Fox newcomer "DEA" is the most stylish and atmospheric crime series to come along in years. It uses a cinema verite documentary technique to create an authentically grimy urban setting for "reality inspired" stories depicting the government's fight to stem the flow of drugs into the United States.
Bullets and bleeps fly--Fox is the first network to bleep its own shows when it comes to coarse street language--on tonight's premiere (9 p.m. on Channels 11 and 6), which introduces a special New York task force of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as it strikes at an operation of the infamous Colombian drug cartel.
On paper, "DEA" is another of those formulaic, elite crime-fighting units headed by a hard-nosed authority figure with a heart of mush. In this case, he's special agent Bill Stadler (Tom Mason), whose young charges (Jenny Gago, Byron Keith Minns, David Wohl and Chris Stanley) reflect the usual, demographically balanced ethnic mix.
Moreover, the serialized plot for the initial episodes of "DEA" is right out of "Miami Vice." It's also a tad preachy and sanctimonious.
What separates "DEA" from other such series in its genre, however, is its cast (Gago is an especially interesting actress, for example) and its look.
Fluid minicams are at work here, delivering intentionally herky-jerky and grainy footage that creates a mood of grim spontaneity and gives "DEA" a distinct character. The device works much of the time but occasionally gets in the way.
This is especially true in the second episode, whose story--tracing the flight of a drug dealer who had killed a DEA agent in the first episode--is so fuzzy that it looks like it was shot through gauze. You got a clearer picture from Mayor Marion Barry's sting video.
Too much of an interesting thing? Yes. \o7 Because\f7 of its style, however, "DEA" is an interesting series.