The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week: Listening and Learning on The Rookie

“I’m proud of you.”

When Lucy Chen said those four little words to her Training Officer, Tim Bradford, on the latest episode of The Rookie, it felt like something big—for these characters, for their relationship, and for this show as a whole. And it’s not just because Tim Bradford seems like the kind of guy who is more familiar with a dad who would “tune him up on the regular” than someone telling him they’re proud of him.

Big things are happening on The Rookie this season, and it’s time we talked about them.

The Rookie is a police procedural, and it’s a police procedural filmed with a lot of help from the LAPD. It’s often claimed that it’s different from other police procedurals because it’s committed to accurately and honestly depicting what life is really like for patrol officers. But for its first two seasons, those claims of accuracy and honesty never felt fully realized because the show never dared to take a long, hard look at police brutality and violence, racial profiling, abuses of power, the ways police departments close ranks, and the other ugly truths about the relationships between law enforcement and communities of color, especially Black communities.

This summer, though, it became clear that things needed to change. Between social media and traditional media outlets putting the focus on the problems inherent in “copaganda” movies and TV shows and reservations brought to the creator by at least one of its stars (Titus Makin Jr., who plays rookie officer Jackson West), The Rookie was at a crossroads: It could continue to press on as it had been—ignoring the harsh realities in favor of entertainment—or it could try to be more, to be better.

The powers that be chose the latter, and the show is much better for it.

With a partnership with advocacy group Color of Change and a writers room featuring more diverse voices (in addition to a cast that features all but two main characters played by people of color), The Rookie approached its third season with a clear focus and a new mission: to reflect real systemic problems and to show them in detail rather than in one “special episode.”

Most of the attention surrounding that focus and mission has been given to a storyline involving Makin’s Officer West and his new Training Officer, Doug Stanton. Stanton, with his racial profiling, excessive use of force, threats, and racist beliefs and actions, is an example of the kinds of police officers responsible for the deaths of George Floyd and so many others, as well as the over-policing of Black communities and other systemic issues in the criminal justice system.

But it would be easy to just write this new character off as a “bad guy” who gets taken down by all of our favorite police officers, the ones who’ve always been guided by strong moral compasses.

And taking the easy way out is not the m.o. for this show this season. Instead, it’s committed to showing how men like Doug Stanton can get into positions of power and stay there, even when so many people around them know exactly who they are—and how dangerous that can be.

Enter Tim Bradford.

For as much as Doug’s story is the obvious lens through which we see the problems and privilege inherent in the system, Tim’s story this season has presented an even more nuanced look at all of these issues. We know Tim is a good man. We know that he has a strong moral code that he lives by. We know he’s not a racist.

But we also know that he’s stayed silent while men like Doug have continued to rise through the ranks. We know that he’s brushed off Jackson’s genuine concern about Doug. We know that he’s questioned what can really be done about situations like the one Jackson has found himself in.

Tim—and even Sergeant Grey (a Black man serving as Watch Commander)—are part of the problem. But The Rookie has shown us that they can also be part of the solution. And it all starts by listening and learning. It starts by listening to Jackson’s concerns and learning when he says that silence is complicity. It starts by listening when Doug shows who he really is and learning that some things are bigger than having each other’s backs.

And it starts by listening when your own abuses of power are brought to light and learning to be better.

Enter Lucy Chen.

Lucy has never been afraid to challenge Tim, to question him, and to call him out when he needs it. It’s what makes her such a good match for him and what fuels what’s almost universally considered the show’s strongest partnership. And in this episode, we see Lucy confront Tim about a moment from their past that’s stuck with her—and not in a good way.

In the show’s pilot episode, Tim tests Lucy by asking her to translate something offensive for a group of Latino gardeners. And when Lucy brings it up in this episode, asking Tim to think about how he was terrorizing those people just to test her, she’s doing more than just making Tim confront an uncomfortable part of his past in order to grow.

