By Josh Wolk
Updated July 16, 2009 at 08:03 PM EDT
Danny Feld/TNT

Welcome back. This week’s pop-culture assignment was watching last night’s premiere of TNT’s Dark Blue, which stars Dylan McDermott as a grizzled undercover cop. McDermott’s grand entrance had him coming up behind two policemen who were eating doughnuts and drinking coffee, and his very first line was, “You guys are doing nothing for the stereotype.” To which I say: Grizzled undercover cop, know thyself.

A few of us in the TV department have fun coming up with generic titles for new shows that we feel like we’ve seen a million times by other names. For example, when a new medical show comes on that features doctors rushing around to surgery, we always call it Stat! Well, when it comes to Dark Blue, we’ve been calling it Listen, Rookie, which is our name for any series in which a crusty, driven law enforcement agent shows tough love to his underlings. (The most recent example of Listen, Rookie? Patrick Swayze’s The Beast.) Here’s a handy checklist to figure out whether you’re watching a Listen, Rookie:

Is the main character the leader of an elite squad of undercover cops?

Is there barking of life lessons to said squad?

Has the protagonist suffered a tragedy — usually a dead wife — which drives him to do what he does?

Does he engage in constant arguing with a flustered superior about being left alone to pursue justice, even if his ways are — all together now — unorthodox?

Is there constant use of the phrase “in too deep”?

Dark Blue is a double cliché, in that it’s Listen, Rookie…the Jerry Bruckheimer edition. This means it has all the above trappings, but with moody, too-dark-blue-to-see-anything lighting (well, it’s not like we weren’t warned in the title), and a hot computer expert whose signifier as a tech genius is that she wears glasses. (I enjoy that Bruckheimer uses the same costume shortcuts that porn stars do when they’re playing naughty librarians.)

It must be difficult being McDermott’s character, Carter Shaw. (And how badass is that name? All the testosterone of Jimmy Carter, with the sex appeal of Styx guitarist Tommy Shaw!) On the one hand, he has to constantly browbeat people to drop their lives and go deep, deep undercover…and yet once they get deep, deep undercover, he has to browbeat them about not getting in too deep. It’s such a fine line between too little and too much: Going undercover must be the detective equivalent of applying rouge.

And another thing: For a crack undercover team, they are all really bad at playing it cool. When Carter was shown footage of his acolyte Dean sneaking around with the villain’s gang, his eyes practically bugged out of his head Tex Avery style before he stood up and said, “I don’t know him.” Nice poker face, Carter. And during the climactic bank abduction, his team had quite the smooth moves as they surreptitiously wandered around posing as bank employees: Jaimie did the whole put-your-finger-to-your-ear intercom talk, and Ty actually talked into his wristwatch. What, no one brought their shoe phone? Semaphore flags would have been a bit too obvious? Maybe that’s what Carter meant by not going in too deep: Pretend to be someone else, sure, but remember who you are by always checking in with enormous walkie-talkies.

Okay, one last minor quibble for good measure: I can’t get past the fact that the villain was named “Franzine.” It seemed like an odd choice to give him a name so similar to one usually held by an old woman. When I hear something that sounds like “Francine,” I don’t think of a ruthless crime lord, I think of a 75-year-old with her blue hair being set under a gigantic egg-shaped dryer. Will next week’s nemesis be named Gerdrude or Ezzel?

Listen, rookies, now it’s your turn. What did you think of Dark Blue? Am I being too harsh? Is every undercover cop drama actually like a snowflake, no two alike? Are you going to watch more of it? If you do, don’t get in too deep. You start spending more time as a Dark Blue viewer than you do as yourself, sooner or later you’re gonna start to forget what parts are your TV show and what parts are you.

Okay, now to next week’s assignment: My wife has pointed out that so far I have only picked things for the Pop Culture Club that I’ve crapped on. So, in order to show that I do have love in my heart and am not just a cranky old man, I’m going to pick an older movie comedy that still delights me from the top of my graying head to the tips of my callused toes: 1994’s surreally funny Clifford, with Martin Short and Charles Grodin. If you like these two actors, this is the film for you: it is Short at his Martin Shortiest, and Grodin at his Grodiniest. Check it out on DVD, and we’ll meet back here to see if we’re all still friends.

Are you wondering why I didn’t pick the biggest movie out there, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince? Well, not only are there billions of other people already talking about that blockbuster, but one of them is me: I have been sitting in with Dalton Ross as co-host of’s Must List Live! Check out below as this week Dalton and I debate ol’ H. Potter himself.