“Listen, junior, this job ain’t about getting even.” — Detective Don Owen.
Owen (Chi McBride, “Boston Public”), a hardened cop, is trying to educate his inexperienced partner, Walter William Clark Jr. (Theo James, “Downton Abbey”), on CBS’ “Golden Boy,” premiering Tuesday, Feb. 26.
These sorts of lines fill the first few episodes of “Golden Boy,” which is unrelated to the Clifford Odets Broadway play of the same name. The TV show is about a New York Police Department commissioner, CBS’ second after “Blue Bloods.”
In this, which airs for two Tuesdays before switching to its regular Friday time slot, Commissioner Clark relays how he came to this vaunted position at an age when he would have been lucky to make detective. He’s telling a reporter his story, and the action flashes back to his beginnings as a beat cop who acted decisively during an armed hostage situation. After three years on the job, he’s made a homicide detective.
Within seven years Clark is commissioner.
“He is prepared to do anything to rise in the ranks,” James tells Zap2it. “He is going to be someone you may think is a good guy, but how he got the job is not clear-cut. I like to think of him as not just whip-smart. In terms of police savvy, he is a bit of a genius. There is a difference between being a smart person and being able to do anything at any point.”
On-screen, James adopts a Queens accent, masking his natural British lilt. Like others in this procedural, James did ride-alongs with officers to research his character.
In the station house, Clark has to deal with many who don’t like him, who believe his rise was too meteoric. They don’t bother to hide their contempt for this man they don’t trust and consider an interloping opportunist.
The thing about Clark is he doesn’t much care. He cares about his sister, who has a drug problem, and he takes care of her. But otherwise, Clark cares about his career and getting to the top faster than logic would assume possible.
When he becomes Owen’s partner, Owen has but two years left before he can retire.
McBride understands Owen.
“He wants to get through this without getting shot,” McBride says. “He doesn’t care who gets credit.”
Owen seems ambivalent, but there’s a reason for his studied aloofness, and he is very much a by-the-book kind of cop. “He is deeply flawed,” McBride says. “He has compromised himself, his marriage. He has suffered great loss. He is just existing.”
“I know a lot of real coppers,” McBride says, adding that in his hometown of Chicago (where his nickname comes from) he has good buddies from the Cook County Sheriff’s Department.
“I am a lot like a copper,” McBride says. “Somebody has got to protect you, and that’s what coppers do.”
Speaking over ale and a sandwich in Pasadena, Calif., McBride says he was excited about this role. He admires two hardened detectives from TV – Joe Fontana (Dennis Farina) of “Law & Order” and Andy Sipowicz (Dennis Franz) of “NYPD Blue.”
Series executive producer Nicholas Wootton worked on both of those shows, and wants Clark to be wildly ambitious, which usually comes with some nasty traits.
“He’s quite political,” Wootton says at a press conference. “He is kind of devious … . We see him learning the lessons that Chi’s character teaches him; there’s a way to be. And then we see him learn things that are completely, you know, politically kind of vicious.”