. He's not yet retirement age, but he's not young anymore. Nathan is soft-spoken, a man of consideration, and given to a dry ironic humor. His manner is amiable but slightly put-upon. He's not world weary...just weary. No go-getter, in his estimation he's already gone and got. Keeping in mind that this is a production for British television, this plays very much like any number of police mysteries (I'm especially fond of Inspector Morse). It's all played with understatement, not histrionics. So far so good.
So, "Star Cops"? Yes. The year is 2027 and the setting is the burgeoning world of space exploration in the hands of the international corporations funding it. We can expect stories of politics, corporate espionage, and the like. "Star Cops"' innovation is the invention of a special police force detailed to cover this effort: badges in space. Spring has been hand-picked to head this agency, the International Space Police Force. Some wag in the media dubbed them 'Space Cops', and it stuck. There's nothing flashy here or overtly futuristic, opting for verisimilitude. Again, I'm on board. It's a great idea from the show's creator, Chris Boucher of Doctor Who and Blake's 7 fame. Boucher wrote and directed this introductory episode.
Two murders have taken place. We ave two floaters, one in a lake and one in orbit. We all float up here. Or would that be 'out here'? We the audience know they were murders, we saw them happen. Nathan Spring thinks they might have been and would like to know more. Various police authorities have decided that no crimes have taken place not on the strength of the evidence but because a computer analysis has concluded that it's unlikely. Spring wants the lake death investigated. On the space station Charles de Gaulle space cop David Theroux finds the number of supposed EVA suit malfunctions (resulting in deaths) suspicious. Spring is ordered off the Earthbound case and into orbit. No one really cares, I think, it's just a gambit to secure Spring as the new Space Police Commander.
On Earth or in space, Spring disdains computer analysis at the expense of human intellect. He asks of his people that they utilize their own instincts, their capacity for reasoning, curiosity, and observation. In fact, when the solution to the death in space is revealed it turns out to be one Theroux might have caught were he more fully in the habit of using his own faculties. He's halfway there, having pressed for the deaths to be questioned instead of taking the computers assessment as everyone wanted him to. He will be appointed Spring's second in command.
Star Cops aired in 1987. I remember there was a streak of distrust of analysis in police fiction, if not in real life. Screen heroes with badges universally rolled their eyes at words like"profile" and treated experts with open hostility and ridicule. Often the analysts were portrayed as incompetent and full of airs . Today those analysts are glamorized by pop entertainment, from Clarice Starling to NCIS and many other shows. Spring may be a badge in 2027, but he's pure '80s old school. This is one of the major conflicts of the episode and I expect it to be a thread throughout the series. Spring has a technological personal assistant, a boxy device called Box (foreseeing real-life devices like Alexa). He constantly has to argue with it, cajole it, and rebuke it as if it were alive. Spring has a measure of reliance on Box he finds annoying.
The kind of story the pilot promises is one of clever manipulation of the rules this fictional realm works on by highly placed instigators we never meet and who may never really be brought to justice. Spring is a low-level servant, arresting the low-level servants who carry out the crimes. Very non-Hollywood.
So I do like this show. Why am In not more enthusiastic yet? I'm not sure the hybrid works smoothly yet - it's hard to imagine Inspector Morse defending himself with a medical laser. Space Cops gives us astronaut training instead of an exciting space flight - this is good, sure it saves on the budget but it also stresses a character moment over action. OTOH we're expected to accept that more sci-fi flavored action does take place even though we're not allowed to see it. Some of the predicted technology hasn't aged well and I'm doubtful they would have played well even in 1987, if for no other reason than that they clash with the usual contemporary detective fiction. I've seen Outland, I thought that dd it better. On the up side, the tech of the spacecraft, stations, etc. are based on current real-world designs, That's crucial to the show's credibility.
It might be the dialog, which is entertaining but hard to follow for the accents and rapid pace of banter. I like clever dialog, I like it even more when it's not so clever as to obscure its import. This is not Joss Whedon. I eventually had to resort to headphones to catch more of the words, that helped. Dialog often overlaps in Robert Altman style, which suits the verisimilitude but hinders clear presentation of information.
It's definitely the production. I'm used to seeing unconvincing sets on Doctor Who, but I don't see why a police station set only a few years in the future should look so little like what you would see in real life when realism is a goal. They're worse given that the space station locales are more convincing by comparison. The FX of weightlessness are better than expected, lending weight and credibility to the space-borne scenes. I like the costume design, aside from one Miami Vie escape who rolls up the sleeves of his business jacket. It's recognizably of our world instead of campy spandex, glitter, and outrageous collars and hats.
I do have a problem with the theme song and incidental music. I think the score was meant to be hiply ironic but the choices jar as inappropriate. I can take that if the choices are good, these aren't. Maybe I'll get used to the theme song (it's by Justin Hayward!) but I doubt it will ever feel like it belongs.
I think what blunted the episode most for me was an emotional disconnect - which I hasten to add may well be a deliberate choice reflecting the theme of humanity surrendered to technology. People die in this story at an alarming rate yet no one ever seems to care except Spring and Theroux, and I'm not sure it was more than an academic exercise from Spring. Theroux tries to recruit the help of someone who's more concerned with her recreation. So what if people are dying, the computer says it's statistically acceptable! Another innocent is put to death by her government when she was not at fault. That life lost is no more than a cynical aide, we never meet her nor does anyone express remorse. There are no grieving friends or relatives. What drove Morse (sorry, I keep bringing him up but its true for all the others, the best of them) expressed moral outrage and an appreciation of loss.
Torn between a 6.5 and a 7. It's a refreshing premise with a protagonist well-played by David Calder, episode's crime has a neat scheme but is hampered by some poor production choices. Okay, let's give it room to go up...6.5 restaurant TV trolleys.