She’s making the show confront an uncomfortable part of its past in order to do the same.

That moment in the pilot was focused more on how much of a jerk Tim was being to Lucy rather than the implications of him abusing his power toward a marginalized group of people. It was an uncomfortable moment, but it was never brought up again. We were supposed to forget it and focus on Tim as a complex, conflicted grouch with a heart of gold.

By bringing up that moment now and highlighting how wrong it was, it seems like the show is acknowledging that its framing and story choices and even small character beats have often been far from perfect and have often brushed difficult topics under the rug.

But there’s a way to be better. And it starts with acknowledging past failings.

As Tim tells Lucy later, “I can’t undo it, but I can make sure I never do it again.”

That moment—with Tim admitting to Lucy that he’s not mad at her for bringing up what he did; he’s mad at himself for doing it in the first place—is a major moment of growth for a character who continues to do the hard work of becoming a better person and a better police officer with almost every episode. Tim is a realist; he knows he can’t change the past. But he also knows that he can make changes to do the right thing in the present and in the future—and it starts by continuing to listen and learn. Luckily, Tim is open to learning as much from Lucy (and now, it seems, from Jackson too) as she’s learning from him.

The honesty of their conversation, the merciful way the show let Tim act upset for about 5 minutes before revealing his frustration was with himself (rather than dragging out the drama), and the genuine remorse on his part and pride on hers all prove that for as much as Doug’s storyline is the more dramatic one this season so far, Tim’s storyline is my favorite story on TV right now. It’s a story of a good man who’s learning that he’s part of a problematic system and whose privilege and silence have far-reaching effects.

And it’s a story of a good man who’s doing what he can to face that truth—and to be better.

In many ways, Tim’s story is the story of the show itself—a journey of confronting your part in a racist system rife with abuses of power and learning from it instead of pretending there’s nothing you can do about it.

It’s a journey to be proud of.

What was the best thing you saw on TV this week?

10 thoughts on “The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week: Listening and Learning on The Rookie

  1. I really love everything about this pick and am very excited to catch up on the show before it comes back in a couple weeks. Also I just love Titus and I’m proud of him for telling Alexi that he needed something different from the show in order for him to feel comfortable continuing with it. That can’t have been easy.

    My Expanse moment of the week is actually a tie between Amos choosing to back up Clarissa’s desire to save everyone even though it was a terrible use of resources and Clarissa explaining to Amos’s brother Erich why it was important to save them because people needed to look out for each other. The first moment was such a huge moment of growth for Amos, violence or turning people away was the smarter option from a resource management perspective but it wasn’t the right choice and once he was reminded of that, he was willing to put his faith in her ability to know the difference. He hasn’t always trusted that in others and survival has always been his top priority but he doesn’t want to be that person and it was good to see him back that up. And I will just forever love a sci-fi show that recognizes that we need each other and should help others without needing any further justification or analysis based on how useful the person may be to a cause. Clarissa and Erich have such a wonderfully unexpected dynamic where he does not understand that drive to do good at all and is also a little scared of her because she’s capable of so much more violence than he was expecting when its in defense of others.

    But my episode favorite was definitely Wandavision. I am extremely into Wanda being the one doing this (assuming there’s not a villain pulling the strings somewhere) and the lengths she will go through to exist in a world where she and Vision got a happy ending. Her refusal to accept his loss isn’t a good thing by any means and it’s taking her on a darker path that I’m fascinated by because Elizabeth Olsen is so good in this role. Also Monica Rambeau forever. She’s truly the best of her moms and carrying on their legacy in a way that would make them proud.

