Built to Rec

Plot, What Plot? I Watch The Rookie for Lucy Chen and Tim Bradford (a.k.a. Chenford)

Or: 20 little ways The Rookie's Lucy/Tim keep me tuning into a police procedural.

Relationship: Lucy Chen and Tim Bradford (Chenford)
Fandom: The Rookie (TV series, 2018- )
Where to Watch: ABC and/or Hulu
Time Investment: 40 (one-hour) episodes so far; Season 2’s airing now
Recommended for: Hardened veterans of the workplace romance trope know the score and are content to wait a minimum of five (5) seasons for their ship to come in, if it ever does.

Note: Spoilers for seasons 1 and 2 of The Rookie ahead!

I put off watching The Rookie, I admit. Nathan Fillion’s new ABC showabout a 40-something man whose divorce, son moving away to college, and a bank robbery inspire him to move to L.A. and train to become the oldest junior officer in the L.A.P.D.didn’t seem like my cup of tea. Wasn’t really a Castle person and didn’t have much interest in a new cop drama, given the real-world abuses of power being committed by police officers across the country on a depressingly regular basis. There were too many other series out there to worry about trying something I wasn’t jazzed about.

But as it’s wont to do, tumblr changed my mind with a well-timed “recommended” gifset that featured an attractive pair, who were, as I quickly put together, Lucy Chen and Tim Bradford (a.k.a. Chenford) from The Rookie. Suddenly I forgot all the reasons I’d never given it a shot, because that gifset clarified that they are exactly my type of ship. Check it:

Officer Lucy Chen is a hotshot recruit who applied to the police academy mostly as an act of rebellion against her psychologist parents, and who makes her first arrest before even reporting for duty on her first day.

Her newly assigned training officer, Tim Bradford, is a seasoned cop who gives every impression, that first shift, of being a stereotypical macho hard-ass at best, or, worst-case scenario, a racist with no business wearing the uniform at all. Lucy’s understandably unsure of which it is (and, honestly, maybe the show wasn’t too sure at first either? he does some problematic things, no question). On closer inspection, though, she finds that, in fact, he’s a thoroughly decent man, one who feels it’s only right and just that cops be held to a higher standard than civilians. One whobelieve it or notviews training rookies as an honor as well as a duty. (Which isn’t to say he isn’t also proud of putting his trainees through their paces and even washing out the ones who can’t hack it; he absolutely is. “Everything is a test,” as he says early and often.)

Given that they’re both alphas, you’d expect them to go together like oil and water, but he’s surprisingly even-keeled as a teacher despite the bluster and she really, really wants to learn to be a good cop. They make it work. Grudgingly, at first, and then…less so. As Chen and Bradford spend more time with each other, they don’t just fall into a groove as mentor and mentee; they begin functioning as true partners. I mean…hello! They’re total ship bait.

Now, given that I’ve just stressed that they’re consummate professionals who’ll put the badge before their personal feelings, do I believe Chenford will be a thing anytime soon? Not really, no. Much like Josh Lyman and Donna Moss in The West Wing, I think the two need to be on a more level playing field before anything could or would happen between them. As long as Bradford is Chen’s T.O., he will not make a move, and she would never cross that line and risk the career that she loves.

That cold, hard truth doesn’t keep me from shipping the hell out of them, however, or hoping that one day, when Lucy’s a full-fledged officer who no longer reports to Tim, my ship will sail. Because, you see, they’re the reason I now watch The Rookie, and I’ve just got to tell you about the 20 (!!!) little ways they keep me coming back for more…

#1: He’s teaching her everything he knows.

Bradford has trained his fair share of rookies and has some go-to tactics. On Chen’s first shift, he suddenly stops the squad car and asks her where they are; when she can’t answer, he makes her get out of the car and walk beside it until she can pinpoint their exact location. He challenges her in other ways too, like by making a casually racist comment and gauging her response, or making a deliberately provocative claim and then chewing her out for leaving those details out of a report to protect him.

