CBS’s New Procedural Golden Boy Has a Doozy of a Gimmick—and It Works

What you're watching.
Feb. 26 2013 11:01 AM

Good as Gold

How does a rookie detective become the police commissioner in seven short years? Golden Boy means to show us.

GOLDEN BOY
Theo James as Walter Clark Jr. in Golden Boy

Photo courtesy of JoJo Whilden/CBS

Every procedural needs a gimmick these days, and Golden Boy, the new cop drama from CBS that premieres Tuesday night, has a doozy: It transports viewers into the future. Each episode begins and ends with a flash-forward to the time, seven years hence, when 34-year-old Walter Clark (Theo James) is installed as New York City’s youngest police commissioner. After landing this exalted position at an impossibly early age, Clark seems weary and scarred. The series promises to reveal how he came to possess the high office, prematurely gray hair, and a pronounced limp.

June Thomas June Thomas

June Thomas is a Slate culture critic and editor of Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section. 

Clark is a former street kid who grew up with an addict mom, an absent father, and a troubled younger sister. After only three years on the beat, an act of heroism allows him to parachute into the homicide division, where he serves alongside far more experienced detectives. Seven years from now, Clark will be the city’s top cop. Does he get there thanks to shrewd political maneuvering, exemplary police work, or low-down dirty tricks?

Judging from the first few episodes, the answer is “all of the above.” Clark can be a suck-up and a shameless publicity hound, but he has the makings of a good cop, especially when he listens to his new partner, Don Owen (Chi McBride). If Clark is a show pony, Owen is a workhorse. Just two years shy of retirement, Owen is already making plans for a new life in Florida, but the chance to shape the career of a talented but impulsive young detective revives his own ambition. There’s something comfortingly old-fashioned about this mentor-mentee relationship. For all his drive, Clark still has a lot to learn, and it’s a sign of his potential that he quickly realizes he should heed Owen’s advice.

Of course, not all of Clark’s colleagues in the homicide division are overjoyed to have a new star in their midst. Christian Arroyo (Kevin Alejandro), homicide’s alpha dog until the pup showed up, is threatened by the young upstart. Arroyo’s attempts to sideline Clark’s progress are just as much a part of his education as Owen’s morality tales. They’re the angel and devil on the young cop’s slender shoulders.

Golden Boy’s creator, Nicholas Wootton, says he got the idea for the show while watching The Social Network, a movie about how ferociously ambitious young men with big ideas can overturn long-established ways of doing business. Successful tykes are currently having a moment on television—think singer Juliette Barnes ruling the charts on ABC’s Nashville or reporter Zoe Barnes raising hell on Netflix’s House of Cards. But the Barneses work in fields that have been revolutionized by the Internet. In music and journalism, YouTube, digital downloads, and blogging have smashed career ladders into firewood. So far at least, police work has escaped disruption. No matter how talented, well-connected, or entrepreneurial they may be, detectives are still expected to earn their bones on tough cases. Fortunately, the investigations that provide Clark’s life lessons are as accomplished as you’d expect from Wootton, who spent 11 years on NYPD Blue and a couple of seasons at Law & Order.

Perhaps because he’s 28 and as fit as a fiddle (his best-known role to date is Downton Abbey’s Kemal Pamuk, the Turkish gentleman who died in Lady Mary’s bed), James has to slather on aging makeup and affect a broken gait just to pass for a man in his mid-30s. Consequently, there’s something not quite convincing about the scenes set in the future. And the New York City of 2020 looks a lot like the 2013 version, other than the completed Freedom Tower at 1 World Trade Center, visible from the commissioner’s office.

As much as I would’ve loved to see Manhattanites kitted out in Google Glass, Golden Boy is about the past, not the future. Clark’s journey matters more than his destination. It’s an old-fashioned, low-tech case-of-the-week exploration of the “give me a boy at 7, and I’ll show you the man” philosophy that fuels Michael Apted’s 7 Up series of movies: Give me the golden boy at 27, and I will show you the 34-year-old man in the corner office of 1 Police Plaza. When I look into my own future, I see years spent watching Walter Clark grow up, one hour at a time.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Meet the New Bosses

How the Republicans would run the Senate.

The U.S. Is So, So Far Behind Europe on Clean Energy

The Government Is Giving Millions of Dollars in Electric-Car Subsidies to the Wrong Drivers

The Best Thing About the People’s Climate March in NYC

Friends Was the Last Purely Pleasurable Sitcom

The Eye

This Whimsical Driverless Car Imagines Transportation in 2059

Medical Examiner

Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?  

A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.

A Woman Who Escaped the Extreme Babymaking Christian Fundamentalism of Quiverfull

John Oliver Debunks the Miss America Pageant’s Claim That It Gives Out $45 Million in Scholarships

Trending News Channel
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Over There
Sept. 22 2014 1:29 PM “That’s Called Jim Crow” Philip Gourevitch on America’s hypocritical interventions in Africa.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 22 2014 1:37 PM Subprime Loans Are Back! And believe it or not, that’s a good thing.
  Life
Outward
Sept. 22 2014 2:55 PM Nuptial Expert Sarkozy Worries About Gay Marriage and the Family
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 22 2014 12:29 PM Escaping the Extreme Christian Fundamentalism of "Quiverfull"
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus
Sept. 22 2014 1:52 PM Tell Us What You Think About Slate Plus Help us improve our new membership program.
  Arts
Television
Sept. 22 2014 2:12 PM Crusader, Sans Cape The superhero trappings of Gotham are just a clever disguise.
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 22 2014 12:14 PM Family Court Rules That You Can Serve Someone With Legal Papers Over Facebook
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 22 2014 12:15 PM The Changing Face of Climate Change Will the leaders of the People’s Climate March now lead the movement?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.