Edie Falco’s CBS Drama Tommy Works to Update an Old Network FormulaPhoto Courtesy of CBS TV Reviews Tommy
Edie Falco’s career has been a fascinating one. After embodying Carmela Soprano, one of TV’s most iconic characters, she went on to headline Nurse Jackie for seven seasons. While the Showtime series didn’t become the same pop-cultural phenomenon as The Sopranos, it was still critically-acclaimed and boasted a devoted fan base—plus, it added to Falco’s Emmy collection.
In 2017, she made the move to network TV with NBC’s Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders, playing defense attorney Leslie Abramson. But the series came and went with little fanfare. Now Falco is back on broadcast again, this time in a more traditional CBS network drama as the title character in Tommy.
Falco portrays Abigail “Tommy” Thomas, the NYPD officer who becomes Los Angeles’ first female police chief after the department is rocked by a sex scandal. On the surface, Tommy is another case-of-the-week cop show (of which there are many, including The Rookie, FBI and Chicago P.D.). But CBS is no longer your parents’ play-it-safe network. This is the network that has brought us The Good Wife and Evil. They’re determined—in a few cases, at least—to spin that traditional mold at an angle.
So yes, in the first three episodes made available for review, Tommy investigates the death of a police officer, the murder of big time Hollywood producer, and an ICE detention case. And yes she utters stereotypical lines, including “If I fail, it will be another 20 years before they give another woman this job.” And, because she’s from New York, she’s in perpetual search of an authentic New York slice.
But there’s a lot more going on here. Tommy is estranged from her daughter Kate (Olivia Lucy Phillip) who has never forgiven her mother for putting her career first. Tommy is also gay, and her sexuality is discussed not in any gratuitous context, but rather, what it means to be a gay woman leading an entire police department.
The show also has the ongoing intrigue of Mayor Buddy Gray (Thomas Sadoski) struggling to come out from under the scandal, while remaining pretty knee deep in nefarious backroom dealings. The show is poised to work on several levels: a straight cop case of the week, an interpersonal drama about parenthood and forgiveness, and an ongoing political drama where the lines between good guy and bad guy are intentionally gray. It’s the kind of show where you can drop in occasionally to watch the whodunit of the week, or follow the ongoing romantic and familial strife, or track the overarching work-place intrigue and political machinations.
It’s no surprise that Falco presides over all of this with aplomb. She’s instantly believable, instantly real. You’ll root for her take-no-prisoners Tommy, be frustrated for her, question her decisions, and admire her decisiveness. She’s everything you need in a lead character. It helps that Falco is supported by a strong cast—in particular Sadoski, who walks the line of smarmy/not smarmy so very well. Relative newcomer and Kristin Dunst lookalike Adelaide Clemens also stands out as Tommy’s PR chief who is good at her job—sometimes almost too good.
The series is trying to tackle a lot of hot button issues from immigration reform to the “Me Too” movement to how the police treat people of color. And sometimes the dialogue can be clunky and over-the-top. “You giving these to every black man and woman in Los Angeles?” one man wonders after Tommy gives him her card.
But in general, Tommy is another worthwhile entry into network television trying to stay competitive and relevant in this ever-changing TV world.
Tommy premieres Thursday, February 6th on CBS.
Amy Amatangelo, the TV Gal®, is a Boston-based freelance writer, a member of the Television Critics Association and the Assistant TV Editor for Paste. She wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a child and now her parents have to live with this as her career. You can follow her on Twitter (@AmyTVGal).
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