Third in the “Meritocracy Quartet” by Hill Street Blues writer-producer Lewis (The Conference of the Birds, 2005, etc.): a thin, rather listless novel about a TV writer-producer of the groundbreaking cop show Northie who’s trying to hang onto his integrity in 1980s L.A.
To be fair, narrator Louie has more on his mind than his popular show; over the course of the story, he also starts a family and reconnects with his father. But the TV-biz ruminations make up the best passages here, as when Louie deconstructs the idea that procedurals like Northie relied for their force and novelty upon superior “realism.” His dealings with fellow producer Zacky Kurtz, a man obsessed with getting “bare ass” on American television, is consistently entertain, too. The plot that gradually takes precedence involves Louie’s father, who 30-odd years earlier divorced and moved from Rochester to California, becoming a successful producer. Much less compelling is Louie’s marriage to Melissa, who never comes alive on the page and by the end is reduced to a prop, there to demonstrate our hero’s sensitivity by weeping and being consoled in her weeping when, post–memorial service, she urges Louie to warble “My Darling Clementine,” the theme song for his father’s famous western. The novel takes the form of a self-conscious memoir, an ill-conceived idea: Passages in which Louie-as-novelist wrestles with how to construct his story don’t go over well in a narrative so shapeless.
Too much theme song, not enough old show.