Niecy Nash-Betts’ arresting appeal drives ABC dramedy ‘The Rookie: Feds’


We’re three weeks into the run of “The Rookie: Feds,” and the ABC dramedy, starring Niecy Nash-Betts, has the right stuff to stick around for a while.

Nash-Betts (“Reno 911!,” “Claws”) is no stranger to the small screen — or to viewers of “The Rookie,” on which Nash-Betts’ ever-optimistic “Feds” protagonist, Simone Clark, was introduced last season in a two-part episode of the Nathan Fillion series — aka a “backdoor pilot” (read: good chance for a spinoff). Nash-Betts, who knows what she’s doing, adds splashes of quirkiness and humor to Simone, the oldest rookie in the FBI Academy. She’s a former high school guidance counselor who, after helping Fillion’s LAPD officer John Nolan capture a terror suspect on “The Rookie,” is now training for permanent spot in L.A.’s Special Investigative Unit under the watchful eye of Special Agent Matthew Garza.

(He’s played by Felix Solis, who appeared in “The Rookie” backdoor pilot episodes and is best-known to “Ozark” fans as cartel kingpin Omar Navarro. As Garza, he pivots effortlessly here to a somewhat comedic, “what have I gotten myself into?” role. Frankie Faison is also back as Simone’s father, Christopher “Cutty” Clark.)

Niecy Nash-Betts and Kevin Zegers as Simone and Brendon in a scene from "The Rookie: Feds." They're sitting side-by-side behind a desk and look thoughtful. She's wearing a blue denim jacket and a blue shirt; he's wearing a dark sports jacket and a green shirt.
Niecy Nash-Betts and Kevin Zegers as Simone and Brendon in a scene from “The Rookie: Feds.”
ABC

What I’ve enjoyed about “The Rookie: Feds” is the chemistry between Nash-Betts and her supporting cast. Kevin Zegers (“Rebel,” “Fear the Walking Dead”), in a tip of the meta cap, plays Brendon Acres, a chiseled-jaw actor who starred in the YA hit series “Vampire Cop.” He’s chucked it all to join the FBI training program alongside Simone. (Zegers starred in the 2011 movie “Vampire”). They make a fun odd-couple pair for their exasperated mentors, Special Agent Laura Stenson (Britt Robertson) and Special Agent Carter Hope (James Lesure). Stenson is tasked with curbing Brendon’s actorly, showbiz approach (and his awkward dress code) while Hope — who’s dealing with an impending divorce and Garza’s Machiavellian boss, Special Agent in Charge Tracy Chiles (Courtney Ford) — tries to reign in Simone’s instinctive “I know what’s best” decision-making (which, hewing to standard primetime series formula, is usually spot-on).

Simone (Niecy Nash-Betts) in action backed by Special Agent Carter Hope (James Lesure) in a scene from "The Rookie: Feds." She's pointing a gun and is positioned behind an oil drum; he's in the background shouting into a walkie-talkie.
Simone (Niecy Nash-Betts) in action backed by Special Agent Carter Hope (James Lesure) in a scene from “The Rookie: Feds.”
ABC

But it’s Nash-Betts’ arresting appeal that holds the series together and provides a strong foundation for its mixture of drama (there are scenes laden with blood, violence and murder, so be forewarned) and light comedy. Simone is earnest, impulsive and confident, yet also self-deprecating and eager to learn the ropes over which she often jumps without a second thought (in a way that’s endearing, both to viewers and to her bosses). Her interplay with co-stars Zegers, Solis, Robertson and, especially Lesure, is fun to watch and, as the series progresses, I’m guessing that aspect of “The Rookie: Feds” will be magnified as we learn more about the characters’ backstories. And, while its story arcs veer into dark areas (this is a police procedural, after all), they simultaneously parallel a lighter touch provided by the show’s writers and handled adroitly by its cast.

It’s not easy making a go of it in today’s broadcast television universe, which has lost a sizable chunk of its audience to streaming platforms. But there’s hope on the horizon for a series like “The Rookie Feds.” Linear (same-night) viewership on ABC for its premiere averaged over 2 million viewers, which dropped to 1.7 million for Episode 2. That’s certainly nothing to write home about, but the series was boosted by the “new normal” vis-a-vis digital-age ratings: its premiere averaged over 6 million viewers with seven days of delayed viewing factored in, and that’s a good sign. “The Rookie: Feds” was also ABC’s best series premiere (by that standard) since 2020 and the debut of “Big Sky,” which is now in its third season.

Give this one a look-see. I think you will enjoy the ride.

“The Rookie: Feds” airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on ABC.