Jonny Zero
Created by R. Scott Gemmill and John Wells

"Never steal another man's dessert in the joint."

Jump-cut cameras! Weird angles! Thudding bass lines! Lots of colourful non-white people! Strippers! Stubble! What JONNY ZERO lacks in wit and savvy they apparently plan to make up for with attitude and "street cred."

Or at least "street cred' according to network television, circa Miami Vice.

A former bouncer and ex-con becomes a reluctant modern-day Equalizer, in Jonny Zero, a 2005 Fox-TV series with a "'hip-hop attitude," brought to you by John Wells, the man behind The West Wing and ER.. The pilot was even directed by Mimi "Pay It Forward" Leder,

JONNY CALVO is just out of the jug where he served a four-year stint for drug possession and now he's caught between his need to "redeem himself in the eyes of his family, and the temptations and influences of his own dark past."

So, Jonny goes back to work (reluctantly) for his former boss, shady club owner and minor league mobster and gun dealer Garrett – but this time we're assured he'll use his criminal smarts and Big Apple club scene connections for good, not evil. Meanwhile, those nasty Feds, led by big meanie agent Stringer, are always on his case trying to force Jonny to go undercover and work for them. Tsk tsk...

But what saves this show from sinking under the weight of its many pretensions and standard TV eye schtick (at least so far) is that Jonny is surprising affable, all things considered, a hapless doofus who's never quite as big a badass as everyone seems to thinks he is (he gets beat up constantly in the pilot and bounces off more car hoods than T.J. Hooker). His relationships -- with his wacky friends, his demanding girlfriend, his ex-wife, his parents, etc. -- are actually well-rendered, even if they are a little predictable.

Advertently or not, Jonny brings to mind Jim Rockford of all people, which is not the worst crime imaginable. If the producers remember to let these characters be people first and characters second, we just might have a TV eye worth watching again.

But we'll see....


And eight episodes later, it was gone. Jonny Zero was doomed almost from the start, given the Friday night death slot of 9-10PM Eastern. FOX's inexplicable decision to air the episodes out of order made the situation even worse, destroying any chance of character development.

And boy, were there a lot of characters.

The show's biggest weakness was definitely the overwhelming number of incidental characters - everyone from the English-accented bad-guy boss to Jonny's estranged parents to the wacky sidekick to the blonde waitress to the other blonde waitress… well, you get the idea. You needed a scorecard to keep track of them all, and that is assuming you gave a darn about any of them.

The scheduling did not help matters here either - in one episode, Jonny's best friend is murdered… and then two weeks later he was introduced. Any impact the character's murder might have had was completely blown.

However, like the best private eye stories, the main character was well developed enough to keep (a few) people tuning in. Franky G. did an excellent job of giving us a man who, although he made mistakes in his past, was honestly seeking redemption. If the show had kept its focus on Jonny, it might have lasted a bit longer.

There was a lot that the show did right, giving us a well-rounded sympathetic lead character in a believable situation. Unfortunately, the producers decided it was not enough, burying the solid core under layers of dull and irrelevant background characters, go-nowhere storylines, and jerky, hard-to-follow MTV camera work.

While hardly a modern-day Rockford Files, the show remained watchable throughout its brief run. And these days, that is all you can ask.

Report respectfully submitted by Chris Gumprich


Report respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith, with special thanks to Chris Gumprich for his contributions.

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