April 3, 2013


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Written by: Mitch Salem
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ROGUE:  Wednesday 9PM on Audience Network (DirecTV only) – Change the Channel

Remember when the phrase “cable drama” only implied a cheaper, racier version of a network cop show?  Subscribers to DirecTV can relive those years with ROGUE, its newest original programming and a series that gives Red Widow a run for its money as dopiest thriller of the season.

The rogue of the title is Grace Travis (Thandie Newton), who when we meet her is a San Jose detective on loan to the Oakland police (the show was actually shot in British Columbia, and makes little effort to hide it), where she’s working undercover and trying to infiltrate the gang of Hungarian mob boss Jimmy Laszlo (Martin Czokas).  Just when she’s ready to trap Jimmy and her gang, a tragedy occurs:  her 7-year old son is gunned down in what authorities insist was a random drive-by.  Grace, of course, knows better, and when the story resumes 4 months later, she’s at her frayed end, doggedly using her work to hide from her grief and her family (concerned husband–check; pot-smoking teen daughter–check) and hectoring the cops in both cities for progress on the investigation.  It naturally turns out that there is indeed a link between her son’s killing and Jimmy (the same distinctive bullets are used in an assassination attempt on him), and although she’s suspended from the force, and her cover is blown with Jimmy, the two of them start working together to find their common enemy.

There’s nothing particularly original about this, but it’s a sturdy enough premise.  Unfortunately, the show is startlingly badly written and shoddily made.  Tonight’s 2-hour premiere (Hour 1 written by series creator Matthew Parkhill and directed by Brian Kirk; Hour 2 written by Creative Consultant Jesse McKeown and directed by David Frazee), is like every direct-to-video movie whose box you’ve ever walked by in the supermarket, or whose title you’ve barely paused on when scanning the Cinemax 3 listings.  The dialogue is rudimentary, the lighting is dim, and the plot twists are predictable (there’s a mole on the police force–and a traitor in Lazslo’s gang!).  Even the sound recording sounds flat, somehow, as though the show, despite being in English, had to be entirely post-synched.

As the kind of on-the-edge undercover cop who snorts coke and has a killer party dress hidden in her fleabag cover apartment–and will almost certainly find herself in bed before long with her criminal partner–Newton works very hard, so much so that in comparison with her wooden co-stars, she sometimes seems overwrought.  (You can picture the other actors chucking at her after a take and saying “Why don’t you just relax?  We get paid either way.”)  The Lazslo gang is mostly bearded, so we’ll know they’re ethnic, while the San Jose men are as WASPy as possible.  Ian Hart, as the colorful Oakland detective who sleeps with his informant hookers, takes bites out of the scenery when he gets a chance, and participates in a sex scene that pushes the envelope in some shots even by pay-TV standards.  (And not to be rude, but Ian Hart isn’t the performer you’d pick as first choice for a scene that explicit.)

DirecTV started its original programming drive on a firmly classy path, partnering on additional episodes of Friday Night Lights and Damages, and then going its own way with Chloe Sevigny in the transsexual hired killer melodrama Hit & Miss, which may not have been good but was definitely memorable.  With Rogue, the service goes to the other extreme, apparently determined to make as disposable and second-rate a piece of television as one can imagine.   It’s an odd strategy when trying to build a brand, and not an admirable one–but in this television world suddenly cluttered with quality, maybe now it’s the lousy shows that stand out.

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."