Dick Wolf, hear him growl. In an era of streaming copycats and committee-think, Wolf remains network television’s signature franchise operator and master of his domain. Not since the stirring words “A Quinn Martin Production” were stamped on the opening credits of Cannon, Barnaby Jones, and The Streets of San Francisco has any prime-time producer been so identifiable with hard-grimacing, meat-and-potatoes action drama.

What Wolf added to the prime-time suspense package was social density, racial and sexual diversity, and the grinding mesh of interlocking interests. He adopted and adapted the director Sidney Lumet’s institutional inquiry into crime, corruption, and legal bartering in films such as Serpico, Prince of the City, and Q&A for the television, beginning with Law & Order in 1990, presenting a cross-sectional portrait of urban strife and status hierarchy, and packing his casts with Broadway actors who could drop nuance into a scene like a dime.

Parker Posey in Hot Pursuit

Law & Order begot the glowering Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, the only survivor of the L&O enterprise still tottering, and the cerebral Law & Order: Criminal Intent. Having extracted nearly every available square inch of grit and attitude from the five boroughs, Wolf trained his binoculars on the beefy Midwest and, lo, a second municipal franchise was born: Chicago Fire (2012), followed by Chicago P.D. and Chicago Med, the triplets occupying a solid block of NBC’s Wednesday prime-time schedule.

And still Wolf’s appetite is not slaked. Now he is muscling into the booming medium of podcast entertainment with Hunted, a hard-charging series starring Parker Posey as U.S. Marshal Emily Barnes, a deputy in hot pursuit of four escaped prisoners from a maximum-security prison in South Texas who have strewed a string of dead bodies in their getaway.

Wolf at his home in Montecito, California. A master of network television has turned to podcasts.

Differentiating itself from the pack, Hunted isn’t a true-crime re-creation but a scripted drama described by its executive producer, Elliot Wolf (son of Dick), as “audio fiction.” Whatever label it wears, Hunted hearkens back to the classic coppers that made old-time radio bustle and pop with gunshots, terse banter, and the urgent crackle of squad-car radios (Gang Busters, The Lineup, Broadway Is My Beat, and Jack Webb’s classic gumshoe minuet, Dragnet). Through its state-of-the-art sound design, Hunted aspires to movieness, an enveloping, heightened realism where every rustle of paper, crunch of gravel, or idling car motor plays its dramatic part and fosters a present-tense, you-are-there immediacy. This it achieves. Where the crime dramas could be a trifle pokey and larded with exposition, this one is determined to keep a heavy boot on the accelerator. It takes the listener on a desperado ride.

Hunted hearkens back to the classic coppers that made old-time radio bustle and pop with gunshots, terse banter, and the urgent crackle of squad-car radios.

The result is a series that is propulsive and exciting but also exhausting in its singular mission and stripped-down storytelling. It’s too one-track for its own good, so serious and intense it gives itself lockjaw. A huge part of the pleasure of the procedural is the gathering and sifting of evidence, the putting together of the jigsaw pieces and the conjectural dialogue between detectives as they keep circling back to some nagging loose end until the sudden aha moments or phone call that sends everyone grabbing their jackets and rushing from the precinct.

Hunted understands that there are no evidence boards in radio, no colored threads skeined across a map until a pattern emerges, nothing for us to mind-map, and instead relies entirely on the thrill of pursuit and apprehension. Which is plenty enough to keep a half-hour episode barreling along—no longueurs here—but doesn’t supply any of the incidental, residual fillips that could give even the most assembly-line B-movie cop chase a flinty personality. The production values of Hunted are A-level but everything else about it seems to have come out of the coffee grinder: the hard-bitten, staccato dialogue; the hand-me-down characterizations (the gruff commanding officer, the garrulous old coot who asks too many questions, the jumpy escapees—“We gotta get outa here, man”); and the shouty, overemphatic performances, as if the actors were punching a stapler at the end of every line. Yes, even Parker Posey.

Nonstop Crisis Mode

It pains me to say so. I adore Parker Posey; we all do. It’s un-American not to. As a comic actor, she has a distinct piquancy and flustered, borderline neurotic energy that made her the “It girl” of the indie film back before the indie film became synonymous with late-capitalist malaise. The way Posey spaced out during her gum-snapping Dairy Queen monologue at the end of Waiting for Guffman, her deadpan disdain in The Daytrippers, her spiraling hysteria in Best in Show, all are endearing and enduring.

Parker Posey plays a U.S. marshal on the trail of four murderous escaped prisoners in Hunted.

Cast against type in Hunted and laden with a Texas accent that seems to be tailing behind her, Posey is caught in a tight gamut of barking orders, standing up for herself against her Gruff Superior, and barking more orders; there isn’t a single offhand wisecrack or mordant aside—the role and the series’s nonstop crisis mode monotonizes her. I didn’t expect a female Raylan Givens from Justified, but a healthy dash of suave menace would have been nice. It never hurts to spring a little Elmore Leonard on us. If a second season of Hunted comes about, another Wolf Entertainment franchise may be in the offing, but for it to succeed it’s going to need to loosen its Vulcan grip and let some air in.

What These Patriarchal Billionaires Do

“Behind every great fortune lies a great crime,” as the hoary adage goes, and that’s the springboard for another new audio fiction, Blood Ties, starring Josh Gad and Gillian Jacobs as the children of billionaire cardiologist, author, and health-care magnate Dr. Peter Richland, whose plane vanishes en route to the Caribbean island where the family is planning to kick back for the holidays. Their mother, who was on the flight, lies in a pitch-black morgue (due to a power outage on the island, the siblings have to identify her remains with a flashlight, a nice, creepy detail) while their father’s body has yet to be recovered, likewise the plane debris. All rather rum, as any mystery fan can deduce. Turns out the sainted doctor was hiding some dark, nasty, predatory secrets, because of course he was—that’s what these patriarchal billionaires do, and why the sins and crimes of rich bastards make for such a dramatic vein of gold in the era of Succession and Jeffrey Epstein. (A second season has been announced for July.) Blood Ties might have benefited from a little more humor and a little less hyperventilating, but otherwise the episodes go down like candy.

James Wolcott is a columnist for AIR MAIL