Adam Goldberg, left, and Felix Solis star in "NYC 22." (David Giesbrecht )
"NYC 22," which premieres Sunday on CBS, is about rookie policemen in the upper reaches of Manhattan. The newsworthy particulars are that it is the work of Robert De Niro's Tribeca Productions; that it was created by Richard Price, who wrote the novels "The Wanderers" and "Clockers" (made into movies by Philip Kaufman and Spike Lee, respectively), the De Niro film "Mad Dog and Glory," Martin Scorsese's "The Color of Money" and several episodes of "The Wire"; and that its Price-penned pilot was directed by James Mangold ("3:10 to Yuma").
The show itself is, in most respects, not news, or new. There was once a series actually called "The Rookies," and ABC will start a second summer season of the Canadian import "Rookie Blue" in May. But "NYC 22" has other close relatives too: "Grey's Anatomy," in its mist-veiled beginnings, for one, and any show whose characters are introduced as any sort of incoming class.
What does feel original is its setting — Harlem, where Price, who grew up in a housing project in the Bronx, has lived since 2008, and which plays itself. It's a good and welcome setting, a changing scene and mixed economy that allows for a range of stories and themes, with humans of different stripes living in close quarters. It's a part of the city rarely seen on television, and one in which, for a change, white people do not dominate the frame.
Like a platoon in an old World War II movie, with its crusty yet caring training officer (Terry Kinney), the recruits in their various complexions together equal America. As the series begins, we follow them as they make their individual, cross-cut ways from home to station house, then to the street in pairs to act as "mobile scarecrows" and exchange expository dialogue.
Jennifer (Leelee Sobieski) was a Marine MP in Iraq. (Care is taken to show that the wispy Sobieski is a tough cookie.) Ray (Adam Goldberg) is a sardonic newspaper reporter laid off in budget cuts after 14 years, who joined the force because "half the time I had better sources than the detectives I was writing about."
Opie-faced Kenny (Stark Sands) hails from a family of highly successful policemen, like the one over on another CBS New York City cop show, "Blue Bloods"; contrariwise, Tonya (Judy Marte) comes from a clan whose bent is criminal. Jayson (Harold House Moore) is an NBA washout who has come back to his old neighborhood to find his lost better self. And Ahmad (Tom Reed) is an Afghan refugee, teased by older cops but treated square by his fellow freshmen.
That the new officers seem extraordinarily busy with extraordinary business is not unusual in a television drama after all, though it's somewhat at odds with the on-the-street naturalism the production strives for. The show can feel overly plotted and pat, too pointedly pointed, its messages too clear and clearly engineered. While the broad strokes tend to remind you that you're watching a fiction, the finer details are well done — the bits and pieces are satisfying, even as you note the rivets and seams that join them. It's not a great show, but it's not an uninteresting one.
Its best moments are the quieter passages that connect the noisier ones and make enjoyable use of a host of guest actors — the show is uniformly well cast and played — including Skipp Sudduth, John Robert Burke, Lenny Venito, Richard Kind, Kevin Brown and Samantha Mathis. You will know the faces even when the names do not fall off your tongue.