Stay Tuned: Crowd-sourcing crime on ‘APB’
The titans of technology are the new superheroes. First it was a Silicon Valley tech billionaire who transforms healthcare with a high-tech hospital over on CBS and now on Fox’s “APB,” a billionaire engineer takes on crime fighting with technological innovations and an app that gives citizens the power to instantly police their neighborhoods. The show presents an intriguing idea and one that is not in the distant future.
“APB” was inspired by an article in The New York Times Magazine on a similar venture in New Orleans in 2015. While the series speaks to contemporary ideas about technology and the economic realities facing many police districts, it also sticks to the conventions of a police procedural with plenty of exposition, car chases and cops running after bad guys. But now the car chases are likely to include a drone and the police officers take down the bad guys with guidance from coders staring at computer screens back at the station.
Gideon Reeves’ (Justin Kirk) takeover of Chicago’s Police District 13 is personal. Frustrated with the slow pace of the investigation into his best friend’s murder, which he witnesses, he offers to run the district by providing the force with high tech equipment and advanced algorithms that make tracking down criminals faster and easier. His skeptical but supportive ally is detective Theresa Murphy (Natalie Martinez), who tells him early on, “Your computers are great but you’ve got to let cops do their job first.”
And so, the show does. It lets the cops do all the usual cop things with the added visuals of Reeves’ engineering gadgets and lots of shots of smart people narrowing down a clue in lightning speed as large computer screens highlight their work. It’s a familiar screen language for technology and the production values are high. The scenes where Gideon pilots the drone that helps the officers in the field do their job has the odd effect of making it feel like every officer at the station is watching the same TV show as we are.
As a fan of his work on “Weeds,” I was happy to see Justin Kirk in this role. He plays Reeves with a similar combination of sarcasm and seriousness and easily takes center stage in scenes. Martinez offers a believable version of a street-smart cop who keeps Kirk’s tech policing dreams grounded in investigative reality. They have a solid amount of chemistry between them.
The show’s main tension is conventional anxiety about the new versus the familiar as the police are slow to accept Reeves’ technological changes. The fear of the new theme isn’t overplayed however and neither are the cops’ suspicions that their billionaire tech savior will eventually grow tired of his new venture. Empowering citizens to police their neighborhoods is a rich area for stories. If the show dives deeper into this idea, it has an opportunity to be more than a police drama with a high-tech twist.
“APB” is on Mondays at 9 p.m. EDT on Fox.
— Melissa Crawley is the author of “Mr. Sorkin Goes to Washington: Shaping the President on Television’s ‘The West Wing.’” She has a Ph.D. in media studies and is a member of the Television Critics Association. To comment on Stay Tuned, email her at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter at @MelissaCrawley.