Cop shows are a dime a dozen on television, so Fox’s new police drama does something different to make an impression. APB brings drones and apps to a Chicago police precinct.
Justin Kirk plays Gideon Reed, a tech billionaire who witnesses a friend die in an armed robbery. Frustrated that the police couldn’t get there in time to save his friend, Gideon buys a precinct and applies his gadgets to police work. Natalie Martinez plays Det. Theresa Murphy, Ernie Hudson is Capt. Ned Conrad, and Caitlin Stasey plays Ada Hamilton, the technician navigating all of Gideon’s toys.
Kirk, series creator Matt Nix, and pilot director Len Wiseman spoke with Rotten Tomatoes at Fox’s party for the Television Critics Association. Here are 10 reasons to get excited about their modern take on cop shows.
Nix’s first long-running series was USA’s spy caper Burn Notice, and according to him, the worlds of cops and spies are closer than you might think.
“There’s a lot of social engineering and physical engineering in both of them,” Nix said. “In Burn Notice, often they would build something or devise some approach that involved specialized knowledge and an engineer’s mind. In this show, the main character is literally an engineer and he is devising approaches.”
Nix has nothing to do with CBS’s Scorpion but thinks APB could mimic their tech geniuses’ ingenuity.
“What we’re doing is maybe a little closer to Scorpion in that it’s what can we build, what we can make,” Nix said. “The pace of technology has accelerated to the point where it is credible to say, ‘Oh, we’ve been presented with a problem. Let’s come up with a technological solution in the next few days.’”
Gideon is a tech billionaire who profited on weapons and likes to tell people off, but then tries to use his technology to do some good. Sound familiar? Of course, Kirk puts his own spin on it, and he doesn’t have an Iron Man suit, but he could be a Tony Stark type.
“I suppose I’ve heard that or Batman,” Kirk said. “I didn’t think about it on the day when we were going to work. It makes sense on some level.”
Wiseman said Stark is one of many inspirations. “[He’s] a bit of a hybrid of Tony Stark, Elon Musk, [and] Bill Gates,” Wiseman said.
Nix totally came clean on the Tony Stark comparison. “Oh, 100 percent,” Nix admitted. “I was a huge Iron Man fan. There’s no question that, hopefully in the most respectful way, this series owes a debt to Iron Man. To some extent, one of the things that engaged me about the idea was, what if that could be real?”
In directing the pilot and setting the template for the series, Len Wiseman made sure not to advance the technology too far.
“Every bit of technology and idea that we’re using in the episodes is either technology that exists today or is being developed today,” Wiseman said. “We sat with a lot of futurists and engineers from various industries about what the technology is and how that would benefit if we were to bring that technology into policing and law enforcement. It was very topical but also makes you question why we are not using the kind of technology that Apple has.”
Using technology to solve crimes is such a good idea, it shouldn’t take a tragedy to apply it. Earlier versions had looser motivations.
“There were various versions of the pilot before we did it,” Kirk said. “It wasn’t always that. It was a stranger that died once. There was always an event. I guess, to me, what I saw it as was here’s a guy who made a s—load of money with his talents. Then when this thing came up, he thought, ‘Well, maybe I’ll do something ostensibly altruistic with it.’”
The efficiency on display in shows like CSI and Law & Order is only make believe. The need for a Gideon Reed is very real.
“The scene in the pilot that was important to me was him going to the police district and saying, essentially, ‘Don’t you have forensics? Don’t you have all these things I’ve seen on TV?’” Nix said. “The reality for most police stations in America is they don’t have those things. There aren’t sleek tech labs.”
Nix was partly inspired by a robbery he suffered. The police dusted for fingerprints but couldn’t find any, and Nix went down to the station to look at an old school mugshot book. “That was always interesting to me, a billionaire going, ‘Oh, wait a second. I thought this was handled, but it’s not. If someone’s going handle it, I’ve got to do it myself,’” Nix said.
As helpful as drones and apps can prove to be, not every episode of APB is about how great Gideon’s technology is. Look for the ones where he makes matters worse.
“I think there are episodes where he does bad things, which I was thrilled about,” Kirk said. “As much as I like having a hero speech to give and playing the hero and being Batman, I wanted to make sure that we had times on the show where it was like, ‘Oh, this is actually a terrible idea, and here’s where it could go wrong.’ Sometimes it’s a good idea and sometimes it’s a terrible idea.”
Gideon’s first suggestion is an APB app, where citizens can tap their phone to call the police instead of trying to get through to 911. Great in theory, but what’s to stop people from pranking the app by tapping it for a false alarm? Even worse, what if criminals use it to misdirect the police?
“If you provide an app that allows you to draw in the police within a certain area, why wouldn’t the criminals do that?” Wiseman said. “You want to do a home invasion at this location, let’s have everybody put a bunch of APB calls, essentially 911 calls, in this [other] area. That would be a problem, and we deal with that.”
Wiseman said they address the downside of the app within the first several episodes, but Nix already thought of how the it could outsmart pranksters. “There’s a bit of an algorithm for sorting through it,” Nix said. “If you think about it from a data perspective, a prank call might look a little different. It’s basically like the timing of a prank call is different. The way it looks is different, where it comes from is different. So there are ways of mining the data where you can figure that out.”
Gideon isn’t trying to play hero himself. He only wants to be the brains behind the force. Still, this is television, so eventually, Gideon embarks onto the streets.
“Luckily for me, I got to stay in a good portion of the time, but yeah, I got out there occasionally to various effects,” Kirk teased.
The writers concocted some fanciful tech that couldn’t possibly exist today, or ever.
“A writer pitched, for an episode we didn’t do, a handheld X-ray device that could X-ray storage containers with a little handheld device,” Nix said. “You could just see on a screen what was in the storage container. An X-ray powerful enough to go through a storage container is called a death ray. That would kill anyone on the other side of it, and also that’s not how X-rays work.”
Only Superman can X-ray something from one side only. “If we don’t have a plate on the other side, X-rays can’t see through it,” Nix said. “So we looked into some sonar technologies but basically concluded there’s really nothing right now that is capable of doing that.”
Gideon relies so much on technology, cyber crime would really hit him where it hurts.
“There’s a really great one that takes place at a tech conference that Gideon is at,” Nix said. “How would he engage in a very high tech crime with a very sophisticated bad guy?”
Another episode deals with using technology to make interrogations more effective. “One of our writers was an Army interrogator,” Nix said. “We just asked him, ‘What would be on your wish list?’ It’s a really fun episode where they have a very advanced form of biofeedback that they can use to enhance interrogation.”
APB premieres Monday, February 6 at 9PM on FOX.