New York Times Review: Man on a Mission
Man on a Mission: Intervention With Attitude
By GINIA BELLAFANTE JULY 15, 2008
First consider the title — “The Cleaner” — in all its banner can-do-ism. What does it remind you of? Phonically “The Cleaner,” which begins on Tuesday on A&E, is like “The Closer,” sure, but more broadly it borrows from many masters of basic cable.
The show stars Benjamin Bratt as a self-employed savior compensating for a prior life, in which, as Emmylou Harris once sang, “addiction stayed on tight like a glove.” “The Cleaner” is a little bit “Saving Grace” and a little bit “Intervention,” the documentary series on A&E, which now, in retrospect, seems to have been the network’s first effort at recasting itself as the Recovery Channel.
Mr. Bratt, who brought such leadenness to his role in “The Andromeda Strain” earlier this summer, is here all car-screeching urgency. As William Banks, he is always racing somewhere, rescuing someone. While in the thrall of his weakness, Banks missed the birth of one of his children. That prompted him into a contract with the heavens, one in which he committed to aiding fellow addicts in exchange for another go at stability.
The force isn’t God, exactly, and Banks prides himself on never praying. But after his turning point he assembled a team of similarly minded public servants to help him deceive and abduct and create elaborate ruses, all in the name of getting the needy into treatment. Typically, Banks receives a call from a distraught relative seeking to hire him, and his band of Mighty Morphin’ Hazelden Rangers is immediately brought in. Pretty quickly, addicts are vomiting, and chests are pumped, and you think you’re watching “Grey’s Anatomy” without the blondes and the panties.
The writing doesn’t dissuade Mr. Bratt from his inclination toward overstatement. He is forced to sound like a report from the Centers for Disease Control while administering CPR. “I pulled you out of your miserable, dead-end lives,” he scolds his minions in the middle of attempted life-saving. “We’re not listed, we don’t advertise, people find us because they need us. We have a 75 percent relapse rate, a 27 percent rate of mortality.”
Like nearly every modern detective on television, like a character in a Harlan Coben novel, like Rudolph W. Giuliani and almost every other Man With a Mission in the history of the human race, Banks can’t quite bring the vigilance of the battlefield to his home life. His pretty wife (Amy Price-Francis) is perpetually angry at the inequitable way he distributes his attention. Banks doesn’t cheat, but he is constantly looking beyond his own backyard to be fatherly. He takes cellphone calls in the middle of parent-teacher conferences, even though the teacher is a nun.
“The Cleaner” provides a tempting opportunity to resist its needles and pleas and expositions. But for better or worse, it represents a departure from a prevailing mood of libertarianism on serial television whenever drug culture has been the subject in recent years. Shows like “Weeds” and “Breaking Bad,” which revolve around drug dealing as a last-ditch chance to make a buck, are less concerned with abuse than with the world of shrinking opportunity that allows such renegade economies to fester. These shows don’t care that there are addicts out there, and that those addicts suffer. They care about inadequate health care and pension plans; inefficient bureaucracies; and the grim, limited universe of the average American workplace. Drugs are the textual tease, but an invisible news crawl seems to run along, saying, “Really, aren’t there so many other things to worry about?”
As if incubated in the 1980s, “The Cleaner” doesn’t think so. Addiction is understood as a corrosive, omnipresent threat, and recovery a myth as much as it is an imperative. On “Intervention” there are post-mortems: the addict a few years later, her mascara tears replaced with pink cheeks, her life full of renewed purpose. “The Cleaner” charges along from one victim to the next. You see Mr. Bratt with his goatee and expressions of martyrdom, but you hear the voice of Nancy Reagan.
A&E, Tuesday nights at 10, Eastern and Pacific times; 9, Central time.
Written and created by Jonathan Prince and Robert Munic; Mr. Prince, Mr. Munic and David Semel, executive producers; Mr. Semel, director; Warren Boyd and Jay Silverman, co-executive producers; Brian J. Reynolds, director of photography; Cliff Rogers, producer; Tony Palermo, associate producer.
WITH: Benjamin Bratt (William Banks), Amy Price-Francis (Melissa Banks), Grace Park (Akani Cuesta), Kevin Michael Richardson (Darnell McDowell), Esteban Powell (Arnie Swenton), Brett DelBuono (Ben Banks), Liliana Mumy (Lula Banks) and Gil Bellows (Mickey Efros).