Understandably, Chen doesn’t know WHAT to make of her uncompromising T.O. in the beginning, but soon enough, she recognizes his prickly exterior protects a soft heart and that his obnoxious tests are all meant to prepare her for the realities of patrol. Of course, she still bitches about them, and he enjoys torturing her. (Never forget that hilarious “cop eyes” exercise, which pays off sooner rather than later when she spots a fake cop.)

#2: They watch each other’s backs.

Sure, this is no less than what you’d expect from any pair of police partners, but it’s worth noting that they regularly go above and beyond the call of duty for each other. When Bradford’s estranged wife (and former partner) begs him to hide evidence that could put her away for drug possession, for instance, Chen makes it her personal mission to stop him. She trails him in her civilian vehicle, then practically pleads with him not to do something he’d always regret and that wouldn’t actually help his ex in the long run. (The fact that he’d already decided against it is almost beside the point.)

Then there’s that time when Bradford, acting on pure instinct after being exposed to a weaponized form of hemorrhagic fever, unhesitatingly slams the door in Chen’s face to keep her away from the threat. Maybe it was 90% protocol that made him act, but you can’t convince me the other 10% wasn’t about wanting Chen, specifically, to be OK. Bonus: The way they angsted though the door was pretty great.

#3: He insists on complete honesty from her—even when it could land him in trouble.

Bradford’s tests? They never really stop, even when his own career’s on the line. During that previously mentioned hemorrhagic fever scare of Season 1’s “Free Fall,” Bradford tells Chen that if he catches the fatal illness, he’s going to go out on his own terms. Later, when he notes that Chen doesn’t include that comment in her report, he chews her out for the omission. Her instinct was to protect him, which you can tell means something to him to hear, once he recovers from the pure shock, but Bradford wants her to serve with transparency and integrity, period.

#4: They brag about each other when not together.

While anyone could see they think the world of each other, Bradford and Chen rarely compliment each other directly; it’s just not their way. Give up the bickering that gives them such delight on a daily basis? Why ever would they do that? Gross sentimentality seeps out of them around other people, though. Bradford isn’t shy about boasting of his rookie’s competence to their colleagues, and he positively beams with pride when she aces her exam. Meanwhile, Chen defends her T.O.’s character to anyone who dares question it (“he’s calculating, not cruel”) and tells her friend Rachel that he “has a good heart.” In fact, she’s captain of the Tim Bradford Protection Squad.

#5: She sends him comfort food.

For better or worse, police officers are part of an intense brotherhood; they look after each other on and off duty. So when Bradford’s shot in the line of duty in Season 1, it’s not that surprising that his rookie would be concerned and want to offer a get-well token. Sending him (possibly homemade) meals, though? It’s an early sign that Lucy sees Tim as a friend as much as a coworker.

But wait, IT GETS BETTER…

#6: He knows her favorite takeout order by heart.

In Season 2’s “Day of Death,” when Lucy’s recovering in the hospital after a kidnapping (trust me: we’ll get to that), Tim doesn’t just sit by her bedside all night. Nope, he also correctly predicts that she’s going to need tastier food than what the hospital doles out. Before she can even ask, he lifts a takeout bag containing her go-to fast food order: Veggie burger with fries and extra pickles. “You know me too well,” she says, to which he replies: “Too well.” I, personally, could dine off of this scene for weeks. (Oh, who am I kidding? I already have.) Confirmed: Food is their love language!

#7: She spends hours RECORDING AN AUDIOBOOK to help him study for his sergeant’s exam.

It’s impossible to overstate how meaningful it is that Lucy doesn’t just piece together that Tim’s a kinesthetic learner who absorbs information better when he hears it, but also quietly finds a way to help, and only after he requests it. She doesn’t judge himsomething Tim clearly fears as someone with a reputation as a tough guy with zero weaknessesand she doesn’t blab about this revelation to her buddies on the force, not our girl.

She simply confirms her suspicion with help from his ex (whom Lucy reaches out to, because apparently they’ve bonded over their mutual care for Tim?!!!!) and then just, y’know…RECORDS HERSELF READING HIS TEXTBOOK. For HOURS. ON HER DAY OFF. AS YOU DO. It’s a big sacrifice for anyone to make, but especially someone who’s probably functioning on next to no sleep and a precious little free time in between long, demanding shifts.

