Let’s start on a positive note, shall we?
Bulletproof, an adrenaline cop show from British broadcaster Sky, has two appealing leads, first-rate action sequences, Freamon from The Wire, and real cinematic style. I’m not sure what it’s doing on the CW instead of its big brother CBS, but maybe the scheduling geniuses at Radford wanted to see if an NCIS-style show could get any kind of summer bump on the network of Arrow and Supergirl.
When it debuted on Sky last year, Bulletproof earned thumbs-up from English reviewers for taking an established American film genre — the buddy-cop action show of Lethal Weapon, Bad Boys, etc. — and making it work on British terms. Set in London’s East End, Bulletproof stars Ashley Walters as a well-connected family man named Pike, and Noel Clarke as his partner Bishop, a loner who grew up in England’s notorious foster-care system.
Despite their differences, the two cops get on. Indeed, when Bishop is having problems with his girlfriend, Pike tells him matter-of-factly, “Pack your bags proper, you’re coming with me,” and brings him home to the wife and kids, who welcome their “Uncle Bishop” with open arms and breakfast in bed.
The Guardian’s reviewer singled out the bromance of Pike and Bishop as one of Bulletproof’s best things, writing that “it is gratifying to see two young actors take control of their careers by successfully creating their own vehicle, especially one that positions black men as both leads and positive role models.”
Pike’s dad, a higher-up in the police force, is played by Clarke Peters, who makes the most of every scene he shows up in. I did have to google to see whether Peters had picked up an American accent for The Wire, as Dominic West did, or a British accent for this show (it was the latter).
You might want to have the closed captions switched on for Bulletproof, as some of the accents are Yankee-proof. Then again, if you miss out on the dialogue on this show you’re not missing much. That’s because, thanks to director Nick Love, each episode of Bulletproof is chockablock with car chases, foot pursuits and other Hollywood octane movie tropes.
Another thing it’s loaded with: gunfire. Lots and lots of gunfire. Semi-automatics. Glocks. Assassin guns with silencers. Shooting and more shooting. Watching Bulletproof you would have no idea that London’s entire police force fire their guns fewer times in a year than Chicagoans did just last weekend.
And just like in our movies, innocent bystanders are always getting between the good guys with guns and the bad guys with guns. In one sequence in the second hour, Pike and Bishop take cover behind a London cab, telling the driver, “Get down!” Like that’s gonna help.
Whether this freewheeling gunplay is a tribute to American film or not, I could not give two hoots. All I know is the timing for Bulletproof’s premiere could not be more unfortunate. As I write this, newscasts have been playing nonstop video (and audio) of the assault-style weapon attacks in El Paso and Dayton this weekend; Chicago is reeling from its worst weekend of violence of the year; and my town, Kansas City, has had six people murdered in the six days since the new mayor was sworn in, including a 25-year-old social worker hit by a stray bullet when two knuckleheads got into an argument at a First Friday gathering downtown.
I realize that the word "bullet" is in the show’s title, but for the sake of a traumatized nation, this show should be preceded by a trigger warning.
It’s especially depressing to see a product this violent coming out of England, a country in which 90 percent of cops don’t carry a gun and those that do almost never fire them. Is this something we’re proud to export — scenes of men in black hoods walking through the streets of London calmly emptying their magazines just like a white nationalist on a killing spree at Walmart? A crime series filled with assault-style weapon fire is the last thing American viewers need to have rubbed in their faces right now.
But it’s best I not get too worked up, because it doesn’t look like Bulletproof has a future at CW. The premiere date was moved back three weeks at the last minute, which either makes it CW’s earliest fall series premiere or a late-summer burnoff. I’m guessing the latter. I do hope, though, that Noel Clarke and Ashley Walters pop up in future shows with more promise and less mayhem than Bulletproof.
Your turn: Will you be watching Bulletproof on The CW? Weigh in on our forums.
Aaron Barnhart has written about television since 1994, including 15 years as TV critic for the Kansas City Star.