CBS' Golden Boy asks the age-old question: How far will someone go to succeed?
The new cop drama (premiering Tuesday at 10/9c before moving to Fridays at 9/8c on March 8) tells the story of Walter William Clark Jr. (Theo James), a young beat cop who eventually become the youngest NYPD police commissioner ever in just seven short years. But as the flash-forwards that bookend his present-day misadventures as a homicide detective demonstrate, Walter has definitely paid the price for his success.
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"I didn't want him to be an American hero," James tells TVGuide.com of his character's future self. "I wanted him to be a damaged guy. You have this much older guy. [It's only been] seven years, but in terms of his loss, he's a shell of a man. It raises the game and you want to know how that happened and you see the juxtaposition between the two characters."
So how did that happen? That's still a bit of a mystery. "I don't exactly know what the story is that takes us there," creator and executive producer Nicholas Wootton tells us. "But I do know that I want to end with understanding what it takes to get him there and ultimately what kind of man he is now. The reason for the framing device is basically telling us, 'Look he makes it.' He's going to survive, which takes away an element of suspense from the storytelling. But it also gives it depth because now we have to say: What kind of a man is he? Was it worth it? And was it worth it to the people around him? That's the big mystery: What did it cost him?"
And the people around him are important. The pilot episode's present-day story line shows Walter's first day on the job as a detective. Although he wants to partner up with the department's current hotshot Detective Christian Arroyo (Kevin Alejandro), he's instead stuck with Detective Don Owen (Chi McBride), a veteran who seems more interested in retirement than taking on a trainee. But it's Owens who will ultimately put Walter — who helped care for his younger sister Agnes (Stella Maeve) when the pair was abandoned by their parents — on the right path. "He doesn't have parental figures and he's a lone wolf," Jones says. "So [Owen] becomes a father figure for better or for worse, and he shapes him. So, it's also a buddy bromance."
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Adds Wootton: "[Walter] really is immature. I don't think he realizes or understands the notion of immaturity because he's someone who had to grow up very quickly. When we meet him, he thinks of himself as a complete person. He realizes meeting Owen... he isn't necessarily the person he wants to be right now. There's evolution in terms of being a cop, a man, a brother to his sister and personal relationships as well. ... But he makes mistakes. Evolution is a rocky path."
Of course, Walter isn't the only one growing because of the relationship. Wootton says Walter awakens something in Owen, who carries some guilt over a case from his past. "Having someone to teach along the way helps Owen make amends for it and gets the love back for the game that he lost," he says. "It's another thing that brings these two together. By then end of the season, they're pretty close. Then the last episode blows it all apart."
Which raises the question: How much payoff will there be for the flash-forward teases? Acknowledging CBS' recent trouble launching midseason shows, Wootton promises that the 13-episode first season pays off the mysteries it creates while also setting up what potentially would be the second year of Walter's rise to power.
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As for that climactic season-ender, James suggests that one crucial event will go a long way toward explaining just how far Walter will indeed have to go for his reward. "There's a massive massacre and if we're so lucky to go for second season, that will change his path again way back to the dark side," he teases. "[He] has to push back and realizes the only way to push back is to go to that darker side."
And who else survives that massacre? "I'm not sure [the writers] know exactly who, but he's definitely lost most significant people in his life," James says. "I wanted him to be as alone as possible. He has everything at the beginning but none of the power. Then [at the end] he has all the power, but nothing he had at the beginning."
Golden Boy premieres Tuesday at 10/9c on CBS.