"The first day on any job is hard....Try being a cop."
No, this isn't The Rookies, the 1972-76 cop show with Georg Stanford Brown, Gerald S. O'Loughlin, and Kate Jackson. This show is, simply, Rookies, an engrossing reality series very closely modeled after the long-running series COPS, but with a twist. Rookies - The Complete Season One presents all 16 episodes from 2008 on two discs: eight shows filmed with the cooperation of the City of Tampa (Florida) Police Department on Disc 1, and eight more filmed with the help of the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office on Disc 2. Each disc includes lots of bonus footage as an extra.
Rookies looks so much like COPS that it's a surprise not to see COPS executive producer John Langley listed in the credits. Like COPS, Rookies follows real officers on the beat, each segment of the half-hour show highlighting a particular call. Some of these calls are routine drug possession busts and traffic stops, others are more serious, violent crimes, bad road accidents, suicides and the like.
The only difference between COPS and Rookies is that the focus of the latter is always on the rookie officer, newly graduated from the police academy and now having to prove himself during, typically, 12 weeks of in-the-field training and evaluation under the supervision of a veteran field training officer (FTO). If they survive the first 12 weeks, they're then given a final, in the field evaluation by their station sergeant.
The considerable drama of Rookies is that a great many just don't cut it. Listening to lectures at the academy is one thing; dealing with abusive suspects, rotting dead bodies, and crazy people with knives is another. Watching Rookies the viewer develops a new appreciation for the hundreds of things an officer has to remember to do - for everyone's safety and in the gathering of evidence - for even something as mundane as a simple traffic stop. (For instance, I didn't know that as officers approach a stopped vehicle they always, casually, place their thumb print on the corner of the vehicle, which can later be used as evidence of their presence should the driver suddenly flee the scene, etc.) Clearly, it's a job involving an incredible degree of multi-tasking, and it requires the officer to be constantly aware of and assess his ever-changing surroundings.
On each show, two rookies are introduced, with graphics providing a little information about their background, notably their previous occupations. The first episode follows a former restaurant manager and an ex-junior high school teacher. Within five minutes, it's clear the restaurant manager is never, ever going to make it. On calls he's totally disorganized, not proactive, and generally like a deer in the headlights. (A later episode is even titled "A Deer in the Headlights," after a similarly overwhelmed wide-eyed rookie.) The ex-teacher, meanwhile, while nervous about his first days on the job, remains calm, cool, and collected. He follows his FTO's instructions well, talks to suspects easily - some of whom even turn out to be former students of his. By the end of the show the restaurant manager has quit, while the ex-teacher seems well on his way to becoming a model officer. However...a later episode follows the same officer some weeks later into his field training, and now he's struggling too. Ultimately he doesn't make it, either - and you really, really feel sorry for the guy.
This aspect of Rookies generates a lot of empathy and squrimily uncomfortable scenes when the rookies screw up and get chewed out, because it's very easy to identify with their inexperience, and because most of the rookies are likeable we want them to succeed. The Rookies include cocky former marines and Iraq War veterans who mistakenly think being a cop with be a comparative breeze, the first woman rookie in a large family of cops (her father is a chief of police), recent college graduates, former bartenders - you name it. Some are looking for excitement - these folks never make it - others want to serve their community, others are looking for a more rewarding career to match their personality. Few make it to the end - based on the show, it would seem that 40-60% quit or get canned the first few weeks - and Rookies is sure to scare off many viewers toying with the idea of a career in law enforcement, but I'd also wager Rookies will inspire an equal number to sign up and give it their best shot, to climb this very intimidating mountain.
Video & Audio
Disappointingly, Rookies - The Complete Season One is 4:3 letterboxed; though framed at 1.78:1 the episodes are not 16:9 enhanced. Why not? That said, on widescreen TVs the shot-on-video episodes can be zoomed in and reformatted without them looking too bad. As previously stated, there are eight roughly 22-minute episodes on each of the two single-sided discs, with a total running time of about 352 minutes. Audio is 2.0 Dolby Digital stereo and adequate given the nature of the raw, on-location audio. There are no subtitle options, but the series is closed-captioned.
Shows like this probably shoot 500 times more video than they actually use, and so here each disc offers 19-20 minutes of bonus footage which play almost like extra episodes. It's a good supplement.
This is a very interesting, involving reality series, providing the viewer with a vivid portrait of field training and its enormous pressures. It's visceral infotainment in the best sense, and Highly Recommended.
Film historian Stuart Galbraith IV's latest book, The Toho Studios Story, is on sale now.