All too often, the neighborhoods that need police the most are those where residents trust cops the least.
It’s a tough situation for those who live there and for those trying to patrol the streets. CBS’ latest drama, “NYC 22,” premiering Sunday, April 15, has that delicate relationship as an undercurrent.
Though those involved with a show are always quick to dismiss the notion that it’s anything we have seen before, this is a procedural cop show, albeit one with excellent credentials: Robert De Niro and Jane Rosenthal are executive producers, and Richard Price created it. It could not be more authentic New York, given the people behind it.
On a cold December day, the show is shooting at Amsterdam Avenue and 105th Street. It’s a neighborhood of old apartment buildings and newer condos, shared by Columbia University students and longtime residents.
The cops’ beat is from Morningside Heights, around Columbia, into Harlem. This gives “NYC 22” a wide swath. It opens plots revolving around those who think that because they can afford to buy a great old brownstone in Harlem, they’re now princes of the city, and how those who have lived uptown forever don’t always welcome the newcomers.
“The neighborhood’s really a character in this,” says Terry Kinney, who plays Field Training
Officer Daniel “Yoda” Dean. “The footage is like nothing I’ve been involved with. When you look at New York, you’re always seeing Central Park and the West Village. This is grittier. They’re not pulling any punches in terms of racial biases.”
The pilot does a solid job of introducing the characters. It follows the rookies on their first shift. It’s a miracle some of them weren’t immediately killed. For allegedly smart, trained professionals, they make some pretty boneheaded moves.
Jennifer “White House” Perry (Leelee Sobieski, “The Wicker Man”) is, in the actress’s words, “one tough cookie.” She was an MP in the Marines in Iraq, a college volleyball star, and seems completely capable of taking down any perp.
“She has a rich back story,” Sobieski tells Zap2it. “She is actually from Michigan. A part of me wishes we would have made her from New York.”
Her nickname comes from being picked for White House duty, but some of the other nicknames, such as Yoda for Kinney’s character, feel forced. Perry conveys what every female police officer needs: an air of authority.
Sobieski spent some time with women on the force. Her take-away, she says, is “They are really impressive. Whenever I see a woman cop on the street, I stop and stare because even traffic patrol is really, really difficult, with weather conditions and having to wear such a heavy belt. It all adds up to a really difficult job.”
All the rookies have their own struggles. Ray “Lazarus” Harper (Adam Goldberg, “The Unusuals“) was a police reporter and has better sources than most cops; he’s the oldest among the six. Ahmad Kahn (Tom Reed) is an Afghan who fought his way to freedom. Jayson “Jackpot” Toney (Harold “House” Moore, “Necessary Roughness“) was in the NBA. Tonya Sanchez (Judy Marte) has a family history with the law — on the wrong side of it. Then there’s fourth-generation officer Kenny McLaren (Stark Sands).
On this cold day, McLaren sits on a stoop, crying. The block is quiet, and Sands’ jagged sobs come over the headphones the crew wears.
After, Sands says, “As a person, I am stoic. So when asked to cry for work, it’s a treat. If you have words to say, that helps a lot. In this case, I am thinking about the incident, and that makes me break down, but we haven’t shot it yet.”
Sands (“Flags of Our Fathers”) sees playing a cop as a “side step away from playing a soldier. I am a bit of a leader, and my instincts are to do the right thing. I am a reluctant cop, and you start seeing hints. Maybe I don’t want to be a cop. Maybe I didn’t see other possibilities.”
The first few episodes show all sides of the cops: how there is a deep distrust of anyone outside their brothers in blue, but also how they can be so cool about letting misdemeanors off the hook. The rookies’ fear in their first patrols and the hostility they initially face from other cops feel very authentic, as do the storylines of old and new Harlem learning to live together.
“I hope people find it,” Kinney says. “We are doing an exciting police drama, full of nuanced characters who are putting their lives on the line every day. I don’t think of it so much of as a cop show but as a study of a neighborhood in New York and the people who take care of it. It’s not just a cop drama where we go out guns blazing all the time.”