April 29, 2019

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “The Red Line”


THE RED LINE:  Sunday 8PM on CBS

CBS waited until the final few weeks of the regular broadcast season to do something very un-CBS:  over the next 4 Sundays, it will air all 8 hours of the limited series THE RED LINE, an earnest social drama produced by Ava DuVernay and Greg Berlanti about the fallout of a racially charged unjustified police shooting in Chicago–one, no less, where the innocent victim isn’t just African-American, but part of a happy gay interracial marriage.  (Somebody pass the smelling salts to the network’s NCIS audience.)

Although DuVernay and Berlanti are the A-list non-writing Executive Producers attached to the project, the show’s actual creators are Caitlin Parrish (previously a writer/producer on Berlanti’s Supergirl) and Erica Weiss, who wrote the initial hour, directed by Victoria Mahoney.  (The back half of the first two-hour installment was written by Consulting Producer Shernold Edwards and directed by Kevin Hooks.)  Unlike FOX’s 2017 Shots Fired, which also revolved around a police shooting, The Red Line is more of a soapish character study than a thriller.  There’s no mystery here:  we see the shooting at the top, and it’s clear that the cop, Paul Evans (Noel Fisher), was wrong to shoot Harrison Brennan (guest star Corey Reynolds).

The story instead centers on Brennan’s husband, history teacher Daniel Calder (Noah Wyle), and their adopted daughter Jira (Aliyah Royale).  Jira is black, and the violent death of her father causes her to reach out to find out about her birth mother, whom she eventually learns is City Council candidate Tia Young (Emayatzy Corinealdi).  In addition, the show follows Evans, distrusted by some of his colleagues on the force (and too enthusiastically supported by others), and ashamed of his actions.

There aren’t any villains on The Red Line, at least in the early going, since even Evans is depicted with compassion as someone unconscious of his racist biases.  Daniel is unfailingly noble, and by the end of Episode 2, Tia has decided that despite the stress it may cause with her own husband, she can’t let Jira go on without maternal (and black) support.  This is admirable, but perhaps more so than dramatically thrilling.  The opening segments contain bits about insensitive cops and hard-nosed politicians, but in a very minor key, so The Red Line is mostly about decent people attempting to act decently.  There’s hardly any sign of selfish acts or bad motives, and with no mystery to be solved, what remains is a whole lot of sensitivity.

The excellent performances provide some needed complexity, especially from Wyle, Royale and Corinealdi.  There are also above-average production values for a broadcast series.  Despite its invocations of important subjects like race and gender, however, The Red Line seems to exist in a much less messy version of Chicago than cable’s Shameless or The Chi, to say nothing of the real-life city’s Jussie Smollett saga.  In that sense, even with its unexpected content and off-brand politics, the series doesn’t seem as far from the world of CBS as it might initially seem.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."