There are too many TV shows about police. It’s uninspired television that generally doesn’t take any risks or offer anything new. The exception is a new Netflix series called “Flint Town.”
With the Michigan city’s well known water crisis as a backdrop, “Flint Town” provides a look at the complexities of policing a decaying city with extremely limited resources. But while the show focuses overwhelmingly on the lives and perspectives of several officers, it isn’t the sanitized, black-and-white trope of good triumphing over evil that viewers have come to expect.
The documentary-style show is nothing like reality television in that it actually appears to depict reality. We meet the rookie’s girlfriend who sits at home babysitting a police scanner, worried for his safety. We learn that he graduated from the police academy in the same class as his mom, and we see him looking somewhat sheepish, scared, and even a little incompetent.
“Flint Town” doesn’t hold back the ugly. It takes viewers along as a murdered kid is found in the snow, shows officers apparently harassing motorists without cause and slamming suspects to the ground. In interviews, officers and community members speak candidly rather than proffering scripted talking points or declining to touch controversy.
“Somehow there needs to be some change in how we police black and brown communities,” a black officer says in Episode 4, complaining that Black Lives Matter is being conflated with people who shoot at police after the tragedy in Dallas.
The show runs the gamut: In an earlier episode, we hear from a white Flint cop who shot and killed a black suspect. He talks about what happened and how it haunts him, but also suggests that’s just how things are. The show doesn’t try to wrap him — or any of the characters, including his cop girlfriend — in a nice packages.
There are no heroes in “Flint Town,” and there aren’t exactly any villains, either. Instead we see a city caught in a bind, experimenting with different solutions and caught in a gray area, wondering if the center will hold. That’s part of the reason that “Flint Town” is a better entry point to a dialogue on police-community relations than most any public forum on the subject.