    • Just cosigning onto Monica Rambeau forever. And yes, while I cheated below, you are correct and I stand with you that this week’s episode of Wandavision was the best thing on TV. It was 40 minutes I didn’t feel and that gave me so much. It literally did not waste a moment of time or storytelling. I’ve been so impressed by its purposefulness in each episode, which just had epic levels of connective tissue this week. Beginning to hone in our universe while establishing new questions in the process is the best kind of braided storytelling for me. It’s deeply satisfying and unlike some of the complaints I am glad I am watching this on a weekly basis. If for no other reason it really adds to the device they are using with episodic television within the universe of their storytelling. I am here for it. All that said and in an episode that captured one of the best recall devices I’ve ever seen I will remain haunted by the closing shot of vision looking outside of the universe Wanda’s created and straight on out to us the viewer looking in. It was fantastic.

    • I’m so excited for you to catch up on The Rookie and share all your feels with me because you will have MANY. Also, thank you for continuing to give me feels every week about The Expanse! You know I’m always here for the theme that we all need each other and that we’re better when we help each other.

      Also, YES to WandaVision. I was so close to writing about it this week, but my heart couldn’t stray from Tim Bradford. 😉 So I’m thrilled you’re giving us this opportunity to talk about it! I don’t know how they dropped so much exposition into such a short episode without ever making it feel bogged down or rushed. It was perfectly balanced, and even as someone who would have been happy continuing to watch weird sitcom homages, I can admit this was perfectly placed to give us just enough answers and ask just enough new questions. And yes, Monica Rambeau is the best of her two moms, and I adore her. She devastated me in that opening scene (which was BRILLIANT and horrifyingly realistic) and continued to be such a great pair of eyes for us to see this world through. And I’ll continue to scream about Elizabeth Olsen until the end of time because she deserves an Emmy for this performance. The heartbreaking flash of sadness when Vision tells her they don’t have to stay there fading to icy cool creepiness when she tells him this is their home is my favorite single beat of acting in a long time.

  2. OK, I am in. I will endeavor to catch up and discover the show you just talked about, because as a person who’s always loved the genre I didn’t jump into the Rookie, I was concerned and held the after taste of the creative team of that last season of Castle and never fully engaged. What you’ve laid out for season 3 makes me think there is substance, not performative action and that’s time worth investing. I have my comments for Wandavision saved for Heather’s post so I will move on to my best thing I saw this week.

    Sundance Film Festival is virtual this year. So while not the dream of attending the festival, it’s still exciting to access the myriad of film selections that they are offering and like much of the industry the commitment to storytelling and films that reflect a breath of experiences and stories. I saw an interesting handful of films this weekend from coming of age, to noir, to kicking myself for missing out on purchasing a ticket for Passing with Tessa Thompson. But lets be honest, a documentary about Rita Moreno was featured in this year’s festival, was there going to be anything better that I watched?

    Yes I carry infinite bias when it comes to Rita Moreno. Yes, she has been the reflection I looked to since I was five years old and yes she embodies everything that I think of when I think about integrity, hope and tenacity. I also know a ridiculous amount of about the stories that define her “Hollywood Story”. Yet somehow this documentary did more and gave me more. It gave me the vulnerability and freedom that comes from releasing our stories on our terms. To hear others like Morgan Freeman or Norman Lear or Lin Manuel Miranda talk about the importance of the story we tell about ourselves, when for the first half of her life it was told through the prism of someone else misrepresentation and misconception. How she navigated the violence and misogyny of Hollywood but never let go of her dreams. And how she navigated the world with dignity only to come full circle to the best time and years of her career in the last decade. To hear her talk about abortion and therapy unwaveringly and unapologetically flies in the face of cultural norms she was raised under.

    And ultimately among the myriad of candid conversations and clips to hear her say, almost to herself on reflection as a call to arms — “How we keep dragging our past into the present. I am so blessed. Damn the shadows and here’s to the light.” Rita Moreno for me has been a light in so many ways. To have met her the dream come true. To see and know that beacon is fortified in truth, vulnerability and dignity made that documentary the best thing I saw on TV this week.

    • First of all, I would love to have you watching The Rookie with us! I fully shared your concerns about the creative involved before Katie’s enthusiastic rec last season and the story this season is telling and the way they have chosen to do so has been some of the best I can remember from network television in a while, especially a procedural.

