‘Small Town Security,’ engaging tales
Defying convention, this new AMC series trusts in its characters
July 13, 2012
When watching reality shows set in a workplace, we assume that we're going to see interesting people whose jobs lead them to interact with one another in entertaining ways. That isn't too much to expect, but we usually get attention junkies who play up their supposed quirks while the producers try to manufacture suspense or comedy.
That's why AMC's new show "Small Town Security" is such a surprise. The main subjects are real characters whose eccentricities are revealed at a natural pace. The show focuses on their personalities and relationships instead of building spurious story lines. An astonishing twist at the end of the first episode will ensure that viewers will return for at least a second helping.
Premiering this Sunday, July 15, at 11 p.m., the series focuses on the owners and staff at JJK Security, located in Ringgold, Ga. The owners are Joan Koplan, 61, a.k.a. the Chief, and her perpetually bemused husband, Irwin, a.k.a. the Captain.
In the first two episodes, we gradually learn the details of Joan's background and of her marriage with Irwin. She had hoped to break in to show business as a teenager and had briefly been involved with a man she says was connected to the Mafia.
The first episode revolves around Joan's attempt to revive "Joan Koplan's Forum," a talk show that she hosted on a local-access TV station. The owner of the station, a colorful woman named Judy, says that she canceled the show three years ago because of Joan's language. Joan, who says she had to use the technical terms for body parts when interviewing a gynecologist, swears that she quit.
When the two women meet, Joan says, "We have to iron out 'penis' and 'vagina.' " She reluctantly accepts a page of guidelines.
Joan's first guest on the new show is the most soft-spoken but also the most intriguing person on the JKK staff, Dennis Croft, a.k.a. the Lieutenant, an intense 43-year-old who tries to apply his military training to his work supervising the company's security guards. "I don't think any other place could tolerate my passion," he tells the camera.
Dennis, who lives in the back of the office building, says, "I think my relationship with Chief spurred the demise of my marriage."
The nature of that relationship is revealed slowly. Irwin says that Dennis is like a servant. We see Dennis fixing Joan's food, rubbing her feet and lighting her cigars. She teases him flirtatiously.
Joan introduces the first episode of the revived "Joan Koplan's Forum" as "a speecy, spicy meataball," referencing an old Alka-Seltzer ad. The episode lives up to the billing. A big reveal changes our perception of everything we've seen so far.
That ending serves as a sort of psychological cliff-hanger for the second episode, which helps clear up some of the mystery about Joan and Dennis but will still leave most viewers shaking their heads.
We also get to spend more time with Irwin. Feeling out of sorts, he decides to start using testosterone patches. After coloring his hair with dye from the dollar store, he sets out on an ambitious sales call.
The other two staffers are bland by comparison, but who wouldn't be? Thankfully, they don't fight for camera time.
The show sometimes uses animated sequences to illustrate the principals' backstories. These are cute but uncharacteristically patronizing. The editing, moreover, sometimes resorts to the old trick of using a reaction shot that is probably taken out of context.
But otherwise, "Small Town Security" lets the story tell itself. It's unclear whether that story will demand more than a season of episodes, but for the time being, it's hard to stop watching.
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