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'Snoops' a let-down

Friday, September 24, 1999

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Finally, proof that David E. Kelley is human. After critical success with "L.A. Law," "Picket Fences," "Chicago Hope," "The Practice" and "Ally McBeal," prime time's most prolific producer of the '90s has finally taken a misstep.

"Snoops" is not a drastic blunder. It's not a disaster of "Supertrain"-like proportions. But it is a let-down.

"Snoops," premiering at 9 tonight on ABC, is easily the frothiest, least intelligent of Kelley's TV shows, which is part of the disappointment. If it were from any other producer, critics would just shrug it off as an OK "Charlie's Angels" retread. But "Snoops" was created by David E. Kelley and we expect better from him.

Gina Gershon stars as Glenn Hall, mother hen to a detective agency of squabbling baby chicks - emphasis on squabbling and chicks.

Hall is a steely, break-the-rules kind of gal, but she sees benefits to hiring a former police detective who can smooth things over with the Santa Monica Police Department when necessary. Hall hires Dana Plant (Paula Marshall), a by-the-book logician. Where Hall is reserved, Plant wears her emotions on her sleeve.

Naturally, the two conflict with Plant jabbering concerns at every turn as Hall breaks the law by eavesdropping and hacking into computer files.

"We're not police," Hall reminds Plant. "We have more in common with the criminals, we just have better intentions."

Plant also butts heads with rookie P.I. Roberta Young (Paula Jai Parker), who doesn't want another detective getting all the challenging assignments. The two snipe at each other throughout tonight's pilot, which highlights the show's biggest problem. I didn't care about the characters.

Conflict is a part of every drama series (especially Kelley's "The Practice"), but generally not from the get-go. In tonight's premiere the most sympathetic character is Manny Lott (Danny Nucci), the only male detective in the agency who sings to himself while driving.

Tonight Manny gets all guilty about whether he should tell an emotionally vulnerable client that her husband is cheating on her. This plot makes Manny seem like a character, while the others are caricatures.

In the second episode, Roberta has a moment of remorse and reflection. Maybe this is coincidence, but if the plan is to have one character mope and question his or her career choice each week, that calculating turn will become old fast.

Marshall, who impressed in last season's short-lived "Cupid," plays a similarly harping character in "Snoops." Yet, the way Marshall pulls it off, you don't hate her.

On "Cupid," her love interest was either a guy who really was the god of love or a nut case. In "Snoops," she's mooning over her former partner, Greg McCormack (Edward Kerr), who still works for the police. How he's going to work into stories is unclear. His character is an outsider like Helen Gamble (Lara Flynn Boyle) on "The Practice," so maybe he and Manny will become roommates to further pull him into plots.

Gershon, best known for risque turns in "Showgirls" and "Bound," brings the same gutsy, semi-hostile bearing to Glenn Hall. She only seems willing to let her guard down when Hall goes undercover in the second episode, but even then you never forget you're watching Gershon.

Nucci, best known as the guy who boarded "Titanic" with Leonardo DiCaprio, charms his way through "Snoops" and comes across as the only sensible one in the cold, high-tech agency.

What "Snoops" has going for it is a slick sound and visual style from co-executive producer and director Allan Arkush ("The Temptations" mini-series). Arkush is a big music fan and he puts a bevy of oldies to work in the pilot, including "Secret Agent Man," "Mr. Big Stuff" and the show's theme song, "One Way or Another."

The look of the series emphasizes bright primary colors and blurring scenes of Los Angeles at night. That matches the sterile environment of Hall's detective agency, and the theme works, but it may drive viewers away.

ABC's decision to pair "Snoops" with "The Practice" may backfire. "Snoops" isn't deep enough to entertain viewers who tune in to see Kelley's legal gymnastics on "The Practice."

I'm holding out hope "Snoops" will improve over time even though Kelley won't be writing many episodes beyond the ones airing tonight and next week.

Kelley admits his pilots are just a blueprint and he'd never put a pilot among the Top 20 episodes from any of his shows. But the pilots of Kelley's previous series have shown potential. Maybe I'm missing something, but I don't see it in "Snoops."

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