If you've read my column with any regularity, you probably know that I'm always on the lookout for a good crime drama. My favorites, shows like "NYPD Blue," "Hill Street Blues" and "Homicide: Life on the Street," were as much about the intricacies of being a police officer -- and, sometimes, being a criminal -- doing his or her job on a day-to-day basis as they were about the crimes being committed or solved.
Granted, these are television series, so the good guys were still (usually) able to foil the villain, but there were new shades to play with; sometimes the police weren't on the right track and made mistakes that hurt their investigations, sometimes the bad guys didn't have as much malice in their heart as it might seem at first. During the interrogation and investigation scenes are when the thrill of the chase sets in, the battle of wits between people determined to uncover truth and those who have made it their mission to hide it, at whatever cost.
While there is a terrific fictional crime drama currently airing (AMC's "Breaking Bad"), there is also a new -- and surprisingly gripping -- reality-competition/crime thriller hybrid airing on ABC Tuesday nights at 8 p.m. this summer called "Take the Money and Run," from executive producers Jerry Bruckheimer and Bertram van Munster, the people behind "The Amazing Race."
The premise? A nameless stranger hands a pair of regular people a briefcase. The contents of the case are worth $100,000. The new possessors of the bag now have exactly one hour to hide it anywhere they wish. At the end of that hour, they will be taken into custody by a pair of actual police detectives. If they can keep the location secret for 48 more hours, the couple will keep the money. But if the cops find the case, they will lay claim to the cash.
The pitfalls to the game are numerous for both sides. The regular folks do have the full hour to work (and since this is television, they've had the chance to plan how they'll do what they'll do, enlist assistance ahead of time and consider their strategy for the hours after they are brought into custody), but their vehicle has been tracked by GPS, so the police officers will know the route they traveled, plus the hiders' phone calls are tracked, meaning that the cops will not only know who they called, but when and for how long.
The pair of detectives also have assistance from a duo of real-life professional interrogators who are tasked with helping the detectives by making the "criminals" give up the details, albeit in a gentler fashion than most televised interrogations tend to be shown (mainly because this is, at its heart, a game show). One of the questioners is the buttoned-down Mary Hanlon Stone, a Deputy District Attorney for Los Angeles County, California with 25 years experience as a prosecutor, according to her bio at the show's website; the other is the leather-jacketed Paul Bishop, a 35-year police veteran whose career has involved working in his department's Anti-Terrorist Division, as well as more than a quarter-century of experience investigating sex crimes.
Together, they make an interesting team; if you've watched any of the shows I've listed earlier in this piece, you'll recognize their techniques. You can also tell that either one of them would be an intimidating opponent in a real-deal situation.
Not that the situation doesn't have the feel of the real thing for the pair that has hidden the case, or for the detectives who are combing the streets looking for it. The "criminals" are incarcerated in what look like real jail cells, dressed in prison jumpers, eating lousy food and trying not to crack under the strain. The detectives, veterans of their respective forces, must rely on the information they receive from the interrogations and their own real world training and experience.
I've seen two episodes, one set in San Francisco, the other set in Miami. I will not give away who wins in either setting, but I will say that both episodes are expertly made and feature several moments of genuine suspense; overall, it's an interesting twist on the reality-competition genre. "Take the Money and Run" isn't a perfect show, but I was ultimately pretty satisfied with it. Three stars (out of four).