To Be E.B.
by DICK CHENEY
creator Ed Burns
Ed Burns, 47, casts himself as a police officer with a wife who looks like a model. His young cousin (Austin Stowell) also works for the department and looks exactly like him: he dates and sleeps with beautiful women right and left. No one else ever gets laid on Public Morals, just Ed Burns and guys that look like him. All is right with the world.
Burns’ special brand of mediocrity is much more suited to television. His passion for writing Irish-American characters who fit easily into various stereotypes is on full display in New York of the 1960s. The mien of Public Morals feels decades older than that, as no one seems to have a television or even listen to the radio. They are too busy for that: they are probably gambling or if they are a woman, having sex with someone who looks like Ed Burns.
Ed Burns is a cop, except he neither solves cases or stops crime in any meaningful way. He chooses to mentor a rookie in his unit, Jimmy Shea (Brian Wiles) getting the kid to cheat on his wife and take money from a casino. His boss is dating a madam. None of the people I have described are any good at acting.
Burns’ partner is Charlie Bullman (Michael Rapaport) who is so out of place here he might as well be on MADtv. His acting as a touch-feely, whiny-voiced prig is ludicrous even in a universe where Ed Burns is king of everything he touches. Like Burns, Rapaport has two distinct facial expressions, neither of which is all that entertaining to watch. The first is Disappointed Ed Burns, and the second is Wry Ed Burns. Rapaport is even gifted the easiest scene in drama, the one where his daughter’s boyfriend asks for permission to marry the girl, and turns it into the equivalent of an awkward pep talk from a Yorkshire terrier.
It’s difficult to tell whether Burns’ material is meant to be tongue-in-cheek or not. Clearly the entire character of Brian Dennehy, who plays an Irish mob boss, is meant for chuckles, since he berates his brother and nephew like his heart is about explode on-camera. Dennehy’s scenes are at least amusing, which is more than I can say of the directionless plot and stilted dialogue of Public Morals.
For his part, Burns’ mother on the show is a charismatic drunk, and his father warns the woman against her consumption of alcohol. Every woman on Public Morals is either a wife or a prostitute except for the woman in a deep relationship with young Ed Burns. She just has low standards.
I feel like Public Morals erases all the important work Good Will Hunting and Anne Hathaway’s constant complaining achieved for the Irish- American community. It is important that you know that Irish people are not, however, racist. Ed Burns respects the lone black officer (Ruben Santiago-Hudson) in his unit, and encourages others to do the same. It is the law itself he does not respect, and in this appraisal he is joined by every man in his department.
It is morally correct to disobey an injust law? When Ed Burns’ uncle is killed by one of Brian Dennehy’s cronies (Neal McDonough, the only talented actor on this entire show), Ed Burns is really ticked off, which you would think would lead to that all important third facial expression, but you would be wrong. He takes hus troubled son to the funeral, where the boy asks if he can touch the body of the deceased, who was played by Timothy Hutton.
Ed Burns thinks about it for a second and then agrees. All I could imagine in my head was Ed at Christy Turlington Burns’ funeral in thirty or so years, touching her body. It really must be something to be Ed Burns.
Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording.
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