At one point, I realized that if I ever wanted to become a great actor, I should do whatever it is that David Paymer has done. This is a guy who inhabits his characters, brings pathos or genteel humor as needed, never looks like he isn’t in the scene, just does great little perfomances. And yes, they often are little performances, because he tends to play the nebbish rather than the leading hunk, and yet as a nebbish he can own the screen in a scene not because he’s stealing it, but because he’s earned it. (If you want to see a movie with reasonable amounts of Paymer at his best, trying Mr. Saturday Night.)
So when ABC trotted out a new mob-oriented show (the latest example of the networks’ Sopranos lust, albeit not as blatant as Kingpin) and announced Paymer as the mob boss, I had to take off my hat to that. It’s not that the role is Paymer’s usual type, but he brings the gravitas and coldness that the part needs. He makes it work even when the writing is letting him down, making him more hands-on than the local boss would seem likely to be.
But the mob, while a vital part of the show, is secondary to the FBI. One FBI guy dies at the top of the show, during the sort of opening scene where you know one FBI guy will die in order to get the show rolling. (Two FBIs chasing a bad guy. One FBI stumbles, doesn’t keep up with his partner. Seperate partners that early in a first episode, you don’t have partners much longer.) We get some existing FBI folks established, but more of the focus is on a couple of rookies. The rookie has well-intended motivated rookieitis, turned up to 11 alas. They oversell her character, costing the show believability.
There’s some good acting here, some good texture. The writing ain’t quite there –it’s well-intentioned but avoids subtlety a bit too strenuously — but I think this show could settle into being quite good, perhaps great.