We gave it a C-
A charismatic billionaire has a bold strategy for fixing the broken infrastructure of American society. The establishment tries, and fails, to stop him. Fox’s new show might sound topical – but it’s just a rehash of Iron Man 2, complete with an identical musical cue (the Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go”) and just as much awfulness. After his friend gets gunned down in an armed robbery, Stark-ian entrepreneur Gideon Reeves (Justin Kirk) takes over his own Chicago police district, because he has money and Chicago (apparently) has no police unions.
The shy-gawky geek stereotypes of yore have long since given way to the big-ego universe-denting geek stereotypes today. So Gideon is the prototypical aggro-nerd bro. He calls his new cool drones “The Reeves TK-421,” a Star Wars reference so basic Kevin Smith would groan. This titan of modern tech is a generically encompassing Everything Inventor: Reeves Industries, we learn, is working on robotics, computer design, nanotech and “civilian spaceflight.” That last part suggests SpaceX, and Kirk generally channels some magazine-cover notion of Elon Musk, with stubborn capitalist narcissism feeding directly into a messianic passion for global-rescue justice.
If APB is a hit, I give it two months before Musk swings by to play himself. In 2016, the Tesla CEO and Mars booster made vanity-stroking appearances in South Park, Why Him? and the documentary Lo and Behold — making him, I believe, the first man to share the screen with Werner Herzog and Eric Cartman in one calendar year. Weirdly, Musk was also in Iron Man 2 (trust genius tech billionaires to cameo in the dumbest places), and he’s lately been an uneasy member of Donald Trump’s advisory council (trust genius tech billionaires to cameo etcetera).
We’re currently in the midst of a veritable culture-thinkpiece gold rush, a race amongst bruised intelligentsia to uncover the (popular, clickable) cultural artifact that most clearly explains the rise of President Donald Trump. Theories and suspects abound, the more unlikely the better. (The Walking Dead! The Real Housewives! 24! Final Fantasy VII!) As my colleague Jeff Jensen pointed out in his review of Emerald City, Trump and Trump-ishness can be found in any vaguely authoritarian persona, if you’re looking for it. (Try talking about the Young Pope.) And at the risk of adding to the noise, the hottest take I have is that Iron Man 2 is the perfect summation of our maddening political climate. That was a movie where an outlaw billionaire refused to obey Congress and promised his adoring fans a vision of a new utopian tomorrow rooted in the nostalgic visions of the past; that was the moment that Tony Stark declared, “I have successfully privatized world peace!”
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At least Iron Man 2 was a comedy. In APB, Gideon successfully privatizes local law enforcement. “Why is some rich guy able to buy justice?” is the very meager and half-hearted argument against his largesse, before all arguments fade in the face of Gideon’s brilliant strategy. That strategy: Futuristic uniforms! Tasers that look like cool guns! Apps! Drones! So many drones! Hey, city, got crime? Try drones!
Natalie Martinez plays Gideon’s shrugging foil, a tough police officer named Murphy. That name feels like another reference. Thirty years ago, Paul Verhoeven released RoboCop, a bloody and crazy and lacerating parody of ’80s superman toughness. RoboCop’s real name, of course, was Murphy. Martinez isn’t playing a cyborg, but APB suggests a world in which machine consciousness is the best-case solution. Half the pilot seems to be characters staring at a big Google Maps screen, pointing and yelling, “There’s a crime happening!” while they dispatch invincible cops and brainless drones. It’s almost like someone remade a Paul Verhoeven movie but didn’t understand the satire… Oh look, the APB pilot was directed by Len Wiseman, who also made 2012’s terrible Total Recall! (Can’t wait to see him remake Elle as a romantic comedy in 2045.)
The pilot of APB builds to a big climax moment, with Gideon Reeves, one of the world’s greatest billionaire inventors, piloting a remote drone so he can stop crime good. He is so dumb, but the show thinks he’s so smart, because this show is so dumb. C-
APB premieres Monday, Feb. 6 at 9 p.m. ET.