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Need more cop action? Catch ‘22’

On “NYC 22” Chicago’s Terry Kinney plays cop training rookies including an ex-reporter (Adam Goldberg).

On “NYC 22,” Chicago’s Terry Kinney plays a cop training rookies including an ex-reporter (Adam Goldberg).

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‘NYC 22’ ★★

9 to 10 p.m. Sundays on WBBM-Channel 2

Updated: May 16, 2012 8:12AM

Six freshly minted police academy grads patrol the sometimes mean streets of upper Manhattan in CBS’ new cop drama “NYC 22.”

The series’ original working title was “Rookies.” Terry Kinney, who plays the newbies’ field training officer, is glad that name didn’t stick.

“It’s a show that focuses on much more than the rookies,” Kinney said. “It’s a show about the relationship — both what works and what is uneasy — between a police precinct and a neighborhood in transition, which is Harlem.”

Kinney, a central Illinois native who co-founded Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company in the mid-’70s, now calls New York home. (He misses Chicago. “My temperament is suited to that city.”)

In “NYC 22,” gentrification and gang violence are equal realities in the 22nd precinct that gives the series its name. Turns out the neighborhood is just as diverse as the show’s half dozen rookies charged with protecting it.

We have Jayson “Jackpot” Toney (Harold House Moore), a young, black basketball star who blew it in the NBA. He’s got his wandering eye on partner Jennifer “White House” Perry (Leelee Sobieski), a coldly efficient Marine MP who served in Iraq.

Tonya Sanchez (Judy Marte) is the feisty Latina who comes from a family with a criminal history.

Afghanistan-born Ahmad Khan (Tom Reed) is the butt of Taliban and kite runner jokes, and Kenny McLaren (Stark Sands) represents a long-standing Irish-American tradition as a fourth-generation cop.

Rounding out the rookie roster is Adam Goldberg as Ray “Lazarus” Harper, a heavy-drinking former newspaper reporter who now patrols the beat he covered before he got axed.

“NYC 22” reunites Goldberg with his good friend Kinney on the small screen. Both men played cops on “The Unusuals,” a 2009 ABC series about dysfunctional New York City police officers.

That show was a dark comedy. What few laughs “NYC 22” has are subtle, although Kinney’s performance as a seen-it-all-before, gum-chewing field training officer injects some welcome dry humor into the drama. His character begrudgingly goes by the nickname Yoda, a nod to his duties transforming new recruits into capable crime fighters.

“Here are my orders of the day,” Daniel “Yoda” Dean tells a car full of rookies as he drops them off at their respective foot posts, like a carpool mom taking the kids to school. “Don’t get hurt. Don’t hurt anyone. Keep your mouth shut and your eyes open. In essence, just stand there.”

Like kids, these rookies don’t listen.

“NYC 22” is a character-driven police drama — something along the lines of TNT’s “Southland.” One crucial difference: “Southland’s” characters are more compelling. Most of the rookies on “NYC 22” are shaping up to be types rather than nuanced personalities you grow to understand and care about.

From what little I’ve seen of “NYC 22’s” seasoned cops (Kinney excluded), they’re even more one-dimensional. They’re like Mean Girls with guns; their primary job seems to be making the rookies feel unwelcome — and they go at it with a gusto that would indicate these guys love their job.

When it comes to most of the rookie characters and the plot, nothing in the pilot of “NYC 22” jumps out as being particularly original or interesting. It’s not a bad show. But it’s not a very good one, either — at least not yet.

These disappointments are all the more surprising when you look at the heavy-hitter names attached to the project. Robert De Niro executive produces the series, created and penned by Oscar-nominated screenwriter Richard Price (“The Color of Money”).

Price’s credits include writing several episodes of “The Wire,” the HBO drama critically acclaimed for its realistic portrayal of urban life. To “NYC 22’s” credit, that same “insider’s look” comes through. We see gang bangers duking it out with walking canes and pipes instead of guns and knives because the latter come with serious weapons charges.

A plainclothes sergeant on the Gang Intel Unit describes his job as that of a “mobile scarecrow,” constantly trying to keep rival gangs from going to war just long enough for them to forget their original beef and find a new enemy.

“It’s called sweepin’ leaves on a windy day,” one cop explains.

“This is a pretty hyper-realistic, gritty depiction of everyday life as a cop,” Kinney said. “It’s not very pretty. The police dramas I’ve seen seem to have a lot of gloss on them.”

It would be great if gloss were the only thing missing in “NYC 22.” But its pitfalls result in a rookie series that doesn’t warrant much attention in television’s already crowded cop-show department.

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