      I could read your thoughts on Rita Moreno all day. I love who she has been for you throughout your life and that this documentary does her story and life justice. I will be looking forward to eventually watching this one!

    • First of all, how did I not know there was going to be a Rita Moreno documentary???? I have loved her since I was a preteen and immediately imprinted on Anita when I watched West Side Story for the first time. I’m now beyond excited about this movie, and, as always, I could read your thoughts on her all day every day. That quote is beautiful, and I’m so glad you’ve had her example as a light to follow for so much of your life. I see reflections of her fierce strength and joy in you, and it makes me smile. (I’m also now kicking myself that I didn’t know until too late that Sundance was virtual! Oh well, I’m still holding out for my plan of TIFF someday soon—it was supposed to be in 2020, but…you know…)

      And now onto The Rookie! I would love for you to join Heather, Leah, and me in this little corner of our fandom world! Like you, I wasn’t really looking forward to it when it aired because of how that last season of Castle went down. In fact, I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to watch. But then my family put the pilot on and there was nothing else to watch, so I tuned in…and then I met Lucy Chen. And I didn’t want to love her. I didn’t want to love the show. But she was smart and strong and small but mighty and talkative and open, and I have a type in favorite characters. 😉 Then, they paired her with the broken, cynical guy who keeps everyone at arm’s length, and I have a type in favorite relationships. 😉 I was a goner from the start.

      And even though it has its typical procedural ups and downs, it’s surprisingly character driven, and the characters who often drive it are a trio of amazing women who I now need you to meet like I need little else. And this season has been such a fantastic exploration of not just the problems inherent in police departments but also the problems inherent in police procedurals, and I’ve been thoroughly impressed with the stories they’re choosing to tell and their commitment to backing up their words with partnerships with advocacy groups.

      I’m just saying, if I end up writing “10 Reasons Why You Should Be Watching The Rookie,” it’s all your fault. 😉

  3. Katie!! This is such a good, thoughtful post. You write about The Rookie with so much care, not only for the characters but also for the messages the show is sending, and I love that you’re able to hold it accountable while still loving it. And it seems like the show is doing the same! This makes me really impressed with the work The Rookie is doing. I’m glad it’s treating this story as more than just a very special episode. I’m moving it up my list!

    You already know I think you should watch Dickinson and fall in love, but this week’s episode (short version: Emily and friends go to the opera) was the one that made me reach out to you about it. It’s stunning. It really pulls together everything Dickinson does well, using these dizzying, surreal fantasies to say something true about the depth of Emily’s passion. She has to write because she loves so deeply; she wants people to love her writing because she wants to be loved in return. It’s about poetry and loneliness and needing to feel seen and how it’s impossible to separate all of those artistic impulses from the deepest parts of us. And then it’s funny, too. It’s just such a gem.

    • Thanks, Kelly! I was really hoping to keep writing about The Rookie in whatever little ways I can as the season progresses, but I was worried about balancing my love for it with my understanding that certain aspects of it need to be called out. I’m so glad that balance worked for you in this post. And I’m very lucky that the show itself seems ready to hold itself to a higher standard and take a long look at things it’s done in the past that were problematic and addressing them as such (like Tim’s actions in the pilot and the typical way the show used to handle IA as enemies rather than important). I’m really excited that I can tell people to watch the show and not feel weird about it, so I’m all about you moving it up your list (there are no fewer than 3 badass ladies I need you to meet ASAP).

      And now onto Dickinson! I think I might actually try to start diving into S1 this weekend because you have me so excited to get to S2. The fact that you thought of me when you watched what sounds like such a wonderful and meaningful episode makes me so happy, and the themes you talk about sound like exactly what I need. I can’t wait to start!

  4. Pingback: The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week: The Bravery of Jackson West on The Rookie | Nerdy Girl Notes

  5. Pingback: TV Time: The Rookie 3.06 | Nerdy Girl Notes

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