For Tim’s part, imagine how intimate it must be to listen to that audiobook! My headcanon is that he’s too distracted by and caught up in her voice to pay close attention to what he’s supposed to be learning the first time around, so he has to listen to it again…and again. (And again.)

#8: She’s the best rookie he’s ever trained, if she says so herself.

Lucy’s playful tone can’t fully cover the sense that she wants this to be true. Tim, for his part, doesn’t rise to the bait or contradict her. Hmm!

#9: He’s bashful and can’t maintain eye contact when she tells him he excels at being a cop.

You know when I said these two boneheads prefer to save their compliments about each other for instances where there’s no risk of being overheard? Well, Lucy makes an exception in early season 2, telling Tim oh-so earnestly something we all knew she’d been thinking for some time, which is that she admires him. He’s caught off guard and adorably flustered by her words.

Maybe it’s because they’re being serious for once, or maybe it’s because Tim’s half naked and sweaty (Lucy has tracked him down in the gym to hand over the recording), but for the first time, the UST is absolutely undeniable.

#10: SHE BETS SHE CAN SUCCESSFULLY SET HIM UP ON A BLIND DATE.

I repeat: Lucy. Makes a bet. With Tim. That she can set him up on a date with “the right person”!!! High off the closeness forged by helping him study, Lucy figures, why stop there? She blows right past professional and personal boundaries by attempting to grill Tim about his dating life. Undeterred by his rebuke, she playfully proposes a friendly wager: If he likes the woman she sets him up with, she gets to wear her short-sleeve uniform. But if she fails, Tim counters, she’ll have to drop and do 50 push-ups after each call they take. AND THEN HE TAKES HER BET.

Can you imagine Lopez and West doing this? How about Nolan and Harper? No, you can’t. Why? Because they’re not secretly crushing on their partners, that’s why! It’s a terrible idea, obviously. This is self-evident when they make the bet and even more so when Tim’s sitting across from Lucy’s college friend, Rachel, unable to quit bringing up Chen (“sorry...‘Lucy’”). Nothing says “my feelings for my rookie are completely platonic” like using your first date with a gorgeous woman who’s into you to learn more about said rookie and then to prank her into thinking she lost the bet when she won it. That’s some rom-com shit right there.

#11: She coaches him on his relationship with her friend…and he listens.

The West Wing’s Donna and Josh want their storyline back! All I could think about, while watching Lucy guide Tim toward a thoughtful birthday gift for Rachel in season 2’s episode “Warriors and Guardians,” was how Donna used to regularly save her hapless boss from himself when it came to women. She was secretly in love with him, but wanted him to be happy, so she gave him advice from the heart, as a friend, for years.

Josh and Donna, by the way, were endgame. They ended up having one of the most satisfying romances in all of TV. Just sayin’.

#12: They calmly, bravely face the end of the world together.

As the clock runs out on a likely missile attack that would wipe out downtown Los Angeles, Tim (a.k.a. Mister “I’m the guy who catches the nuke”) stays focused on his role as a first responder and shows Lucy how to keep her cool too. To distract her from what very well could be their imminent deaths, he asks how she’d sabotage her ex-boyfriend’s wedding to the woman he cheated on her with, who happens to be her former best friend. Later, with just seconds to go, they each grab a bottle of the liquor from the store they’ve promised to guard from looters and toast to the end of the world. All of which is to say that they prove they make an indestructible (and super hot) team. Partners who defy death together, stay together?

#13: He jealously snatches a guy’s phone number out of her hand.

Most of Tim and Lucy’s behavior could be attributed purely to friendship up through early season 2, I admit. But there’s no arguing that flirty subtext becomes text when Tim gets territorial over her around a civilian who’s trying to ask her out. The guy turns out to be a serial killer, but still. Tim doesn’t know that when he decides to stick his nose in Lucy’s personal business and take it upon himself to size the guy up like an overprotective big brother…or something else altogether.

