We know from The Sopranos what Edie Falco can do with great writing. And now, thanks to Tommy, we know what she can do with procedural-tier writing. The four-time Emmy winner is so talented that she can make this formulaic CBS cop drama watchable. She can't quite make it good, but she saves it from being bad. The middling scripts give her just enough to work with to keep the show alive with warmth and wry humor delivered in her signature naturalistic style.
In Tommy, Falco plays Abigail "Tommy" Thomas, the first female chief of the Los Angeles Police Department. (Tommy is not based on anyone in particular; none of America's three largest cities have ever had a female police chief.) She's a former high-ranking NYPD officer who became a feminist icon outside the department and radioactive inside the department after reporting a deputy chief for sexual harassment. She was brought to Los Angeles by the mayor (Thomas Sadoski) after his police department was rocked by scandals of the previous chief of the LAPD sexually harassing women who worked under him and officers committing hair-raising sexual misconduct, and he was forced by the Justice Department to hire a woman to fix the optics.
But Tommy is not there to be a symbol; she's there to be the chief of police. So there's a new sheriff in town. (This is one of two "new sheriff in town" police procedurals this season, along with Fox's Deputy, which stars Stephen Dorff as a sheriff's deputy who gets unexpectedly promoted to overseeing the department. Both are set in Los Angeles and are cliched but passable thanks to strong lead performances. Fox's 9-1-1: Lone Star has a similar premise with the fire department. Broadcast TV is nothing if not consistent.)
Tommy runs the department with empathy and kindness, but she doesn't suffer fools or bad apples. She's willing to defy other members of law enforcement to protect the public, in a way that makes Tommy feel like it takes place in an alternate reality. In the premiere, she refuses to fully comply with an ICE detainment (also a plot thread in Deputy's premiere) of an undocumented Latin American immigrant and her daughter, and goes as far as to personally keep the girl from getting shipped to a shelter by sending her to stay with her own daughter Kate (Olivia Lucy Phillip), which would never happen. It's a liberal pipe dream that one woman would be able to fix a broken male-dominated institution like the LAPD, and Tommy indulges in the fantasy. But Tommy is trying to be the change it wishes to see in the world.
Ascribing too much political depth to Tommy is a fool's errand anyway. It's just trying to entertain by creating a character piece for Edie Falco, and on that front it succeeds well enough. It will grow stronger as it fleshes Tommy and the people around her out more. There are potentially rich relationships to be mined between Tommy and Kate, who resents her mother for placing the job over her when she was a child but is trying to get closer to her now that she has family problems of her own; Tommy and Blake Sullivan (Adelaide Clemens), a staffer in the chief's office who reminds Tommy a lot of herself when she was younger; and Tommy and Mayor Buddy Gray, whose personal ambitions sometimes align with Tommy's ideals and sometimes don't. Tommy will never be a great show, but as it settles into itself it will continue to grow into a perfectly serviceable one in the vein of Madam Secretary.
TV Guide rating: 2.5/5
Tommy premieres Thursday, Feb. 6 at 10/9c on CBS.