REVIEW: CTV’s Played a slick seen-it-before

The cops from Played. Don’t hate them because they’re beautiful

CTV has had good luck opening Canadian shows at 10 p.m. Thursdays. Can they keep the streak alive tonight with Played?

The undercover cop drama stars Irish/Canadian actor Vincent Walsh as Det. John Moreland. Walsh has worked everything from Hemingway vs Callaghan to Lost Girl to Republic of Doyle over a two continent career. I first caught up with him years ago in Halifax on Shattered City
He’s well cast here as a rugged, world-weary cop who faces suspension but instead–thanks to his smart and attractive new boss–winds up on an elite, undercover police force. Chandra West (The Gates, John from Cincinnati) plays the team’s hottie handler.
While others see Moreland as a loose cannon, she believes he’s got the nerve and the moxie to lead her “Impossible Mission” style force of undercover posers. 
Being part of this squad is a dream gig for some of the other actors involved, who get to try on different guises each episode. In Thursday’s opener, “Drugs,” Adam Butcher (officer Jesse Calvert) plays a shaky son who appears under the influence. Lisa Marcos, Agam Darshi and Dwain Murphy all get in on the disguise-of-the-week action.
Walsh: those are undercover sideburns fella
The series hails from creator/showrunner Greg Nelson (Saving Hope, Rookie Blue) who very much wanted to craft a cop show that follows the main characters home at night. Janis Lundman, Adrienne Mitchell (Durham County, Bomb Girls) and Michael Prupas (The Kennedys) all bring tons of experience to this task.
The hurdle they face, to me, is steep: another cop show? Yes, the undercover angle makes this one different, but Motive, Flashpoint, The Listener, Rookie Blue…there’s a point where all the sets, costumes and even actors all begin to look the same.
Despite a nicely underplayed turn by guest baddie Serge Houde, the pilot episode feels a bit paint-by-numbers-y. Future synopses–with episode titles such as “Guns,” “”Fights” and “Cars”–do little to shake that impression. Played looks slick, there’s plenty of action and the series makes no attempt to hide its Toronto locale (the CN Tower is very visible in every skyline shot), but some viewers might begin to feel like Played has played before.
Often a series will start out with caricatures rather than characters–just to get things established–and maybe that’s the case with Played. In an era of complexity and shading on cable, however, Played seems too black and white. Watching this show feels a bit like reading a show bible, with characters defined with one or two words like “The Natural,” “The Soul” and “The Intellect.” 
There are viewers who love this kind of Old School cop show but even new Ironside is way more complex than old Ironside.
Even one of Played‘s strengths–its diverse cast–is handicapped by the fact that, while they reflect a multicultural community like Toronto, they’re all really good looking. This is true, too, of most CSI casts–and a formula that works on Saving Hope–but somebody a bit older or lumpier might help make this series stick out–at least to this lumpy critic.
Kudos to CTV for boldly launching Played in season. They’ve proved they can punch through the clutter with an all-Canadian show in the past. We’ll soon know whether this move is equally well-played.

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