#14: He blames himself when she gets kidnapped.

When you’re into a ship for the long haul, you will cling to the smallest shred of evidence that it’ll set sail one day. That said, you don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to pick up what The Rookie season 2’s winter premiere puts down. When Tim finds out Lucy’s been kidnapped by notorious murderer Rosalind Dyer’s accomplice, he blames himself, saying: “I’m a cop. I was standing this close to the guy, right across from him, and I never saw him coming. But she did, though. Some part of her didn’t feel right about the whole thing. She hesitated and I pushed her right at him.”

What he leaves out here is that, in actual fact, he hated the guy on sight. So why does he really feel guilty? Because he assumed it was his jealousy speaking, not his cop instincts, and that in turn led him to push Lucy to go on that date. (You know I’m right.)

#15: He proves he’ll do a n y t h i n g to get her back.

Officer Bradford rarely loses his cool, so it’s admittedly thrilling to watch him unravel during the frantic search for a missing Lucy. From threatening potential informants to securing a warrant and SWAT team to chase down a lead, he’s unrelenting in his mission to get her back. “I’m responsible for a life that’s in jeopardy,” he says at one point, and that’s that.

Sure enough, when the team’s conducting a search of Rosalind’s killing ground and Lucy’s potential burial spot, Tim’s the one who spots Lucy’s ring shining in the sun from the ground. Tim’s the one who pries open the barrel and pulls Lucy out of the darkness. And Tim’s the one who resuscitates her with CPR, then holds her in his arms while she cries. Even after she’s safely ensconced in a hospital bed, he stays by her side all night, much as he tries to deny it. It’s a lot.

#16: He keeps tabs on her…and she lets him.

Terrified of being seen as fragile following her kidnapping and medical leave, Lucy refuses to show weakness around her squad. She doesn’t want people to clap when she walks into the morning briefing, looks visibly annoyed at the news she won’t be riding with Bradford, and brushes off any perceived coddling. Yet for all her claims that she’s fine because she’s passed all the mandated evals and participated in various forms of therapy like any good daughter of psychologists, Lucy’s not fine, guys. PTSD isn’t something you can will away, and that’s absolutely what triggers Lucy’s fight-or-flight response to the speed-dating rando who reaches out to pull a thread from her sweater only to find himself on the ground. (Don’t get me wrong: He deserved it.)

Detective Harper, who shares her own experience with trauma, tries to help Lucy the best way she knows how, but it’s Tim who eventually breaks through her denial. Despite a mild “What are you, keeping tabs on me?” protest from Lucy, she doesn’t truly seem to mind that he’s been monitoring mentions of her over the radio and knows exactly what kind of day she’s had. (Anyone else hear an echo from season 1, when she asks: “So, what, you came to check on me?” Aaaahhh.) Whereas she’s pretended to be in tip-top shape with everyone else, when Tim asks if he can do anything, she responds: “Not unless you have a time machine.” What’s more, she gets a little teary-eyed when he responds softly, “I wish I did.” (Yes, I’ve watched this scene multiple times to be sure.)

She doesn’t even know that Tim has a minor freak-out upon hearing from Angela that Lucy had “a bit of a moment” at speed dating, BUT WE DO. That guy is a goner.

#17: She’s seeing her scars in a new light because of him.

Counting down the days and hours until she can get that “day of death” tattoo removed has helped keep Lucy sane; she seems to be under the impression she’ll be able to wipe away the mental scars just as easily. Until Tim catches a glimpse of it one night at the gym and offers his perspective as someone with his own share of scars, including, he casually reveals, memories of a father who used to “tune [him] up on the regular.” Whatever she decides to do about it, he wants her to know, that tattoo is proof positive that she’s a survivor and the date it proclaims is merely the first day of the rest of her life. It seems to be just what Lucy didn’t know she needed to hear.

Tim isn’t done, though. Before he leaves, he “remembers” something else, something that’s apparently been tucked in his pocket for some time: her ring. Without a word, he tosses her that symbol of her tenacity and cleverness. It’s a silent reminder that she is the reason he was able to find her. That in actual fact, she saved herself. The LOOK they share in those moments of connection, whew. It’s riveting.

