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Fox's flashy 'Fastlane' is 'a fantasy about reality'

Wednesday, September 18, 2002

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

PASADENA, Calif. -- Call it "Miami Vice" for the millennial generation. Or maybe "The Faster and the More Furious. " Fox's "Fastlane" (9 tonight) is this fall's guiltiest of TV pleasures, a hodgepodge of sex and violence in slow motion. It's ostensibly about two hotrod-driving undercover cops who live the lifestyles of players and thieves, but it's mostly just an excuse to watch cool cars and sexy people, to hear loud music.

The series was created by John McNamara ("Profit," "The Fugitive" remake) and the single-monikered McG, who directed the movie version of "Charlie's Angels" and tonight's "Fastlane" premiere.

"I look at 'Miami Vice.' I look at 'Starsky & Hutch.' I look at the fun that was being had in television throughout the last 20, 30 years," McG said at a July press conference. "I want to replicate some of that fun because, clearly, there is a renaissance going on in television with the intelligence. But I feel like some of the fun and velocity and the color and the energy has been absent. That's what we try to deliver with these guys."

The guys are undercover cops Van Ray (Peter Facinelli) and Deaqon Hayes (Bill Bellamy), who work for the keeper of the Candy Store, Billie Chambers (Tiffani Thiessen). The Candy Store is a warehouse full of seized cars, jewels and other baubles that offer admittance to the "glamorous world of high-stakes crime."

McG said "Fastlane" isn't intended as breakthrough television.

"It's a cop show with a white guy and a black guy and a female boss, and she's really sexy. We understand that, but the way in which we execute it, that's what we can hope to truly say is our own. ... You can't say, 'Hey, it's just like 'Miami Vice,' 'Hey, it's just like 'Starsky & Hutch.' It's a little like all these television shows, but in the final analysis, it's its own."

Writing the "Fastlane" pilot didn't require much research about undercover police work, McNamara said, because the show doesn't strive for verisimilitude.

"This is not a reality cop show," he said. "It's a fantasy about reality. When I watch a James Bond movie, I don't sit there and say, 'Wow, do those double-O guys really have that stuff?' I just accept it because it's so well laid-out, so beautifully told and I love those characters."

Though he admires "NYPD Blue" and "CSI," McG said they're not apt comparisons for "Fastlane." This is a show about a lifestyle, not police procedure. That explains the rock music-heavy soundtrack and a blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo by Limp Bizkit's Fred Durst in the premiere episode.

"It's not intended to pop you out of the show, but it is a show about the glimpse of a Hollywood lifestyle," McG said. "If you're in Pontiac, Mich., and you're a manager at Wal-Mart, and you [watch 'Fastlane' and] say, 'Look, if I get out to the West Coast and I can hang out at the Chateau Marmont, I can nickel and dime with Fred Durst and bump into Courtney Love and do our thing and have a good time.' "

Prior to "Charlie's Angels," McG was best known for directing music videos, including Sugar Ray's "Fly" and "Every Morning," Fastball's "The Way," Smash Mouth's "All Star" and "Walkin' on the Sun," Barenaked Ladies' "One Week" and Offspring's "Pretty Fly (For a White Guy)."

But he had humbler beginnings than his too-cool-for-school name suggests.

"I'm from Kalamazoo, Mich. My name is Joseph McGinty Mitchell. My uncle's name was Joe, my grandpa's name was Joe and from the day I was born, they called me McG, short for McGinty, which is my middle name, my mother's maiden name," he explained, breathlessly. "Then I moved out to California, and when I started making music videos, especially when I'd make hip-hop videos for, like, Cypress Hill, they'd show up thinking I was a black guy. And I'm like, 'Hi, I'm McG from Kalamazoo, Mich.'"

The look and sound of the "Fastlane" pilot is pure McG, frenetic action mixed with slow motion and music blaring over everything.

"His energy is so chaotic and all over the place and to get five seconds of focus from him is kind of difficult," said series star Peter Facinelli at a Fox party in July. "But the minute he calls action, you have his undivided attention. Cars can be blowing up around him and he wouldn't know. You feel all this energy just being beamed at you and you just light up and want to give him your best."

With McG at work on "Charlie's Angels 2," his distinctive visual and audio stamp is on the series for future directors to imitate, but he won't be involved in "Fastlane" on a daily basis. Those duties will fall to McNamara, who already has been researching pop culture trends and compiling his own slang dictionary.

For the actors, playing cool characters requires a cool touch.

"I don't think I've got to play him uber-cool because then he'd be a big loser," Facinelli said. "Van is very passionate about what he does. He's got a great cynical sarcasm. I want to be Van. I wish I could be him. You want to say the things he says, do the things he does, drive the car he drives, save the girl and be the hero at the end of the day."

Bellamy, mostly known for his work on MTV and comedic roles, said "Fastlane" lets him blend comedy (the line dancing scene from promos) and action-drama (falling off a balcony into a swimming pool).

"I get a chance to grow and not change too much so that people get turned off, like, 'Aw, he's too serious,' " Bellamy said. "It's a nice gradual change so people can start to see me as more of a dramatic actor and that's ultimately what I want."

McG wants viewers seeking an alternative to come to "Fastlane," which he said is "not a show about contemplating the human condition," like its time slot competition, "The West Wing."

"I'm a product of contemporary pop culture, you know, and I'm not qualified to make an 18th-century French period piece," he said. "I still go to 7-Eleven on the way to work, I'm still in and out of the malls and I'm still happy to report on that culture. I don't really want to apologize for it because we're not splitting atoms here, we're trying to entertain and have a great time."

Rob Owen can be reached at rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Post questions or comments to http://www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.

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