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'The Red Line' is a Worthy if Somewhat Flawed Effort
April 28, 2019  | By David Hinckley

Subtle isn’t how you’d describe the setup scene in the new CBS drama The Red Line

Harrison Brennan, a black doctor who lives in Chicago, stops at a convenience store on his way home. While he’s picking up his purchase, an angry wild-eyed black man with a gun bursts in and demands the clerk open the register.

The man with the gun sees Dr. Brennan, who holds up his hands and says, “Hey man, don’t shoot. I got a husband and a daughter.” The robber thinks for a second, smashes the clerk in the face with the butt of his gun, grabs the cash from the register and runs out. 

Dr. Brennan hurries over to see if the clerk is okay. Seconds later the police arrive and a white cop, seeing a black man leaning over the hysterical clerk, immediately shoots him in the back and kills him. 

It wouldn’t be hard to argue, from what we see, that the gun-wielding robber had a better appreciation for the sanctity of human life than the cop sworn to protect it. 

Things are that depressing, but not quite that neatly packaged on The Red Line, a closed-end series that premieres Sunday on CBS at 8 p.m. ET. 

The Red Line runs eight episodes, two each Sunday for the next four weeks. 

It tells its story through three families whose lives gradually become more complicated and intertwined. The death of Dr. Brennan serves as the catalyst, dusting off issues and emotions that had previously lain dormant. 

The first family centers on Daniel Calder (Noah Wyle, top) and Jira Calder-Brennan (Aliyah Royale, top), the teenage daughter Daniel and Harrison adopted soon after they were married.

On the surface, Daniel and Jira are just plain shattered. They share the grief over their loss and the frustration and anger from their growing fear that no one will be held accountable. 

Then, as often happens in these situations, Daniel and Jira take some of their frustration out on each other. For one thing, Jira tells Daniel she’s not sure he, as a white man, can fully understand what she’s feeling.  

Meanwhile, in another part of town, Tia Young (Emayatzy Corinealdi, above) is deep into a brave albeit probably losing campaign for the city council. She and her motorman husband Ethan (Howard Charles) are following the Brennan case closely, and not just because the disposition of the investigation could have political ramifications. 

And then there’s the cop, Paul Evans (Noel Fisher, right). Six months later, as everyone waits to see whether he will face charges, he still seems dazed by the whole thing. 

The people around him feel nothing of the sort. Paul’s brother Jim (Michael Patrick Thornton), an ex-cop who was shot in the line of duty, tells Paul he had no choice, and besides, this was just helping to even the score. 

Paul’s patrol partner Victoria “Vic” Renna (Elizabeth Laidlaw, right) offers the same version of positive thinking. No one will press charges, she tells him, and a month from now no one will remember Harrison Brennan’s name. 

The Red Line rotates its focus among these three families, bringing them together only gradually. 

It also saves a blockbuster revelation for the end of the first episode, changing the game just when we think we know where things are, or aren’t, going.

The Red Line has the fast pace and the intensity of CBS crime procedurals, that is, the right stuff to draw viewers in. 

It will also remind some viewers of the late ABC series American Crime, particularly the first two seasons when it was good. This show, like that one, starts out looking like it could be pretty simple and then uses its time to poke into grey areas and uncomfortable secrets. 

Not all the elements work perfectly. A well-meaning and clueless white classmate of Jira’s seems a little too convenient. But The Red Line tackles a troubling subject with a clear eye.

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