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New series provide a break from TV

Sunday, July 20, 2003

by Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

They're back.

After an early summer comprised mostly of "reality" programs, three original scripted series premiere this week.

A&E's been in a ratings slump and is returning to England, the source of its early success, to help turn things around.

TV Reviews

When: 9 p.m. Tuesday on A&E.
Starring: Matthew Macfadyen.

When: 10 p.m. Tuesday on FX.
Starring: Dylan Walsh, Julian McMahon.

"Reno 911"
When: 10:30 p.m. Wednesday on Comedy Central.
Starring: Kerri Kenney.

The real MI-5 was founded in 1909 to protect England from internal threats; sister service MI-6 deals with security risks that originate abroad.

"MI-5," the TV show, is the British equivalent of CBS's canceled "The Agency" with more subtle internal politics and less messy romantic entanglements. On "MI-5," agents don't sleep with one another; instead it shows the difficulty a spy has establishing a relationship with an outsider when he can't be honest about his identity.

Tuesday's premiere follows the agents as they attempt to stop an American anti-abortionist who is planning to set off bombs in the United Kingdom. Head of operations Harry Pearce (Peter Firth) puts young agent Tom Quinn (Matthew Macfadyen) on the case and eventually another agent, Zoe (Keeley Hawes), must go undercover to thwart the plot.

But the Americans want the suspect returned to them, even if it might jeopardize the Brits' ability to stop the bombs from going off.

"Bloody Yanks," complains Danny Hunter (David Oyelowo). "Everything's a ... competition."

Some of the slang and internal politics (what's the "home office" exactly and how does it relate to MI-5?) cause confusion, but American viewers will certainly get the gist of what's going on, particularly in the intense second episode.

Although "MI-5" may seem a little soft in its premiere, the stakes get raised in subsequent installments. None of the main characters is automatically safe from harm as they'd be in an American series.

That willingness to take risks in storytelling makes "MI-5" a summer series worth spying. After Tuesday's premiere, original episodes will air at 10 p.m. Tuesday right opposite...

Viewers who squirm watching "ER" are advised to steer clear of this drama about plastic surgeons. It's an intriguing show, but surgery scenes are extremely graphic. When a liposuction tube gets pulled mid-procedure, let's just say, the fat flies.

The 90-minute "Nip/Tuck" pilot, written and directed by series creator Ryan Murphy ("Popular"), introduces two best friends who have had a plastic surgery practice together for years.

Dr. Sean McNamara (Dylan Walsh) is a repressed automaton whose marriage to wife Julia (Joely Richardson) is deteriorating. When she asks him whether she needs breast implants, he examines her and coldly replies, "For your age, gravitationally, they're exactly where they should be."

Dr. Christian Troy (Julian McMahon) is the opposite. He engages in wild sex with a model and then advises her on how she can improve her appearance.

"When we stop striving for perfection, we might as well be dead," Troy says.

Both men dated Julia before McNamara married her, and Troy has an odd attachment to the youngest McNamara child, Annie (Kelsey Lynn). His bond with teenaged Matt McNamara (John Hensley) is more straightforward.

"Nip/Tuck" showcases characters of depth in complicated relationships and features the most vicious marital spat on TV since the last original episode of "The Sopranos." But it takes a wrong turn three-quarters of the way through the premiere when the show's realism falters in favor of trumped-up sensationalism.

Still, the characters are interesting enough that I'm willing to return to "Nip/Tuck." I just can't eat anything while watching it.

'Reno 911!'
It seems a little late for a "Cops" parody. After all, "Cops" has been on Fox since 1989.

But that hasn't stopped members of the creative team behind "The State" and "Viva Variety!" from making this spoof. Beyond the shot-on-tape visual style, "Reno" doesn't primarily target offenders, instead taking comedic aim at the cops themselves, a motley crew of weird characters.

The most outrageous of the bunch is homely Det. Weigel (Kerri Kenney), a judgmental woman who says she has a special relationship with gay cop Dangle (Tom Lennon).

"It's like we're brother and sister," she says, "but like a brother and sister who have sex."

Dangle is uninterested in her. Wearing too-tight shorts to make him "like a law enforcement cheetah," he hits on a personal trainer he pulls over for speeding.

Deputy Johnson (Wendi McClendon-Covey) is the squad floozy and deputy Williams (Niecy Nash) once had a relationship with deputy Jones (Cedric Yarbrough).

Johnson, in an aside to the camera, complains, "I love someone that has to say, 'You know what I'm saying?' after everything she says because quite honestly, no, I don't know what she's saying, nor do I care."

They're totally dysfunctional, which offers fodder for comedy, albeit a harsh, often degrading style of humor.

Weigel collects baby clothes, she says, "just in case, someday...."

Jones and Garcia (Carlos Alazraqui) arrest a mime for "disturbing the peace." When they encounter the mime, Jones plays along with him, which only angers Garcia more. He ends up beating the mime with his club.

This brand of humor can be an acquired taste, but fans with a tolerance for out-there buffoonery will want to make the trip to "Reno."

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

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