Series creator Steven Bochco is in a can’t-lose position with this series. If his much-publicized musical police-show is a hit, he’ll be hailed as the man who brought innovation to a mass audience. If it’s a ratings bomb, however, Bochco can claim that viewers are always begging for something new, but when you give it to them, they ignore it.
But there’s a third reasonable reaction to Cop Rock: This is innovation that no one needed — innovation for innovation’s sake. Cop Rock is a perfectly good police show; it carries the texture of Bochco’s Hill Street Blues — hard- boiled on the outside, mushy on the inside — into the ’90s.
When Bochco stops the action to have his actors burst into song, however, Cop Rock stops dead. In good musicals, the songs further the plot — they advance the action through the lyrics and the tone of the melody. In this show, the songs do the opposite. The material Randy Newman wrote for the premiere disrupted the mood of the scene every time: A somber courtroom jury erupts into a spirited gospel parody; a beautifully shot, frightening drug bust pauses to allow the suspects to break into a choppily written, lumbering rap tune.
The songs in the pilot weren’t top-notch Newman — if you heard them on one of his albums, you’d think he had lost his touch. And if a songwriter as gifted as Newman can’t redeem Bochco’s concept, how will any of the other, probably lesser, talents that Bochco will employ on future episodes fare any better? It’s too bad, because without the music, Cop Rock is a solid cop show. C