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CBS botches the Enron fiasco with 'Crooked E'

Friday, January 03, 2003

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

CBS's "The Crooked E: The Unshredded Truth About Enron"
(9 p.m. Sunday)
wants badly to be a satire of corporate culture along the lines of "Barbarians at the Gate." Occasionally, it succeeds, but more often it doesn't because the script is hopelessly hokey.

Christian Kane ("Angel") stars as Brian Cruver, a wide-eyed MBA grad who begins work at Enron in early 2001. Faster than you can say "Wall Street," innocent, naive Cruver is seduced to the dark side, spending his Enron income wildly and drifting away from his sweet girlfriend (Shannon Elizabeth in a truly awful performance).

"Crooked E" paints the Enron culture as wildly extravagant, from LED message boards hanging in the company's parking garage to a Max Headroom-like company mouthpiece who encourages workers via video screens in the elevator. It may all be true, but after a while, it feels fabricated, puffed up to be more damning.

And then there's the dialogue.

"It was like finding out you were gonna play center field for the Yankees," Cruver marvels when he gets his job with Enron.

"Enron is the Wild West, it's deep space, it's the bottom of the ocean," the mysterious Mr. Blue (Brian Dennehy) tells Cruver. "There are no limits. None. Just the limits you place on yourself." Nothing in the film tells us who Blue is or what exactly he does other than walk around surrounded by security guards.

While Arthur Andersen auditors play video games and watch cartoons, Cruver sells clients on the Enron brand and image. The company's "virtual assets" that took it to great heights and even greater depths get explained fairly well, but there are many cliches viewers have to suffer through.

From Cruver's co-workers who look down on employees who want to spend time with their children ("not much a career builder") to female strippers supposedly hired because of their looks ("There are more flotation devices here than in a 747"), "Crooked E" doesn't know when to leave well enough alone; it just keeps piling on the ridiculous to the point of incredulity.

Even more annoying, the real Enron logo isn't used (copyright issues, I suppose). Producers come up with a similar substitute, but viewers will recognize it for what it is and isn't, adding to the movie's overall slapdash feel.

"Crooked E" was originally scheduled for November sweeps, but CBS wisely booted the turkey until now, when competition isn't as fierce. Clearly there's a dramatic story to be told about the Enron fiasco, but writer Stephen Mazur, who based his script on a book by the real-life Cruver, and director Penelope Spheeris ("Wayne's World") aren't up to the task of telling it.

(10 p.m. Sunday, USA)
USA Network's successful summer series "The Dead Zone" returns for its second season with a so-so episode that will whet the appetites of fans, but doesn't wholly satisfy.

The episode picks up where the season finale left off, exploring the show's mythological arc, but does an abrupt switch midstream that turns the premiere into a stand-alone episode.

Johnny Smith (Anthony Michael Hall) gained psychic powers after lying in a six-year coma, awakening to discover his fiancee, Sarah (Nicole deBoer), married the town sheriff, Walt (Chris Bruno), and the two are raising Johnny's son as their own.

Last season, Johnny and Sarah slept together, unbeknownst to Walt, but there's little contact between the secret lovers in the season premiere beyond a few awkward glances. In the season finale, Johnny also had a vision of Washington, D.C., in ruins after meeting congressional candidate Greg Stillson (Sean Patrick Flanery, looking really old).

"The day of reckoning is coming, 'cause Greg Stillson is coming to Washington," the conservative candidate says somewhat menacingly even for a politician.

It's a compelling story that's introduced at the start of the episode but jettisoned for the story of Johnny rescuing a kidnapped boy.

Hall continues to make an intriguing lead actor, using his wild, slightly crazy eyes to full effect.

For a basic cable series, "The Dead Zone" has surprisingly high production values. There are some particularly nice shots of Johnny at the crime scene, artistic in a way series television rarely is.

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

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