Amanda Warren is the principal star in the new CBS procedural drama “East New York.” It debuted last night on WTVF-5 locally and its starting time will vary during the football season, but eventually it will air after “The Equalizer.”

By Tribune Staff

NASHVILLE, TN — Amanda Warren has an intriguing role in the new CBS series “East New York,” which debuted Sunday. She’s taking charge at a new post in charge of the 74th Precinct — based in the racially diverse working-class neighborhood that gives the series its title — with a clear-eyed understanding of where the NYPD is falling short, and big ideas about how they can do better.

She encourages her officers to move into the very projects they patrol, bristles against top-down pressure to prioritize cases involving the already privileged, does away with traffic-ticket quotas in an effort to redirect her team’s energy toward the more serious crimes plaguing the neighborhood. Meanwhile, she defends her position against colleagues who regard her as a diversity hire and a political establishment threatened by her authority as a woman, as well as against citizens whose distrust of law enforcement East New York presents as both bone-deep and basically understandable.

Warren’s Regina, who spent a chunk of the first episode in a red coat that flutters behind her like a superhero’s cape, serves up a mix of righteousness and stubbornness that’s hard to root against — even when she’s pitted against her more pragmatic mentor Suarez, played with appealing gravitas by “NYPD Blue” alum Jimmy Smits. 

Richard Kind’s Yenko, Regina’s executive officer, immediately establishes himself as the lovable one by introducing himself as the annoying one, and seems to spend more of his time onscreen bidding on classic cars and practicing Italian than doing actual police work. Some of Regina’s team rank higher than others on the likability spectrum, but all are blessed with sharp minds and essentially good hearts.

In “East New York‘s” view, policing may be broken, but these are the well-meaning, law-abiding cops who are going to fix it. This idea provides the series with the faint sheen of progressiveness while allowing it to maintain the stance that nothing really needs to change on a fundamental level, beyond perhaps some personnel changes and a closer adherence to the rules. Two years ago, the question Hollywood faced was of how they might evolve their portrayals of policing in the wake of loud, sustained and justified outrage. “East New York” stands as a representation of that change, and of its limits.