“The Cleaner” is William Banks, a former drug addict who has the somewhat shady and dark role of rescuing other addicts from their various drug, sex or gambling addictions. Or at least that’s what’s in store this season in A&E’s new drama series that premiered on Tuesday. It’s a show that has received a tremendous amount of advertising and according to a Wall Street Journal article, it’s the first original scripted show on A&E in six years.
On one level the show is old hat for A&E. It’s the network that shows real life addicts on their often-harrowing documentary series, “Intervention”, which as the title states, culminates with a real, therapist-led family intervention where the subject either decides to leave immediately or not. It’s raw stuff, and the new episodes have already been pretty heady.
Benjamin Bratt plays Banks, and from the very first frame we learn that he has rescued 257 addicts already in his “job”, though he is not a cop or a “superhero”. What he operates is not all that clear to the viewer either, except that he has a small team of non-law enforcement types who themselves were rescued by him from their addictions. It is here that the show has a conceit that it doesn’t quite reconcile: on the one hand it wants to be darkly comic (as with his two young minions) but also show you the harsh reality of a mom that was once in denial discovering that her own athlete son is willing to steal from her safe. Or the very powerful scene at the end (which I won’t reveal) that reveals the fate of one of the better written characters on the show.
Bratt seems well equipped in his role, perhaps a bit too laid back but certainly not meek by any means. This being basic cable, there is the occasional “shit” that is heard –nothing worse than that on this network that sanitizes the “Sopranos” reruns from HBO. Also, Bratt of course has to be the imperfect hero, with his own demons, exposed warts and all. Though he tries, he isn’t always there for his kids because they, nor his wife, played by Amy Price-Francis, may not trust him too much because of his past behavior. Though he is, by his admission, clean and sober, he also says that recovery or rehab is not fool proof. The falling off is extremely easy; what other kind of life do you know, and what does your body really need anyways?
There is a neat running motif between Banks and his wife about the fact they are trying to quit smoking, but they constantly catch each other sneaking a smoke in. Otherwise, Price-Francis seems an ill fit in her role. She is inexplicably beautiful. Did he luck out? And why, in one of her initial scenes does she chew him out at the top of her lungs as she is making the kids lunch sandwiches? The peaks and valleys in her performance are numerous.
The main case in the pilot involves a young teenager who seems to be high off heroin and coke –the scenes are gritty for sure, hence this show is not on the Family Channel. The violence (and the drug use can be considered this) is never glorifying, but nor is it terribly original. The familiar Skid Row sections of a smoky LA have been done before and the characters seem to use the city as a backdrop for reflection about their harsh lives. It’s a shame that the one sensitive and well written scene takes place between Banks and the character played by Gil Bellows (late of Ally McBeal) in front of a rained out baseball game at Dodger Stadium. The two men both have regrets, and they know that the slightest move forward (or “uphill”, as Banks tells the teenager’s mother) can also have the effect of pushing you back down,
The show has some promise, but I think it still needs to find a more consistent voice. I hope it removes some of the street or addict lingo because it’s the words (or lack thereof) that provide the depth the show needs. What we don’t need are mere caricatures, or worse, a neat and tidy ending each week.