There’s only one reason why I made it my business to tune into the premiere of The Inside last week, a new moody and atmospheric drama on Fox about an FBI special crimes unit.
Minear, a writer and producer who emerged from Joss Whedon’s unparalleled television universe (Angel, Firefly), has emerged as one of the key players to watch on the TV scene. After the critically heralded Wonderfalls was cancelled following a short run last year, Minear is now bringing his uniquely edgy and comically attuned vision to the police procedural.
Since I don’t watch very many “cop shows” (FX’s The Shield being the big exception) I was a little leery after watching the first several minutes of the premiere episode of The Inside. A dead body turns up, and a bunch of cops (or in this case, Feds) show up to investigate the scene. “How many times have I seen this?” I thought, as my highly sensitive and easily activated Boredom Alert System pinged from blue (neutral) to yellow (alert).
But as with Angel — which proved to be much more than just another “vampire show” and in some ways surpassed the brilliant and groundbreaking Buffy the Vampire Slayer — The Inside builds upon a great ensemble cast, sharp dialogue, and off-beat pacing to slowly, surely, and inevitably snare the viewer into what can only be described as a revelatory experience: watching something on television that you haven’t seen before.
The Inside also establishes a downbeat, almost noir tone that sets the stage for what appears to be a show about federal agents who go after serial killers. It’s the emphasis on character, however – particularly the glimpse into a mysterious abyss of questions surrounding several of the main players – that made the show worth watching and will keep me coming back throughout the summer.
Rachel Nichols stars as Special Agent Rebecca Locke, the new member of a special task force that has some kind of vague authority to follow cases wherever they might lead. This, I believe, will give the show flexibility as it will allow for both undercover and procedural plotlines.
The old crotchety boss is given a nice twist by way of Peter Coyote in the role of Virgil “Web” Webster. The character arc of the show will likely focus upon the reason that Web selected each member of the elite team. He has, we’re told, an ability to pick assets and then control them to suit his needs. Special Agent Paul Ryan, portrayed by Jay Harrington, professes to be Web’s “conscience.” So, already, there’s an entertaining trio of characters put in play: the manipulative yet effective boss, the brainy upstart recruit, and the wizened and impassioned voice of reason.
Then there’s the great Adam Baldwin as Special Agent Danny Love. I’ve been a fan of Baldwin’s every since his loopy portrayal as the evil alien in the first Men in Black film, but to me he’ll forever be a man named Jayne. The hilariously narcissistic rouge he brought to life on Firefly should go down as one of the great yet short-lived character roles in the history of television. On The Inside, Baldwin is keeping it a little bit close to the vest thus far, but still managed to land a few great one-liners (and grimaces).
That’s the thing, too, about Minear and The Inside: there’s more than a healthy dose of humor and humanity to leaven the darkness. That, far above the serial killers and the plot twists and revelations and chases, will keep me coming back throughout the summer.