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'FBI' review: Formulaic procedural from Dick Wolf

Missy Peregrym and Zeeko Zaki star in CBS'

Missy Peregrym and Zeeko Zaki star in CBS' "FBI." Credit: CBS/Michael Parmelee


WHEN | WHERE Premieres Tuesday at 9 p.m. on CBS/2

WHAT IT'S ABOUT A bomb goes off in the South Bronx, and there are casualties, including a 7-year-old. The FBI gets called in because terrorism is suspected. Special Agent Maggie Bell (Missy Peregrym)  and her partner, Special Agent Omar Adom "OA" Zidan (Zeeko Zaki) get to the crime scene, then things get worse. Much worse. Back at headquarters, Special Agent in Charge Dana Mosier (Sela Ward) and her top officials, Analyst Kristen Chazal (Ebonée Noel) and Assistant Special Agent in Charge Jubal Valentine (Jeremy Sisto) get to work. They have to stop the bomber before more people are killed.

This new series — about the "inner workings" of the FBI's New York office — is a Dick Wolf production.   

MY SAY Wolf didn't invent the Cop Show Formula, but he sure does perfect it here. A bomb goes off in the first act? You can be always comforted by the fact that the hero or heroes will disable one by the final act. You want your department chief — or special agent in charge —  grizzled, old school and tough-as-gravel? You got her. Special Agent Maggie Bell is tough too, but she has a big heart. It was broken, by the way, when her husband was killed by some terrorist skell.

Hey, how about a few real-world plot tangents just to make this show seem like it was ripped from yesterday's front page? Yes, please. Wolf goes one better in "FBI's" pilot: There's an MS-13 plot line tangled up with a white supremacist one.

Don't worry. These aren't spoilers. They're requisites. But the problem with formulas, perfect or otherwise, is that they write themselves, and "FBI" clearly wrote itself. The pilot proceeds with the regularity of a metronome, ticking off the moments, or the beats, or cliches. You can see every twist coming from around every corner, anticipate the climax long before it climaxes. Any deviation would be jarring, almost as if a law had been broken. Along with writing themselves, formulas also tend to be ironclad. No surprises, please. No going rogue.

"FBI" does not go rogue.

It is certainly nice to have a Dick Wolf production back in New York City, however. A lot of fine New York-based actors will now have a steady paycheck again. Since Wolf decamped to Chicago — only "Law & Order: SVU" remains — the streets almost feel emptier, if that's possible.

But the New York of "FBI" is almost an alien place, or a place that conforms to the biases of the rest of the country — that the South Bronx is overrun with gang warfare, for example, or that the city is seething with racial tensions. Don't worry, Rest of the Country: New York is seething with lots of tensions, racial and otherwise, but it's a hell of a lot nicer — and more interesting, beautiful and exciting — than portrayed in "FBI's" pilot.

There is time to right this mess, and my suspicion is that Wolf and "FBI" eventually will. Wolf usually does. Now if he can just get out of the way of his own formula.

BOTTOM LINE A 2+2=4 cop show with no surprises but plenty of Wolf touches.

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