There's a proverb mentioned early on in the Golden Boy pilot. The proverb describes two dogs who fight inside every man's soul. The two dogs represent good and evil and whichever dog you feed, wins. That proverb supposedly describes our hero, Walter Clarke (Theo James). Oddly enough, that proverb works marvelously to describe this pilot on the whole. Except the two dogs don't represent good and evil. They represent sturdy, compelling character work and hackneyed plot points. And while this episode has a dog I really like in its soul, he's looking pretty thin compared to the other guy.
First, let's talk about the good. Theo James is a marvelous. He plays the arrogant new guy, but he does it in a way that's mysterious and a little sinister. It helps that we know he'll eventually become the youngest police commissioner in NYC history. Giving him that political angle makes him into a fascinating snake, who isn't just solving crimes, he's playing the game. The show makes a point of making Chi McBride the example of decency and justice, a good cop who doesn't care about recognition. But, by having the show being told in the form of an interview with Clarke after he becomes a wildly successful police commissioner, we know that Theo's character will not wind up so noble. We know which dog he'll feed.
Now the bad. The actual plot of this pilot is really stupid. It's filled with cliches like "privileged white boy sociopath" and "younger sister with nasty boyfriend." On top of that, I felt like the pilot had short-term memory loss, constantly bringing in new characters or plot details and then never following through. There are a few moments early on where Clarke makes some very astute deductions about the victim's clothes, yet the detective work never actually pays off. We get introduced to Clarke's sister and her abusive drug-dealing boyfriend, but that never really leads to anything either. I couldn't shake the feeling that Leonard Shelby wrote this pilot.
None of this is to say that Golden Boy is a lousy show. I don't know what show it is. Not yet. Right now there's a hungry dog who, if fed, could make this show into a compelling political thriller set in the NYPD. But this is CBS so I'm assuming it won't be long before that dog winds up in a soup somewhere in Vietnam.