Great Television Made In Brooklyn

A ‘Shift’ toward a better reality cop show

By David Hinckley / DAILY NEWS TV CRITIC

By just letting a good old-fashioned cop story tell itself, the new police “reality” show “The Shift” comes out a winner.

“The Shift” is a six-week series that follows homicide detectives from the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, and if trailing cops on murder cases sounds like familiar ground for television, there’s a reason: Each case, and each group of cops, can bring a fresh twist to the basic story line.

Sadly, we’re never going to run out of bad guys for the good guys to track down.

“The Shift” sets itself apart, perhaps ironically, by dialing the whole production drama down a couple of notches from most other cop “reality” shows.

Where the others often feature a breathless, melodramatic narration and swelling music, this one trusts the cops themselves to provide that drama, which they do.

Or, perhaps more accurately, they demonstrate that we don’t need all that manufactured hype. Just the challenge of finding and nailing a bad guy, when filmed skillfully, provides plenty of dramatic intrigue.

The producers didn’t send a preview copy of tonight’s opening episode. They sent what is projected as the third episode, in which Detective Christine Minka takes an out-of-town case in which a man has been missing for two months and no one has found a body.

Minka shows an endearing dark-humor streak right up front, remarking, “Hey, it’s fun to go look for bodies.” But her approach is serious and methodical. She talks to the last people who saw the apparent victim alive. When his truck is located, she checks it out and finds a person who was recently involved in buying it.

Piece by piece she narrows down theories, and then, when suspects emerge, she starts formulating a case.

Her interrogation of suspects and witnesses has a real-life feeling. It sounds professional without that TV-dialogue gloss.

It also moves forward. While the suspects don’t crack like they do on scripted shows, the viewer can see her tightening the screws, letting the bad guys know they were wrong when they thought they’d gotten away with it.

Minka, not an ominous voice-over, carries the narrative thread and advances the story line.

Each episode features a different detective, so the show won’t be creating stars. But for a solid, interesting window into police work, which is nominally the goal of all cop “reality” shows, “The Shift” scores simply by trusting the people who do the job.

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