Imagine, if you will, that the recent slew of TV shows transmuted from movies can be spread out across a spectrum of quality. On one end lies FX’s magnificent “Fargo” and NBC’s sorely missed “Friday Night Lights,” two series that expanded — maybe even improved — upon their cinematic inspirations by taking fully realized settings, making them their own, and populating them with an array of richly drawn characters. On the other, there’s sitcom schlock like CBS’s witless “Odd Couple” reboot and, beyond even that, Fox’s “Minority Report,” a series so small-minded as to feed its source material’s fascinating sci-fi premise headfirst into the police-procedural shredder.
“Rush Hour,” CBS’s second attempt this season to warm up a frozen-over film property (the first was a surprisingly solid “Limitless” continuation), falls somewhere between the monotone mediocrity of “Odd Couple” and the bleak banality of “Minority Report.” In its pilot (the only episode made available for review), the show steals the plot of its 1998 namesake — a strait-laced Hong Kong cop with exceptional martial arts skills finds himself teamed up with a fast-talking LAPD officer — and seemingly everything else that wasn’t nailed down, leaving precious little room for renovation.
In fact, the only facets of this new “Rush Hour” that turn out to be easily distinguishable from the original are its recast leads (Jon Foo in the Jackie Chan role, and Justin Hires in the Chris Tucker role) and slightly more modulated sense of humor. As far as everything else is concerned, from the mismatched buddy-cop dynamic between its leads to the unpleasant stereotyping of all involved, the song remains the same.
In this take, Foo’s Detective Lee, whose by-the-book approach to law enforcement would make the androids of “Almost Human” roll their eyes, first comes to LA investigating an audacious heist that resulted in the deaths of several officers — including his younger sister. Inflexible and unswerving, he’s partnered with, and immediately grates upon, Detective Carter (Hires), a boisterous chatterbox with a much more freewheeling, improvisational style.
Anyone who’s seen the original “Rush Hour,” or just about any primetime procedural, will be able to anticipate every turn long before the show makes it. Lee may know the law, but Carter knows the streets, and these two need each other if they’re to avoid either getting shot or suspended (according to the series’ internal logic, those two options are about equally unappealing).
Based on the first episode alone, it’s painfully easy to envision what “Rush Hour” will look like as a week-to-week series. The action will scale down after the Jon Turteltaub-directed pilot’s over-the-top antics, and consequently the show will lean more on its comedic elements, from Lee’s decently played culture shock to Carter’s mile-a-minute banter.
Unfortunately, a shortage of laughs represents this series’ most obvious speed bump. For every slick sequence and outrageous situation the pilot sets up, “Rush Hour” is about as amusing as being stuck in highway gridlock. Foo and Hires aren’t operating on the same frequency, and there’s little chemistry between them. More worryingly, the pair have to contend with scripts that even audiences in the late ’90s would have deemed stale, ones that hit the same jokes repeatedly and have a nasty habit of pigeonholing characters based on race and gender.
Sure, it’s laudable that CBS, that most steadfast bastion of TV orthodoxy, is airing a show in primetime with two lead actors of color. But the characterization of Chinese baddies, African-American gangsters, and Hispanic officers, to note just three examples, runs skin-deep. Landing with a dull thud in the middle of a small-screen landscape that’s increasingly driven by movements toward narrative ingenuity and diversity of perspective, “Rush Hour” is ultimately just another cop show, and not a very fun one at that. All three films did more with the premise, and given how little interest the pilot generates in watching Foo and Hires vie for the same rapport Chan and Tucker spun into a successful franchise, those enamored of the basic concept would be better off with a box set than a season pass.
Starring Jon Foo, Justin Hires, Aimee Garcia, Wendie Malick.
On CBS, Thursday at 10 p.m.