King & Maxwell Series Premiere Review: Another Formulaic Addition to TNT's Ampersand Family (and That's Okay)

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King & Maxwell S01E01: "Pilot"

One of the questions I hear all the time, from people on Twitter and even my parents, is why people don't talk about and/or review procedurals. Because in reality, procedural television is much more popular with general audiences than stuff like Mad MenGame of Thrones, and Community. Yet, we typically eschew coverage of procedurals because oftentimes, it's difficult to find things to say about them every week. I personally enjoy a large number of procedural series, but few of them are worth analyzing on a regular basis. No shots, they're just different kinds of shows. 

I say all this to preface the statement that King & Maxwell is a show that I could very easily see myself watching this summer. I literally didn't know anything about its premise until yesterday, but after watching the pilot, I have set a season pass, and I'll probably watch every episode. But that doesn't mean the new TNT drama is exceptionally good, or even that interesting. This premiere featured a few out-of-nowhere moments, but mostly stuck to very familiar territory and relied on the still-developing chemistry between its leads, Jon Tenney (as King) and Rebecca Romijn (as Maxwell). Barring something really fascinating or weird happening in the next few episodes, I can't imagine that I'll want to write about it again, but that's okay. King & Maxwell is just fine, and it's okay for TV shows to be just fine.

The detective duo conceit, mixed gender or not, is about as played-out as you can get, but it still works when the two halves of the duo in question bounce off one another well. TNT certainly doesn't have any patents on this framework, but the network seemingly wants to have as many shows as possible with two names linked by an "and" or an ampersand in the title. In the channel's grand scheme of things, King & Maxwell falls somewhere between Rizzoli & Isles (good enough) and Franklin and Bash (I love Mark Paul Gosslear as much as the next '90s kid, but bro, that show is bad). Weirdly, Rizzoli & Isles and Franklin and Bash don't have the narrative capability to resolve any sort of sexual tension (though I'm sure Tumblr is taking care of that just fine), but King & Maxwell jumped into that path of storytelling pretty quickly. The two titular characters are disgraced ex-Secret Service agents who now run their own makeshift private-eye firm, and while there is clearly great respect between King and Maxwell, he's not shy about leering into the bathroom while she showers or getting huffy when she brings up old flames. The show is based on a series of novels from popular author David Baldacci, and apparently the characters keep things platonic in that medium; we'll see their relationship translates to television, where producers revel in toying with viewers' hearts.

There's not too much more overt sexual tension between the two, but the pilot does rely on the type of banter that all these shows rely on. You know the kind—they're quipping non-stop, finishing each other's sentences, and badgering each other about things disassociated from the current case. Somewhat surprisingly, the banter is solid enough. Tenney and Romijn are still figuring things out, and at times, Shane Brennan's pilot script didn't do them any favors (she's organized, but messy! He's a wild card, but crafts smart plans!). However, both of the leads are seasoned television pros, and they kept scenes moving forward with enough energy that the exposition about their pasts ("We've been partners for almost 12 months") didn't drag down the proceedings too much. Still, the premiere was a too heavy on backstory tidbits and character definition; King is a Secret Service agent turned lawyer turned private investigator who is also an expert hacker, and probably a gourmet sous chef as well. 

But we while we know the titular duo will be a constant, I'm a little curious to see what King & Maxwell looks like on a week-to-week basis, because the episodic plot is a kind of nuts. Not only did it get excessively confusing in the final act of the pilot, bringing in multiple stuffy government types who were poorly defined and not necessarily interesting, but it also relied on a character named Edgar Roy (played by Sons of Anarchy's Ryan Hurst) and what amounted to some kind of amalgamation of the machine from Person of Interest, the technology Batman used in The Dark Knight, and whatever the hell that thing was in Eagle Eye. For a TNT procedural, a story about surveillance societies and expert Autistic savants felt pretty weird (and also pretty weirdly prescient in some ways). By the time the conclusion rolled around and King, Maxwell, and Edgar were standing in some dark facility that accessed All the Information, I didn't feel like it totally tracked. It more or less felt like a confounding end to a novel, which makes some sense. Is Edgar sticking around? Probably. Will the weirdo super-computer be a thing? I don't know; that seems a little high-concept for this kind of show.

Ultimately though, it doesn't really matter. King & Maxwell is far from great, but also far from poor. It's the sort of populist fare that does big business for TNT, especially in the summer, and though I don't want to talk about it much more, I'll probably be watching right along with you.


LEFTOVER AMPERSANDS

– Shane Brennan has made or helped make very popular television shows like NCIS and NCIS: LA. This show is right in his wheelhouse, and I suspect it'll be in better shape than some of its peers because of his involvement.

– Michael Katleman's direction was actually kind of interesting. His use of different color filters (the blues, oranges, and yellows were most obvious) wasn't the kind of touch you regularly see in pilots like this—even if he probably overdid it by end of the episode.

– I'd be curious to hear from some book fans how well this pilot tracks with its source material. Should I expect more super-computer?


Did you tune in for King & Maxwell's premiere? What'd you think?