The word was that Stephen Gaghan’s pilot METRO was in serious consideration for NBC’s schedule until the very end (conventional wisdom has it that the final choice came down to Metro vs. Awake, and the latter made the cut). That’s too bad: the pilot is an impressive piece of work, one that may have been a little too smart and ambitious for its own good.
Like Gaghan’s scripts for Traffic and Syriana, Metro weaves together several strands of story around a broad theme, in this case the city of Los Angeles, its politics and crime and how the two can be interchangeable. Top-billed Jimmy Smits is the city’s fictional mayor, hungry for power and more than a little lecherous, but in the pilot his role is no more prominent than those of several others. It seems like the series would have been to some extent a police procedural, with Noah Emmerich as an alcoholic cop newly moved to LA from New York to be with his teen daughter after his ex-wife moved them both across the country, and Danny Pino as his younger, more impulsive partner whose girlfriend (Daniela Alonso) is the Mayor’s beautiful (and pregnant) aide.
The crime around which the pilot turns is the broad daylight killing of a Brentwood teen at a pool party. The victim turns out to have been doomed by mistaken identity, and the discovery of the real target leads to one of the Mayor’s most powerful and influential supporters (Miguel Sandoval), a real estate mogul with ties to the underworld. (In a topical detail, the Mayor appoints the man to his committee evaluating LA football stadium proposals.) It seems that the city is about to be embroiled in a gang war that traces up to the mogul and his foe, another tycoon played by Ray Wise, and that battle would no doubt have made up much of the substance of the series.
Any show that tries to analyze the political workings of a big city from the viewpoint of the cops and the justice system is asking to be compared to The Wire, which is sort of like having your wall mural compared to the Sistine Chapel. Certainly Metro wasn’t in that league. The pilot struggles to fit its story into the scant time left in a network hour after commercials, and one really has to pay attention to keep all the characters and their relationships straight–and “has to pay attention” isn’t the kind of thing that scores well with TV focus groups.
Nevertheless, this was a show with genuine promise. Gaghan directed the pilot himself, and the show moves with breathless speed but also knows when to pause for some sharp, incisive dialogue. (One hopes, though, that the scene virtually duplicated from The French Connection was an intentional homage.) The cast is strong across the board, and there were plenty of plotlines that would have been interesting to follow had the series gone forward.
Metro was produced for NBC by 20th Century Fox Television, and considering the quality of the project, there must have been discussions about trying to move it elsewhere after NBC passed; it may have been too serious and complicated for some potential buyers, and not edgy enough for others. Whatever happened, this was one of the lost opportunities of the new season. (The potentially happy epilogue is that Gaghan, moving on as TV writers must do, has just sold a new TV project, this time to FOX–perhaps it will fare better.)
The Sked’s Verdict: Worth Another Look
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