Both Brooklyn South and Michael Hayes are NYPD Blue bloods. Brooklyn South is overseen by Emmy-winning NYPD executive producers Steven Bochco and David Milch; Michael Hayes is the TV comeback vehicle for former NYPD star David Caruso. The two shows strive to be hard-boiled, tough-minded, loftily principled dramas. But from there, they immediately peel off in opposite directions.
Michael Hayes lacks much of the loamy subtext that already makes South so rich and fertile. Caruso is Hayes, an ex-cop jumped up to federal prosecutor and a guy so stand-up, he takes care of his deadbeat brother’s little kid (the adorable Jimmy Galeota) while putting mobsters in the slammer. Paul Haggis, the writer-director who made the Finnegans Wake of cop shows, EZ Streets, was imported when the Hayes pilot turned up looking like a very special Matlock episode.
Haggis, who now receives a ”Developed By” credit at the start of the show, has given the series a moody look to match its star’s trademark smolder. But so far, there haven’t been any characters strong enough to hold the screen against Caruso. The Carrot Top of Method actors, he needs vivid supporting players to prevent the series from becoming an exhausting one-man show. Michael Hayes, while intelligently crafted and quivering with future promise, ends up being a program that makes you realize the importance of…Dennis Franz.
One thing South and the Haggis-ized Hayes have in common is a stylistic paradox: They tell tales about bright, shining good guys but cast those tales in dark hues, with a despairing tone; they’re the TV version of film noir. Geoffrey O’Brien, the executive editor of the Library of America, who subspecializes in hard-boiled fiction, recently remarked that ”the noir tradition…really is the dominant style of the American 20th century.”
Once the province of cult pulp books and B movies, noir, O’Brien asserts, is now mainstream, and shows like South and Hayes, as well as NYPD and The X-Files (oh, heck, even Buffy the Vampire Slayer) have brought this bruising style — call it noir et bleu — to prime time. The thing is, while most TV viewers like style, they prefer content: good stories told clearly. That’s what will push South and Hayes out of the murk of new fall shows and into the bright spotlight of popularity. B-