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TV Reviews: '24' embattled by time slot

Tuesday, November 20, 2001

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

The biggest hindrance to the success of the new drama "24" is its ultra-competitive time slot.

Despite tons of hype from Fox and raves from critics, "24" has rated less-than-stellar ratings in its two outings to date. Having additional airings during the week on Fox (9 p.m. Saturday this week only) and FX (10 p.m. Monday) only decreases the urgency to catch each episode's premiere on Tuesday nights.

 
 
"24"

When: 9 tonight on Fox.

Starring: Kiefer Sutherland, Elisha Cuthbert

   
 

Yet "24" remains an intense, nerve jangling thriller, completely sustaining the high quality of the pilot that aired two weeks ago. The series unfolds in "real time," meaning each episode is one hour in a day.

Tonight's episode, set between 2 and 3 a.m., begins with a recap that clarifies past events fairly well. For anyone new to the series, it's not too late to tune in as counter-terrorism expert Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) tries to prevent the assassination of a presidential candidate (Dennis Haysbert).

Last week's episode ended with a shock that Jack's co-worker and former lover, Nina (Sarah Clarke), may be "dirty." Tonight the most powerful story involves Jack's daughter (Elisha Cuthbert), whose night of fun has turned ugly: She's been kidnapped.

The clock keeps ticking -- I'll keep watching.

'The Guardian'

When "The Guardian" premiered this fall, the Pittsburgh-set legal drama had all the warmth of a block of ice. Lead character Nick Fallin (Simon Baker), sentenced to work for Children's Legal Services after a drug conviction, came off as mean and selfish.

In the weeks following the show's abrasive pilot episode, viewers have watched Nick balance his sentence with work at the corporate law firm run by his father, Burton (Dabney Coleman), and "The Guardian" has developed into a compelling dramatic series.

 
 
"The Guardian"

When: 9 tonight on CBS.

Starring: Simon Baker, Dabney Coleman.

   
 

Like most first-year dramas, it remains a work in progress, but "The Guardian" is neither as simple as some critics suggested ("Touched By a Lawyer") nor as callous and distant as I suspected.

Tonight's excellent episode, "Heart," is proof positive that "The Guardian" walks a fine line between the cerebral and sentimental, never leaning too far in either direction.

A basic outline of the plot, written by series creator David Hollander, a Mt. Lebanon native, seems improbable and simplistic: Nick considers taking in a girl in need of a heart transplant.

But Hollander builds a case for it and in the process gives more information about Nick's childhood, his relationship with Burton and why Nick is such a gloomy Gus.

Laurie Solt, a recurring character played by the talented Kathleen Chalfant, may echo the sentiments of Hollander when she describes Nick: "He can be rude, standoffish. When I first met him, I truly disliked him, but of all the imperfect people I've met in this world -- and that would be everybody -- Nick is one of the few who lives by a set of standards."

Hollander recognizes a sickly cute girl isn't enough to move Nick. So he makes stricken Lesley (Lily Nicksay) disarming, precocious and a challenge.

Additional guest stars tonight include JoBeth Williams as Burton's girlfriend and Robert Loggia as an old friend of Burton's who's now on the other side of a legal dispute.

Series star Baker has grown into the Nick role amazingly well, and his Australian accent is now almost always held in check.

Hollander's love of ambiguity and dislike of exposition still leads to some confusion over plot and character motivation -- when Laurie yells at Nick early in tonight's show, it comes off as an overreaction -- but Hollander's devotion to his hometown is never in doubt.

As "Heart" begins, Nick is late to court in the City-County Building Downtown.

"Mr. Fallin was parking," Laurie tells the judge.

What could be more Pittsburgh than that?


You can reach Rob Owen at rowen@post-gazette.com Post questions or comments to www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.

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