In many ways it is similar to one of my favorite TV series of all time, NYPD Blue. Its on-location realism and shaky-camera-movement style add a sense of rawness and believability to the scenes, just as in the Steven Bochco classic, but with less of the risque "blue" factor (profanity, nudity, etc.) that made the Dennis Franz cop show so infamous (and a ratings winner). It is definitely an example of tamer episodic television, but since its stories deal with murder in the Motor City, there are still some gruesome elements and some shocking plot twists.
But while NYPD Blue was completely faithful to its Big Apple roots, from the accents to the iconic "only in New York" details that drove its storylines, Detroit 1-8-7 sometimes seems like its setting was selected randomly. I have never been to Detroit, so if I get that impression, then I'm pretty sure natives probably feel it too. Its title alone provides evidence that it was written by outsiders. The number "1-8-7" is the penal code for homicide -- in Los Angeles. (In Detroit it's 750, in New York it's 150, etc.) There was also a big furor when one of the characters made a reference to "soda" -- in Detroit, the preferred word for carbonated beverages is "pop." That all sounds trivial, but it all adds up to the believability of the premise, especially for a drama striving for realism.
All of that aside, the pluses outweigh the negatives. In a TV landscape dominated by procedurals that focus on forensic investigations, it is refreshing to see a show that depicts detectives hunting down murderers without having to rely on high-tech gadgets to do so.
The cast is outstanding -- Michael Imperioli (from The Sopranos) as Louis Fitch, a moody detective from New York (of course); Jon Michael Hill (from the Steppenwolf Theater Company in Chicago) as his rookie partner Damon Washington; and Aisha Hinds (who has appeared in The Shield, Invasion, Dollhouse, True Blood, Hawthorne, and Weeds) as the tough-as-nails Lt. Maureen Mason. The best parts of the show are the storylines centering on the sexual dynamics between Detectives Ariana Sanchez and John Stone (played nicely by Natalie Martinez and D.J. Cotrona, respectively) and the dramedy scenes with Detective Vikram Mahajan (played by Shaun Majumder) and Sergeant Jesse Longford (played by NYPD Blue's James McDaniel).
Don't let this show die. It has grown progressively better throughout its season, and it deserves to come back again. Tune in to the finale and judge for yourself.