The Complete Series (2001-2002) (Shout! Factory-2005)
It is a mystery why Denis Leary has never become huge. He’s one of the funniest guys in show business, and yet none of his films or TV ventures seems to catch on. He is a brilliant stand-up comedian (just track down his old CD No Cure for Cancer) who has tended to stand out in a series of not very good movies. He never captured the potential he showed in his debut starring film, The Ref, with Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis, one of the great overlooked movies of the 90s. After that he got stuck as the third lead in a series of misconceived messes like Operation Dumbo Drop, Judgment Night (where he did play a pretty blood-curdling criminal), Two If by Sea, The Sandlot, Suicide Kings, The MatchMaker and The Thomas Crown Affair.
By 2000, his movie career was mostly limited to voiceovers in animated films (Ice Age, Small Soldiers, A Bug’s Life). So, he was hooked up with writer Peter Tolan to spin out some ideas for television. This show was the fruit of their labors. The Job was, for a short time, the funniest show on television and the cutting-edge of cool cop banter.
Sadly, the Job was on ABC during the whole Who Wants to Be A Millionaire? fiasco, where that game show series took up several timeslots a week. The constant barrage of Regis asking “Is that your final answer” knocked at least four of the best sitcoms (although none of the four could exactly be called sitcoms in the classic sense) off the net’s schedule, this one, Sports Night, Spin City and It’s Like, You Know… (release that great forgotten series on DVD, please!) The net hit a free fall when it jettisoned all of its good programming, a free fall that was only stopped this season with the hip new series Lost and Desperate Housewives. If those four vanished series were on ABC together with the new blood, ABC would be the hippest network on TV, wresting the title from HBO, which has lost or is losing Sex & The City, Six Feet Under and The Sopranos all in the period of a little over a year. However, as good as The Job was on ABC, it would have been even better if it was on HBO, so that the writers could have really let loose and not worried about standards and practices.
The Job follows the adventures of perhaps the most dysfunctional squad room in New York history. (Even Dennis Franz’ character of Andy Sipowicz on NYPD Blue would be the most grounded guy in this staff.) The ring-leader, and our hero, is Mike McNeil (Leary) a cop who is a smoker, a drinker, a gambler, a pervert, an occasional thief and has a drug problem. He has a beautiful and long-suffering wife (Valerie Mahaffey) on Long Island and a girlfriend (Karyn Parsons) in the city. He is out of shape, has anger management problems, and treats people like trash.
This doesn’t sound like someone that you’d want to hang around with, but The Job has a quirky, funny vibe that allows you to wallow in the bad behavior and the show does unexpected things with pat storylines. For example, there is the inevitable episode when McNeil has to go to anger management classes after being videotaped pulling an irate New York cabbie out through his window. However, unlike most shows which would make Mike atone for his sins, in The Job he wreaks havoc on the class, starting a riot and making the teacher (Zeljko Ivanek) cry. The basic philosophy of the squad is pretty much summed up by Frank (Lenny Clarke), “You’re a cop. Shoot him.” Mike and his co-horts will joke, play pranks and berate suspects on calls. He will chase men in wheelchairs down hills or pretend to beat up a suspect’s grandmother to get a confession.
“You sure those guys are cops?” a witness asks at the scene of a crime, and this is not an unreasonable question.
However, Mike does have an odd sense of honor. Though, granted, one that extends to other people but not him. For example, he was furious when he found out that the new boyfriend of Jan (Diane Farr of Loveline), the only woman in the precinct, is dating a man who turns out to be married. Can you believe that guy? Mike explodes with disbelief to his partner Pip (Bill Nunn of Do the Right Thing). “My married partner just got off the phone with his girlfriend,” Pip observes. “Now he’s upset because she couldn’t score the Tylenol with the codeine. No, I don’t believe that guy.”
Of course, Mike and Pip have different views on marriage. Pip has been married to Adina (Janet Hubert-Whitten) his overbearing, religious wife who disapproves of everyone in the squad; but particularly she dislikes Mike. “The Lord is going to smite him sooner or later,” Adina rages to Pip, “and I don’t want you standing next to his ass when it happens.” Still, she is the only woman that Pip has ever been with and he would never consider cheating on her. He also tells her squad room secrets, which amazes Mike, because he tells his wife NOTHING. “Your wife was just here,” Mike yelled at Pip when she made a surprise visit to talk with the Sergeant. “My wife doesn’t even know where this building is.”
Most of the other cops have dysfunctional relationships as well. Frank, the hefty, food-obsessed and just a little lazy older cop meets an old friend and asks him how he’s doing. The guy said he was getting a divorce, to which Frank effervesced, “You’re living my dream!” Terminally single lothario Tommy (Adam Ferrara) finally finds love with a violent, aggressive woman that they arrested on assault charges, stating dreamily that she reminds him of his mother. Ruben (John Ortiz), one of the shy rookies, has to deflect come-ons from elderly women and gays. Jan has the worst of it, though, in different episodes she dates married men, a cross-dresser, a bank robber and a homeless man. The worst romantic decision that Jan did not make, though, was the apparent mutual attraction that she felt for Mike, though neither of them were willing to act on it. In a commentary by Leary and co-creator Peter Tolan, the two did acknowledge this relationship was something they were planning on exploring down the road had the show been renewed.
It’s probably just as well that never happened. Mike is not one to get all touchy-feely, deflecting heartfelt conversations with a snide “All right, this is beginning to sound a little too much like a tampon commercial for my taste.” He is also extremely dismissive of people who can’t be of help to him, particularly women. At one point, when he pisses off a little girl who is the daughter of the district attorney, Jan cackles, “It’s official. Women of all ages hate you.”
The reason that this particular little girl hated him was because she was supposed to go a ride-along with Mike and Pip, but Mike made it very obvious she was a pain for him. He made her get them coffee and pick up his dry-cleaning. She also was doing a report for her school paper; which Mike also took lightly. When she asked if he took bribes, Mike said they considered them tips. When she asked how many unarmed men he had shot, he asked “Today?” Then she said, “So you think it’s right shooting unarmed people?” Mike replied flipply “Well, I don’t know if it’s right, but it makes a lot more sense than shooting the armed ones. Those guys are dangerous.”
The Job has an offbeat, sarcastic, slightly antisocial attitude that springs from its star. Luckily, Leary seems to be getting some success, on a more modest, cable-television scale, with his new series, Rescue Me, which explores the psyche of New York firefighters in the wake of the World Trade Center disaster. Some of the cast members of The Job have shown up on the new show. Ironically, that series is being released on DVD at the same time as this one. If you have just discovered Leary on the new series, give this lost treasure a shot.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2006 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: September 27, 2006.