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UPN's 'The Beat' a pale 'Homicide' replacement

Sunday, March 19, 2000

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

In TV, pedigree carries a lot of weight. But it can't carry an entire TV show.

Keep that in mind when I tell you UPN's police drama "The Beat" (9 p.m. Tuesday) was created by Tom Fontana, the genius behind NBC's "Homicide: Life on the Street." Although "The Beat" rises above much of what's on TV - and everything else on UPN - it is nowhere near as complex and layered as "Homicide." But it may be just as off-putting to some viewers.

Where "Homicide" used a herky-jerky camera style, jump cuts and repetition - particularly in early episodes - "The Beat" mixes scenes shot on video and scenes shot on film.

Barry Levinson, who directed Tuesday's pilot and serves as an executive producer, said when the characters talk police business, "The Beat" is shot on video. When they talk about more personal matters, film stock is used. That doesn't always seem to be the case, but after watching a few episodes, the variety of visuals became less distracting. Some viewers may not give the show that much of a chance.

The series follows twentysomething New York cops Zane Marinelli (Mark Ruffalo) and Mike Dorigan (Derek Cecil) as they bicker, chase perps and give one another advice on their love lives.


"The Beat"

When: 9 p.m. Tuesday on UPN.

Starring: Derek Cecil, Mark Ruffalo


That personal interaction makes "The Beat" interesting.

We've seen all the cop stories before, including the racial discord when a black man dies in the custody of white officers. But nowhere has there been a series regular as crazy as Beatrice (Heather Burns), Zane's psycho girlfriend. By the end of the first episode she commits a crime punishable by imprisonment, yet she's a regular cast member who keeps returning in subsequent episodes to torment Zane.

Beatrice is a fascinating character, because she behaves totally illogically. You don't know what she'll do next.

Mike's fiancee, Elizabeth (Poppy Montgomery), is far more down to earth, as are their spats. She thinks he drinks too much. He's more interested in planning their wedding than she is.

"Homicide" was more about the cases and their effect on the squad, but "The Beat" homes in on the characters. The partnership and jocular friendship between Mike and Zane shows traces of the Pembleton-Bayliss relationship on "Homicide."

As Mike writes up a report, Zane reminds him, "Don't forget the tittle above the 'i,'" then explains a tittle is the dot above the "i."

"What's the part below the 'i' called?" Mike wants to know.

In another scene, Zane looks at a porn magazine and says the women in the photos are "engaged in lesbionic acts." When Mike challenges him on whether there's such a word as "lesbionic," Zane replies, "It's like moronic, but with lesbians." Watching "The Beat," you won't forget it's on UPN.

Profanity is common in the series, though nothing we haven't heard on "NYPD Blue." Euphemisms are used for sex acts, including Zane's line, "Am I supposed to check every girl I bodega for I.D.?"

Mike is the more sensitive, by-the-book of the two; Zane is more of a hothead, who compares his relationship with Beatrice to "the space shuttle Challenger." That image applies when Beatrice confronts Zane in a market and reveals to everyone on the New York sidewalk Zane's tragic childhood, a running theme in the series.

The performances are uniformly good, and the use of video makes Cecil and Ruffalo even more believable as young, inexperienced cops. But Burns steals the show as the unpredictable, unbalanced Beatrice.

Like "Homicide," which had its own "Second Shift" of stories on the Internet, "The Beat" also has a Web component at www.thebeattv.com. One last comparison: Zane sometimes seems like a younger, less paranoid version of Det. John Munch (Richard Belzer).

Munch (Richard Belzer), now on NBC's "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," appears in the second episode of "The Beat," checking in on a crime scene.

"I'm kind of nostalgic for a good homicide," Munch says.

He's referring to the crime, but he could just as easily be talking about the TV show, and I know plenty of viewers feel the same. "The Beat" can't replace "Homicide," but it's a decent, if more juvenile successor.

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