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TV Reviews: Crime dramas begin with mixed success

Saturday, September 27, 2003

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Television's crime drama logjam continues with tomorrow's premiere of CBS's "Cold Case" (8 p.m.), a stylish, absorbing show about a female detective who solves long-dormant cases in Philadelphia.

 
 
'Cold Case'

WHEN: 8 p.m. tomorrow on CBS.

STARRING: Kathryn Morris

   
 

Kathryn Morris stars as detective Lilly Rush, TV's latest crusader who speaks for the dead. "People shouldn't be forgotten," she says.

In the premiere, a former maid who is dying of cancer shows up at police headquarters to report seeing a murder -- 27 years ago. Rush gets assigned the case and reopens the investigation, which centers on two brothers from a wealthy, politically connected family.

"Cold Case" comes from executive producer Jerry Bruckheimer, whose name is also on "CSI" and "Without a Trace." Like those series, there's a visual flair to "Cold Case," particularly the cool dissolves between scenes in 1976 and those set in the present. Producers have to do double casting -- getting one actor to play the character as a teen and another to play the character in the present. It's a distinctive trick that gives the show polish.

But efforts to look slick are occasionally carried too far, as in the premiere's denouement when Rush escorts the killer into police HQ in slow motion as rain pours down all over her. Don't cops carry umbrellas?

If you're not tapped out on this kind of show already, "Cold Case" is a sophisticated procedural drama with an engrossing mystery at its core. But if there are enough TV crime solvers on your viewing schedule already, continue to click through the channels.

'10-8'

 
 
'10-8'

WHEN: 8 p.m. tomorrow on ABC

STARRING: Danny Nucci

   
 

This is about as old school as cop dramas get. There's running and jumping and chasing of bad guys, but not an original moment to be had in the entire hour.

Former hoodlum Rico Amonte (Danny Nucci) is a trainee in the Los Angeles sheriff's department where he's paired with intimidating, glowering training officer John Henry Barnes (Ernie Hudson).

In tomorrow's premiere, Barnes calls Amonte "sweetie" and "wet spot," and they're not terms of endearment.

How can ABC think "10-8" is compatible as a lead-in to the comparatively complex, involving "Alias"?

Nucci is good-hearted, but bland. Hudson is all ego and rage, as are the other training officers, notably Scott Winters as deputy Matt Jablonski.

"You think you're tough? You're a poster boy for birth control," he tells Amonte. "These panty liners aren't going to make the week!"

It's a far cry from the sweet, brain-damaged Cyril O'Reilly he played on "Oz." And "10-8" is far from distinctive or even interesting television.

'The Practice'

 
 
'The Practice'

WHEN: 10 p.m. tomorrow on ABC.

STARRING: James Spader.

   
 

Perhaps if it were earlier in this legal drama's run, the recent cast overhaul would lead to an injection of creativity. But this late in the show's run, it's a last gasp, no matter how effective some of the new characters are.

James Spader is especially fun as morally compromised lawyer Alan Shore. He's an old friend of Ellenor (Camryn Manheim) -- is there anyone in Boston not somehow related to these characters? -- who was fired from his last firm for embezzlement.

"The important thing is, I feel icky," Alan says. "I'm going through enormous character growth, and I need a break."

Sunday's premiere begins a three-episode arc guest starring Chris O'Donnell as a Scott Patterson stand-in. Next week, Sharon Stone comes on board as a lawyer fired by her firm because she says God speaks to her. Alan Shore tries to extort money from the firm, much to the dismay of Eugene (Steve Harris), who lectures Shore.

"Eugene, I give you my word," Shore says. "I would never get caught."

Writer David E. Kelley has created an interesting, almost "Ally McBeal"-esque character in Allan Shore, and Spader is clearly having a ball playing this loopy lawyer. But no matter how creatively refreshed "The Practice" is, it's too little, too late. The audience has wisely moved on.


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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