To Protect and Non-Violently Serve: Rush

Don’t worry, you’ll meet the gang soon.

Most Western police forces have, broadly speaking, two levels of response for field incidents: whatever the regular patrol officers can provide, and the commandos (aka SWAT). So what happens in a situation that’s too much for the patrol cop to handle but doesn’t warrant calling in SWAT (i.e., potentially shooting someone)?

The Victoria (Australia) Police created a third type of unit to plug this hole: the Critical Incident Response Team. And that’s what the 2008-11 Network Ten series Rush (now available on Hulu) is about. Rush follows the exploits of two three-officer Tactical Response teams (the fictionalized version of CIRT) as they prowl the streets of metro Melbourne and deal with various breeds of offenders – from the merely misguided to the outright villainous – while trying to not kill anybody.

In structure and style, Rush is more American than, say, City Homicide. The principals are young, generally attractive, have the usual complications in their personal lives, and conform to the usual types. There’s hardass Lawson (Rodger Corser, Home and Away); not-so-happily married Grace (Claire van der Boom, Hawaii Five-0); sensitive Brendan (Callan Mulvey, also Home and Away, 300), who pines after Grace; immature wanna-be player Michael (American Ashley Zuckerman, Manhattan); family man Dominic (Joseph Ber, also Home & Away); and hottish just-wants-to-be-one-of-the-guys Stella (Nicole da Silva, Wentworth Prison). Presiding over this mob is Superintendent Kerry Vincent (Catherine McClements, Water Rats), the hard-as-nails new supervisor who appears in the first episode and proceeds to complicate Lawson’s life. (This appears to be something of a trope in Aussie crime shows; the unit supervisors in both City Homicide and The Strip are also hard-as-nails women who complicate their senior sergeants’ lives.) The requisite tech geek is Leon (Samuel Johnson, but not that Samuel Johnson), who looks a bit like Numb3rs’ math nerd David Krumholtz on a bender.

In the first few episodes, Our Heroes handle carjackings, hostage situations, domestic disputes, prisoner transport, wannabe suicides, some undercover work, and a kidnapping. This apparently is all within the real CIRT remit and keeps things mixed up nicely. It’s worth noting that unlike in American crime shows, murder hardly shows up in these early episodes. This is slightly closer to the reality of urban policing than what usually goes on the tube. COPS it ain’t, but at least Our Heroes aren’t always chasing serial killers and terrorists. Another indication that this isn’t an American show is that the A plots don’t always resolve nicely – Our Heroes don’t always win, and they sometimes make a muck of things.

Yet another contrast with American police series: it’s rare that either of the teams puts live rounds downrange, even when their opponents are carrying guns. I’ve seen more non-lethal force deployed in Rush’s first few episodes than in entire seasons of U.S. cop shows. While it seems at first odd to a set of U.S. TV-trained eyes to see an officer with a bright yellow shotgun fire beanbag rounds at a suspect, it isn’t inherently less satisfying or dramatic. Think about the outcome if these guys had been in Ferguson…

In the one instance I’ve seen so far of an officer-involved shooting on Rush (a suicide-by-cop scenario with Lawson as the shooter), something else unusual appeared: consequences. Not the usual suspension-pending-investigation thing we see on the American tube, but emotional and psychological after-effects for both Lawson and Michael, who witnessed the shooting. Unlike in real life, it’s pretty rare for an American TV cop to suffer much internal angst after killing a suspect; it’s almost unheard of for us to see one of his/her non-involved colleagues be visibly affected.

Rush isn’t all ANZAC bikkies. Much like on CSI and its spawn, the concept of a “shift” is highly flexible; Our Heroes stay on duty from night to day to night again, leaving you to wonder how they have time to have messy personal lives. Those personal dramas are the standard-issue ones of unhappy spouses/partners, divorce, alcohol, trying to get a date, hooking up with each other, and the like, which, while undeniably real, aren’t as interesting in their Nth repetition as the writers think they are. We get little sense of Melbourne as a place; suburban houses, parking garages and industrial estates (think tilt-ups) are the main settings, and those look much alike throughout the temperate parts of the globe.

Rush could be a gateway drug for Americans looking to dip their toes in Aussie crime TV. It’s not exotic enough to scare off the Yanks (once you get the accents sorted), but it has enough differences to let us know it’s not from these parts. It’s interesting to see a somewhat different approach to policing in a country that’s far more similar to the U.S. than either country is to Britain. Like City Homicide, it’s a pretty okay place to visit when you’re tired of the same-old on the U.S. networks but aren’t yet ready for bare-knuckled 19th-Century policework or crime-solving vicars.

Lance Charnes is an emergency manager and former Air Force intelligence officer. Much lethal force is employed by all sides in his international thriller Doha 12 and his near-future thriller South. He tweets (@lcharnes) about scuba diving, shipwrecks, art crime and archaeology, among other things.

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