Inside the FBI: New York – a review

I don’t usually comment on television, but regular readers of this blog know I’m a retired FBI agent and may have some special insight on the new series “Inside the FBI – New York.” I watched the premiere Thursday on USA Network. My overall impression: there’s good news and bad news.

The series is an unscripted documentary-style show made with the full cooperation of the FBI, mandated from Director Comey. There is plenty of footage of real FBI agents inside the office, on the streets, and at home. The good news is that the show is realistic. It rang true to me, reflecting what the FBI is really like. I served in the New York office for a year early in my career. The ridiculous portrayal of FBI agents in drama shows is put to rest here. Instead, it showed men in suits sitting around conference tables discussing threat reports or out on the street looking for a terrorist suspect (only a suspect – don’t mistake that for a terrorist) who may be in New York during a major event like the Thanksgiving Parade or New Year’s Eve in Times Square. Unlike fake FBI TV, this show depicted the confusing information that comes in – an email trail that proved the suspect was trying to acquire a weapon, but nothing that showed he had succeeded in getting one, the lack of information on his current whereabouts. I think the dedication and stress of the FBI agents came through accurately.

The bad news is that it was rather boring. it showed men in suits sitting around conference tables discussing threat reports. Hey, didn’t I just say that? Yes – and that’s the good and bad of it. That doesn’t make riveting TV, although that is often the real life of the FBI. I thought the scenes humanizing the agents by showing their families and personal interactions were rather interesting, especially the anecdote about the suspect who stabbed an agent with a butcher knife during an arrest – and he was someone not expected to be violent. Both the knife and the protective vest worn by the agent that saved his life were shown to the TV audience and they could imagine, almost feel, having that 8-inch blade thrust at their abdomen. It highlighted the danger that even a “routine” case can present to an agent. Unfortunately, that bit was buried well into the episode, after fifteen or twenty minutes of men in suits around tables. That was a major editing/directing flaw in my opinion, especially for a premiere episode.

The producers no doubt thought that the tension would be ratcheted up by featuring the terrorist task force right after the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, which took place shortly before the holiday season in New York. To some extent, perhaps, it was, but really, viewers already knew that nothing happened. Nothing, that is, in 2013 when this was filmed, but remember Faisal Shahzad, a would-be ISIS sympathizer, parked a large SUV bomb in Times Square in 2010, not to mention the 9-11 attacks. The danger was real, but the suspense for the viewer was not.

I will continue to watch the series, at least for a while, but I predict it will not be a commercial success.

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