Dan Stark (Bradley Whitford) is an old-school guy, still basking in the glory days from decades ago when he and his partner Frank Savage used to bust heads with little regard for procedure and policy. He and Frank were minor celebrities, thanks to the time they saved the governor's son (an incident that was then turned into a TV movie), but Frank's long since retired, and the rulebook is now part of the job. Dan's newest partner is Jack Bailey (Colin Hanks), a guy whose anal-retentive ways have made him least popular among the precinct. He's not expected to work with Dan so much as babysit him, while the two work petty property crimes. As the duo get to know each other, they find things to like about their partner's style, while (generally) trying to stay on the good side of their captain, Lieutenant Ana Ruiz (Diana Maria Riva), and assistant D.A. Liz Traynor (Jenny Wade), who also happens to be Jack's ex-girlfriend.
As one might expect if they've seen him in anything, "The Good Guys" is basically a showcase for Bradley Whitford's talents, whether that was the intent or not. The "old school cop" is a character type that a lot of actors would play the same way, but in Whitford's hands, Stark becomes more unpredictable and unique. Whitford can do macho, looking right at home in the aviators, rocking the porn star mustache, but Whitford's natural state seems to be more that of a nebbish banker. To this already unique combination, he adds a loose, distracted comic timing that's mostly sarcastic but usually with a twinge of regret. When Stark complains about the old days, it's less "when I was your age" and more of a fond memory, faintly sad. It's a complex mix of comic notes that allows his character to be the most likable guy on screen, even as he screws up or says something offensive. It's also just delightful when Stark has to interact with computers (which he thinks are going to rise up and kill everyone) or talks about Foghat.
Where the show stumbles is in its handling of Jack. The wild card / straight man dynamic is a classic, but Jack ends up so straight he's actually kind of boring, yearning for some more specific twist on his rule following (which, frankly, isn't even that strict, despite the fact that it's set up as his major flaw) to make the character interesting. Colin Hanks is an actor I often find myself rooting for ever since I saw him in the underrated Orange County, but he struggles here to register as more than pleasant, frequently at the mercy of scripts that are having way more fun with Stark, the show's flashback structure, and the show's goofy villains than they are with him. He and Whitford have perfectly decent chemistry, but that's mostly the actors' natural rapport showing through as opposed to something scripted. Whether or not Jack is actually dragging the show down is more debatable, but he's a bland character.
One of the show's virtues is the casual approach it has to serialization. On the surface, it plays like a "crime of the week" show, but it does a good job of developing ongoing threads, such as the relationship between Jack and Liz, with a degree of detail that will reward those who are following along, without losing those who weren't. (Side theory about Jack's character: maybe Hanks and Wade could've switched roles.) There's also Julius Grant (RonReaco Lee). In the first episode, he's introduced as a shady pawnshop owner committing petty crimes to stock his store, but he becomes the duo's snitch. Lee has great chemistry with Whitford and is often roped into duties far beyond the call of a civilian. It's a shame that the character played by Nia Vardalos couldn't have also been brought back, because she and Whitford are great together, but I suppose the creative team wanted to make Stark more of a ladies' man. There is also the obligatory appearance of Stark's former partner, played by Gary Cole in one of the funnier episodes.
As mentioned earlier, the show frequently plays with the timeline, jumping back and forth distances that range from 10 seconds to 30 years in order to fill in bits of exposition. It's surprising how well this works as a device to give the show a bit of personality. There are also some amusing B-plots during episodes, including one where Stark slowly gives his flu to everyone, including the episode's bad guy. The Jack and Liz relationship stuff, despite being a good example of how the show handles recurring plot points, is less interesting than it ought to be, not least of the reasons being it often relies heavily on Stark's questionable relationship advice. Perhaps Jack knowing more about modern women than Stark, or Jack's by-the-book nature being the thing that made him attractive to Liz, could've been one of those twists that gave his character a bit of comic energy.
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