East New York Season 1 Midseason Report Card: A Gritty Crime Drama With a Stellar Cast

TV

Wait… what? East New York is already on its winter hiatus?

It feels like CBS’ newest cop drama just began. Sunday nights will seem empty until it returns in January.

Our East New York Season 1 midseason report card discusses how well this show is doing and how it can improve as the season continues.

While the TV landscape is overrun with crime dramas, East New York stands out because of the stellar cast and unusual setting. This series focuses on the often-ignored community of East New York and the new head of the police department, who is determined to change things from the inside.

Many police shows take place in New York City. However, for TV viewers, New York is often synonymous with Manhattan (even if Blue Bloods‘ Frank Reagan lives in Queens.) East New York depicts the less glamorous part of the Big Apple: a poor, primarily Black and Hispanic area of Brooklyn.

The unusual setting makes East New York stand out and provides opportunities for stories not often addressed on television. The cast looks like the people who live and work in East New York, too, and most of the characters are well-rounded; there are no token minorities here.

That type of representation is essential. People of all backgrounds need and deserve to see people who look like them on television.

Unfortunately, the series isn’t filmed entirely in East New York. Eagle-eyed viewers who grew up in or currently live in the area are often painfully aware that the streets, parks, and other locations on their screens don’t exist in their neighborhood.

East New York is not the first series to film where they can rather than being entirely accurate about their locations. But since this area is underrepresented on TV, it distracts from the series’ point to not be filmed entirely on location.

The series strikes a near-perfect balance between dealing with the politics of police work and focusing on the cases of the hour. More conservative viewers are sometimes uncomfortable with this allegedly “woke” series. However, shows that deal with topics like racism in policing shouldn’t always be comfortable.

There are some ugly truths that East New York tries to deal with. The series does its best to be fair; it doesn’t depict cops as monsters, but it doesn’t make them heroes whose motives can never be questioned, either!

In many ways, East New York is merely putting a fresh spin on familiar cop show tropes. For example, every cop show has some cops that hate the “rat Squad” (IAB) and who believe that cops should never tell on other cops no matter what.

Sandeford: If you don’t apologize, you’ll be fired for cause.
Bentley: If I get fired over this, I’m not meant to be a cop.
Sandeford: If you let him, punch your clock, he’ll own every part of you. Just eat this.
Bentley: Not happening. I’m filing a formal complaint.
Sandeford: Cops don’t rat on cops.

East New York Season 1 Episode 4 used this trope in a new context when Bentley was pulled over on his way to work by a racist cop and wanted to file a complaint after he was unfairly arrested. Sandeford discouraged it and introduced him to a network of other Black cops who had each other’s back.

Viewers may never have seen this perspective before, but cops having each others’ backs and handling problems without involving IAB are tropes that are as old as crime dramas.

East New York provided them from the perspective of Black officers instead of white ones, and that kind of diversity in storytelling is never bad.

The series also has a strong cast, including newer actors and veterans like Richard Kind and Jimmy Smits.

Kind is best known for many of his comedic roles, but he gets a chance to shine dramatically on East New York. One of the best stories so far was Yenko’s support of his wife, who had become agoraphobic following the COVID pandemic.

He didn’t act like the stereotypical cop who doesn’t think feelings or mental health issues are real; instead, he gave his wife support and reassurance that he loved her. How awesome was that?

Jimmy Smits’ Suarez also has an interesting family — his brother is a priest, and the family includes Suarez’s aging mother, who Suarez helps out with as needed. That led to Suarez’s best story on East New York Season 1 Episode 6, where he almost got in major trouble after trying to intervene in a domestic dispute.

Viewers are nearly unanimous in their desire for more Suarez!

Some people tune in specifically for Smits’ performances, while others feel so many layers to Suarez’s character scream out for further exploration.

Sadly, Suarez plays only a bit part in many episodes. He’s Regina’s boss and mentor, but he often pops in and out. The most significant improvement East New York could make is to make Suarez more of a leading character.

Similarly, every series needs a villain we love to hate, and Deputy Mayor Sharpe fits that bill nicely… when he is featured.

Realistically, the deputy mayor can’t spend all of his time bothering people at the police station, but some more of him would be great. He should have something to say about Regina investigating corrupt cops or about Bentley’s shooting; let’s hope he’s on scene when East New York Season 1 returns.

While this series is entertaining overall, if we had to nix one storyline, it would be Quinlan’s constant arguments with people in the projects, which are getting tiresome.

This has improved slightly in recent episodes. Quinlan could stand up for the community when no one wanted to fix the elevator, winning her the respect of a neighbor who formerly hated her.

Quinlan and Thora’s new friendship is far better than what came before. Hopefully, we’re finished with Quinlan trying to police her neighbors and annoying everyone.

Quinlan’s workplace romance with Bentley treads overly familiar ground; there are way too many stories about forbidden workplace romances, especially among cop shows. Thank goodness Quinlan at least agreed to get a new partner and wants her relationship with Bentley out in the open as soon as possible!

This could be complicated by Bentley getting shot, though. At first glance, the shooting was a typical cliffhanger. It was a good one, though, which will keep people talking and didn’t feel contrived.

We’d give East New York an A-. How about you?

What Grade Would You Give East New York Season 1 So Far?

Take the poll above and then head to the comments to sound off!

While waiting for the midseason premiere, don’t forget that you can watch East New York online.

East New York airs on CBS on Sundays at 9 PM EST / PST. The series will return for its second half of the season after the New Year.

Jack Ori is a senior staff writer for TV Fanatic. His debut young adult novel, Reinventing Hannah, is available on Amazon. Follow him on Twitter.

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