Noah Wyle stars as Daniel Calder, a high-school teacher whose African-American husband is wrongly killed by a cop (Noel Fisher) responding to a robbery call at a local convenience store. The incident triggers a surge of activism, as well as a search for identity, in their adopted daughter, Jira (Aliyah Royale), who — when her surviving dad says he wishes it had been him — replies, “It’d never happen to you.”
Produced by Greg Berlanti (the overseer of CW’s superheroes) and director Ava DuVernay, “The Red Line” — which will air back-to-back episodes over four successive Sundays — expands its web to include Tia Young (Emayatzy Corinealdi), who is in the midst of a campaign for Alderman, as well as the cop and his family, where the impulse of those around him is to cover up an unjustified shooting.
The main problem is that the story progresses along predictable tracks, and a little too much of it feels predicated on happenstance, as well as the somewhat stereotyped image of Chicago as a political cesspool. Daniel, meanwhile, is faced with revelations about his late husband, a thread seemingly there primarily to help tease out the drama over eight hours.
As noted, the issues that surround policing — and achieving justice — offer fertile dramatic territory, and the series feels most convincing as Daniel and Jira pursue that rocky path, highlighting the inherent challenges in both criminal and civil courts.
There’s a blandness, however, in Daniel’s struggles to move on with his life as well as Tia’s story, as her run against a veteran city power broker (Glynn Turman) is complicated by issues from her past.
To the extent so many CBS dramas deal with law enforcement slapping cuffs on someone each episode, it’s admirable to see the network venture into a more ambitious space, grappling with issues about race and the justice system, without ruling out the prospect of hope and healing.
Still, in terms of the line that separates a must-watch show from a mediocre one, “The Red Line” ultimately falls on the wrong side of it.
“The Red Line” premieres April 28 at 9 p.m. on CBS.