By John Hanlon
Whiskey Cavalier is the latest procedural to feature two mismatched individuals partnering up to help stop crime. Like Castle, Elementary or the short-lived Take Two, this new ABC drama relies on a traditional template to tell its weekly stories.
The pilot episode — which premiered after the Academy Awards in a sneak preview — focuses on the set-up. Scott Foley (Felicity) stars as Will Chase, a sentimental FBI agent who recently broke up with his girlfriend. Lauren Cohan co-stars as Frankie Trowbridge, a hardened CIA agent with a cool demeanor. In the episode, both of them are trying to kidnap the same person and the show relies heavily on their banter as they jockey for the same target.
The program though isn’t content with setting up the premise and letting the audience follow along. Instead, the show keeps reminding viewers that Chase is the sensitive one and Trowbridge is the tough one. The dialogue keeps repeating that same premise.
“I have my feelings; my feelings don’t have me,” Chase says.
His emotional despair is so intense that he’s even asked fellow FBI officers for suggestions for a break-up playlist. Trowbridge, on the other hand, knows Chase is too soft and emotionally unstable to succeed in the field.
With a heavy emphasis on setting the stage and the introduction of supporting characters like Ray Prince (Josh Hopkins), Chase’s best friend, the pilot is clunky and oftentimes overbearing. The show strives so hard to be liked that it comes across as over-the-top. When Chase tells Trowbridge that she needs to start trusting people, the show overtly hints at what is to come.
Fortunately, though, ABC sent out a second episode of the show for review and that episode works much more effectively. Whereas the pilot clumsily tried to establish the key characters, this additional episode shows things slowing down and the program naturally developing.
Chase and Trowbridge are established here as the leaders of a group of special agents from a variety of intelligence agencies. The group includes FBI psychological profiler Susan Sampson (Ana Ortiz), NSA analyst Edgar Standish (Tyler James Williams), and Frankie’s CIA colleague Jai Datta (Vir Das). Here, the group dynamic is established and the procedural (although undeniably formulaic) nicely comes together.
Like Hawaii Five-O or MacGyver, the plot relies on its eclectic supporting characters to help prevent the catastrophe of the week. The program definitely benefits from the casting of Foley and Cohan but the real standout is Tyler James Williams. An alum of Everybody Hates Chris and The Walking Dead (where he worked alongside Cohan), Williams’ character is charming and fun. He brings a unique sense of personality to this procedural.
One hopes that Whiskey Cavalier can build its characters out more in future episodes. Audiences will know where the show is heading but with some solid action and an energetic cast, it could work in the long-term. Now that the set-up has been established, the show now has the opportunity to build more fully into a solid procedural with two strong leads and a solid cast surrounding them. Let’s hope it uses that opportunity wisely.
Whiskey Cavalier airs Wednesdays on ABC.