#18: They’re co-parenting a fur baby.

Okay, this might be a SLIGHT exaggeration, given what we’ve seen on the teevee so far, but that’s my headcanon and I’m sticking to it.

When Lucy makes the (somewhat rash) decision to foster a gorgeous pitbull named Kujo as part of her healing process, she forgets one small thing: Dogs are a lot of work. Like, a lot, a lot. Cold, hard reality smacks Lucy in the face the day she and Bradford respond to her landlord’s annoyed call about barking coming from her apartment only to find that Kujo has destroyed absolutely everything in sight. Tim’s not only entertained by this (pardon the pun) rookie mistake, but he’s happy to rub a little salt in the wound by getting Kujo to sit after the pup straight-up ignores his mother. Even if she had the time to invest in obedience classes, Lucy couldn’t promise her roommate, Jackson, that the doggo wouldn’t ruin more of his stuff.

Who steps up to assume responsibility for her progeny but Tim? That’s right, in a perfect display of “grumpy one is soft for the sunshine-y one,” Tim takes Kujo home with him. It’s sweet and satisfying, because this dog lover clearly needed a new buddy. It’s also thrilling, because it’s one more personal link between Lucy and Tim that has nothing to do with her training. Imagining the two of them meeting up on their days off to walk their fur baby together is one of my favorite new hobbies, and if all the new fanfic is any indication, I’m not alone, thank GOD.

#19: Tim passed up a major promotion for her!!!!

Remember all that time Lucy invested in recording audiobooks for Tim to help him study for his sergeant’s exam? It all pays off when they learn from Sgt. Grey that he passed with flying colors, notching one of the top scores and all but guaranteeing he’ll be promoted within the next few months. Lucy’s delighted gasp at this news is such that Tim swings his head around to give her a funny look while Grey side-eyes them BOTH. Her smile only dims at Grey’s second piece of (objectively good) news: There’s an opening at a nearby station with Bradford’s name on it, if he wants it. He could start in two weeks.

Dream jobs don’t come around very often (as Tim himself will later tell Rachel), so why does he hesitate to say “yes”? Why does he end up turning it down?! We don’t need to speculate, ’cause he makes it sound so simple when he explains to Lucy that he wants to see her training through. In fact, his exact words are: “Tim Bradford finishes what he starts. I haven’t finished training you.”

Need I say more? This ship sails itself.

#20: Lucy craves his advice.

As two supremely beautiful beings, neither Bradford nor Chen is hurting for attention from potential love interests, which is why it’s no surprise that an EMT takes an interest in our girl. Wading back into the dating pool is an intimidating prospect for her, though. Is she ready? Can she trust her gut again? Lucy needs to talk these things through, and wants to do it with Tim.

Unable to come right out and ask for his help (gah, these stubborn idiots), she pretends to unload all her insecurities on Rachel by speaking into her disconnected phone while a bemused Tim shakes his head from the seat beside her. To end the charade, he places a real call to her phone and, once she picks up, reminds her that he knows full well that Rachel is in a work meeting. Exposed, Lucy confesses her little show was a desperate attempt to use him as a sounding board, albeit an unwitting one. Now she has his full attention.

What comes next immediately secured its place as my all-time favorite Chenford scene (for now). Tim, caught off guard by the idea that Lucy’s actively seeking out relationship advice from him, blurts out his shock that she’d want his opinion after he “pushed her towards Caleb and [she] nearly died.” Lucy quickly and forcefully corrects the record, letting him (and herself, finally) off the hook about not somehow sensing they were in the midst of evil.

They both let this sink in for a beat before Tim finally gives his verdict on Lucy’s new crush: She could do better. (SHE. COULD. DO BETTER!!!!1!!) They both just kinda laugh his comment offhe says it’s ’cause the guy, Emmett, is an EMT (who works for the fire department), while Lucy jokes that Tim’s “threatened by his hunkiness” (HA!)but it sure sounded sincere…

Confirmed: Tim’s still a hot mess about her kidnapping and I’m in a glass case of emotion about it.


