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Kelly Lawler USA TODAY

Published 11:36 AM EST Feb 6, 2020

When looking for the first female police chief of Los Angeles, Edie Falco is an obvious choice. 

Well, sure, in real life Falco probably isn't actually qualified to be in charge of the police force of America's second-largest city, but the "Sopranos" and "Nurse Jackie" actress has an inherent gravitas (and New York accent) that broadcasts, ever-so-plainly, "I'm in charge."

So it seems more than natural to see Falco as the anchor of "Tommy" (premiering Thursday, 10 EST/PST, ?? out of four), CBS' new procedural about LA's top law enforcement officer and Falco slides into the role with predictable ease.

If only the rest of the show in any way lived up to her. 

"Tommy" is an old sheep in new sheep's clothing, the latest twist on the cop show with a higher-ranking officer and a glass ceiling buster to separate it from other LA police dramas. (It's also shot in New York, where Falco lives.) But at least in the three episodes available for review, the differentiators don't add up to much more than window dressing.

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The series kicks off as Abigail "Tommy" Thomas is appointed LA's police chief after a series of scandals and sex crimes forced the old one (Corbin Bernsen) into early retirement. A judge told Mayor Buddy Gray (Thomas Sadoski) that he had to find a woman to take control of one of the country's biggest police forces, so he calls on Tommy, a celebrated New York cop who makes the move to the West coast. While in LA, she reunites with her estranged daughter Kate (Olivia Lucy Phillip), and attempts to navigate the politics of police headquarters and City Hall. 

Falco crafts a compelling lead for the series, making full use of her commanding presence as an actor. She's understated and humble, charismatic and magnetic. She doesn't take her symbolic role as both the first woman and the first lesbian to hold the job lightly.  Her leadership style is at odds with the forceful, often angry men around her. The series is at its best when Tommy is in conflict with her less-than-respectful underlings and wins with a softer touch. 

But everything except Falco's performance lands rather dully. The writers fail to make the supporting cast nearly as compelling. Kate is inconsistent, sometimes flighty and hysterical, other times grounded and responsible, making her hard to pin down.

The mayor and his deputies' Mafia don demeanor removes any ambiguity about their antagonism toward Tommy. 

Each week Tommy has a crisis to deal with (a tense encounter between an officer and immigration agents, an officer who died in the line of duty) which meet the minimum requirements for a network procedural. But the continuing  stories about Tommy are so intensely focused on her gender, they become repetitive after just three episodes. Kate thinks being a cop made Tommy a bad mother. City power players assume that being a woman makes her a bad chief. So far, there isn't much more nuance than that, although the series has plenty of room to grow. 

When you're an actress as lauded and talented as Falco, it's hard to find material that measures up. Showtime's "Jackie" provided an excellent showcase after a long run on "Sopranos," but NBC's 2018 miniseries "Law and Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders" also fell short of her talents. 

Tommy, with her level-headed wisdom and tactical prowess, feels just a little too good for the ungrateful LA she protects and serves.

And Falco is too good for "Tommy."


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