Despite its title, Boomtown hasn’t made much noise in the ratings. NBC’s innovative rookie crime drama ranks a middling 56th for the season. After a brief hiatus to make room for the network’s other unique new series, ”Kingpin,” ”Boomtown” returns in a big way on March 2. Beginning at 11 a.m., the Peacock’s corporate sibling Bravo will air an 11-hour marathon of repeats, leading up to an original episode on NBC at 10 p.m. Don’t blow your chance to catch up.
Much of the show’s early press focused on its narrative conceit: A single case unfolds through the points of view of multiple characters, including LAPD detectives (Donnie Wahlberg and Mykelti Williamson), uniformed cops (Gary Basaraba and Jason Gedrick), a deputy DA (Neal McDonough), a newspaper reporter (Nina Garbiras), and a paramedic (Lana Parrilla). The gimmick drew inevitable comparisons to Akira Kurosawa’s 1950 film ”Rashomon,” but as the season progressed, ”Boomtown” has proven to be anything but derivative.
The storytelling structure isn’t just artiness for artiness’ sake. Instead, it ingeniously reflects the fractured nature of investigations, as law enforcement officials and the media struggle to fit together jagged pieces of evidence and testimony to form a cohesive picture. (Thus, a corpse that seemingly falls out of the sky into a backyard hot tub turns out to have been fired out of a circus cannon by the deceased’s best friend, who didn’t understand the guy was joking when he said that was his final wish.) Yet when the plots start getting too abstruse, creator Graham Yost (”Speed”) isn’t above throwing in a well-staged car chase or shoot-out.
Just as ”Law & Order’s” straight-ahead style perfectly suits the numeric grid of Manhattan, ”Boomtown’s” sprawling plots make it a quintessential Los Angeles drama. Like the city, the show has no center, and that’s its beauty.
What holds the series together, however, is its remarkably deep ensemble. Yost’s fellow ”Band of Brothers” veteran Wahlberg possesses a quality he never displayed as a member of ”New Kids on the Block:” soulfulness. His character, Det. Joel Stevens, juggles his police work with a nightmare home life; his wife, Kelly (Megan Ward), recently attempted suicide after their newborn baby died from SIDS. When Joel tortures himself with guilt over his unconsummated flirtation with EMT Teresa Ortiz (plucky ”Spin City” alum Parrilla), Wahlberg emanates the same haunted intensity he brought to his underappreciated role as Bruce Willis’ homicidal ex-patient in ”The Sixth Sense.”
As prosecutor David McNorris, McDonough could have come off as repellent – even for a lawyer. He’s a boozing self-aggrandizer who cheats on his wife with nakedly ambitious journalist Andrea Little (”The $treet” survivor Garbiras). But with his electric blue eyes and silver tongue, McDonough is like the world’s most attractive lizard, and his scenes with Garbiras crackle with a sexual charge.
An equally powerful (yet platonic) chemistry exists between patrol officers Ray Hechler (”Brooklyn South”’s Basaraba) and Tom Turcotte (”Murder One”’s Gedrick). A motormouthed pop-culture junkie, Ray sports a perpetual smirk, which explains why he’s never been promoted. Of course, his implication in a police-corruption scandal doesn’t help. Ray’s wiseacre nature balances partner Tom’s brooding over his own lack of career advancement, as well as his prickly relationship with his retired-cop father (David Proval, a.k.a. ”The Sopranos”’ Richie Aprile).
”Boomtown”’s wild card is Joel’s partner, Det. Bobby ”Fearless” Smith (”Forrest Gump”’s Williamson), who lives in the ironically named Oasis Motel, a flophouse where we first meet him enjoying the company of a $600-a-night hooker. He seems like a devil-may-care hedonist, but grief lurks beneath the surface: He’s dogged by visions of Freaktown (Miguel A. Nunez Jr.), a friend he failed to protect during Operation Desert Storm.
It’s this kind of unpredictability that makes ”Boomtown” so fantastic. One week, it’s a flashback-driven saga like ”Reelin’ in the Years,” in which the cops capture an ex-radical bank robber (guest star Patricia Wettig) who’s hidden out as a peaceful wife and mom for the past quarter century. Another week, it’s a giddy lark like ”Insured by Smith and Wesson,” which teams Ray with one of his idols, a cop-show has-been (”Jake and the Fatman”’s Joe Penny), to resolve a hostage situation. Then, in the March 9 episode, ”Execution,” it’s a ticktock thriller about a death-row inmate who threatens retribution unless McNorris saves his life.
The clock hasn’t run out on ”Boomtown” yet, but with reality shows gobbling up more hours on the networks’ schedules every week, it could face the firing squad if its numbers don’t improve by season’s end. And that, quality-TV lovers, is a more horrifying prospect than anything you’ll ever see on ”Fear Factor.”