Long article VERY short, the little moments that make up Lucy and Tim’s complicated relationship are now imprinted on my heart. Watching them dance around each other is pure joy, no matter where it leads (or doesn’t!). So Chenford, my loves, go on, hit me with the next feels attack, please and thanks.


P.S. Consider this your chance to get in on the ground floor of the Chenford fandom! There’s still a manageable number of fanworks to catch up on (only 60 fics are currently devoted to them on AO3), so you have no excuse not to join the fun as the anticipation around these two builds from week to week, episode to episode. Here’s my recommended viewing/following/reading list…

Tim/Lucy screenshot via timeguardians.tumblr.com

P.P.S. I’d like to dedicate this magnum opus to my friend Jenn. You know what you did.

Updated 4/26/20 to incorporate new scenes from Season 2

4 comments

  1. So, this is what brought me to Shiprecced. I’ve been watching The Rookie since the first episode – I like it, and I think it’s more than the sum of its procedural parts – and low-key enjoying the relationship between Chen and Bradford. But when I watched the episode after the kidnapping two-parter – which I think is the stage at which this post was written – I suddenly realised that I was shipping them VERY HARD INDEED, and wondered if anyone else was. Which… brought me to Shiprecced. (I have unlimited respect for anyone who can come up with 17 reasons to ship.)

    Let me say that in real life I am entirely on board with uneasiness about workplace relationships, particularly those when one person is in a position of authority over the other, and particularly particularly when the power imbalance favours a man over a woman. But while Chenford wouldn’t necessarily be appropriate IRL, this isn’t RL, and I ship the heck out of them. The RING, dudes. THE RING. I do agree, though, that we might need to play the long game with this one, given Bradford’s unhelpfully reverential view of his duties as a TO, and the reasons why Nolan and Chen split up. (Sidebar – unless the writers go back on this, I also really liked the way in which Nolan and Chen transitioned, like adults, from being lovers to being friends and colleagues.)

    Incidentally, we’re UK-based, so might be a few weeks (about four, as far as I can see) behind you if you’re on the American schedule. But if there are Chenford developments I will be BACK.

    1. There’s so much here to reply to that I had to wait until I had a nice stretch of time to get it all down, but first I just want to say thank you! This is taking me back to the days of LiveJournal and my time in the BSG fandom, where we’d have thoughtful, long-running conversations via blog comments that you just don’t see anymore. Twitter and tumblr don’t allow for the same kind of community building, more’s the pity.

      Yes, you are exactly right, I felt compelled to write this post after the kidnapping arc, which I feel took the show to a new level and made it must-see TV. Given how they’ve been hitting new rating records over here, it seems that others agree. (Now, this is where I say that, as a feminist, I feel I should probably hate that storyline? Female cop must be rescued by her colleagues? Ack. But since ALL the officers in this show have needed rescuing at one point or another in this show, and b/c the writers made it clear that Lucy basically saved herself by throwing that ring that Tim saw glimmering in the sun, I just found it all as thrilling as intended.) I mean, you said it:

      THE RING! Apparently Tim returning it to Lucy was something that the actors, not the writers, suggested be added. You love to see it!

      (Haha, if you respect 17 reasons to ship it, wait ’til I update it with what’s happened in the last few episodes. There are yet more reasons. Can’t stop, won’t stop!)

      Agreed, of course, about this being TV and not needing to worry too much about real-life appropriate workplace behavior, which is good because they keep crossing that line and I sure hope they continue to do so. Oh, and well said about Chen/Nolan. Glad they ended it so amicably and hope that’s the end of that. How refreshing that would be.

      UK, you say? Very cool. I’m in New York. There’ve been a couple weeks without new episodes, so you may be catching up to us! Looking forward to your thoughts on recent Chenford developments. There’s one exchange they have in the patrol car that touches on Tim’s guilt re: her kidnapping that is just…it’s beautiful. They keep raising the bar and I’m obsessed.

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