Benjamin Bratt made his name in the mid-’90s as Detective Rey Curtis on Law & Order. He was stoic, workmanlike, and good-looking, so he was granted a turn in film, where he remained good- looking and turned in a number of similarly stoic, workmanlike rolls. His most notable came as the drug kingpin Juan Obregón in Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic.
With his return to television, an A&E drama called The Cleaner, Bratt conflates the cop and the dealer, playing recovering heroin addict and (don’t laugh) “extreme interventionist” William Banks, who goes around doing radical things to help junkies hit rock bottom.
DON’T WORRY: So far (four episodes) these are cute, redeemable junkies — star varsity athletes, rock stars, and haute-suburban mothers. White people. These aren’t, like, poverty-stricken blacks or Latinos or anything. They aren’t even poor whites, the kind of junkies who might suggest drug problems are to a degree systematic, fed by crappy schools, inadequate legislative representation, wealth, disparity and an overwhelming lack of hope at the bottom. A junky who hits rock bottom and rebounds to a greeter position at Wal-Mart isn’t feel-good TV. It’s The Wire, which wasn’t entertainment, but a lens on our fucked-up times.
No, The Cleaner isn’t a lens on anything but the cult of personal responsibility. Bootstrap pull-ups and whatnot. The 12 steps.
Bratt’s turn is being hailed (by A&E’s PR mostly) as a coup for the small screen, another big name film actor taking a prestige role on basic cable. Benjamin Bratt is no Glenn Close, though. He’s no Holly Hunter. And The Cleaner, sad to say, ain’t much of a prestige role.
The idea of an ex-junky turned “extreme interventionist” isn’t bad, but it’s wrapped in gimmickry rather than being suffused with substance. Banks talks to God as a narrative device; there’s all sorts of annoying, inartful cutting and panning and split-screening.
Bratt is serviceable, given weak scripts. The rest of the cast doesn’t even rise to the milquetoast content. Grace Park, as much as it pains me to say (she purty), is a horrid actress. She’s terrible as a robot on Battlestar Galactica, and she’s robot-like here, as a hypersexual recovering user who wants to jump Banks bad.
If the show starts really tackling drug use and not pre-fab lust and guilt and family drama, we’ll have something. As is, no one’s dirty enough to need cleaning. •
Skins Yet another series about teens treating high school like the Zimbardo experiment,
except in Britain. A potentially interesting distinction. (BBC America, Sundays, 9 p.m.)
The Cho Show Growing up, I liked Margaret Cho’s sitcom. Living in a rural farming community, I felt it gave me a deep understanding of the one Asian kid I knew. Now that I know several Asians, wonder how this reality show will strike me. (VH1, Thursdays 10 p.m.)