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One Step Forward, One Step Back in TV's Crime Fight

September 22, 1997|HOWARD ROSENBERG

More cops are coming. Tonight brings the bullets-in-your-face debut of CBS' "Brooklyn South" from Steven Bochco, who just about owns this franchise. Also arriving is ABC's artless "Timecop," a movie spinoff whose pursuit of offenders back through the ages begins with a Jack the Ripper from the future (don't ask) and bumbling British bobbies in Victorian London.

"Brooklyn South" opens with a daylight shootout in the streets, one whose graphic savagery will absolutely fry the most ardent gore monitors, many of whom accuse TV of glamorizing violence and never showing its consequences.

Well, you see its consequences here, and far from being gratuitous, the painfully vivid gunplay is essential to understanding the peril facing these uniform cops of the 74th Precinct, and also their anger in later roughing up a gravely wounded shooter in custody.

It does hold your attention, as do the characters played by Jon Tenney, Michael DeLuise, Dylan Walsh, James B. Sikking, Yancy Butler, Gary Basaraba, Titus Welliver, Klea Scott, Patrick McGaw and Adam Rodriguez.

The plot turns on deep racial simmerings and the question of whether some officers, in the heat of the moment, acted criminally in their treatment of a criminal who has arbitrarily shot down some of their colleagues.

The guy happens to be African American, triggering a theme--blacks leaping to conclusions about police racism--previously explored in the 1990s by at least three other crime series: the British "Prime Suspect" on PBS, "Law & Order" on NBC and Bochco's own "NYPD Blue" on ABC.

"Brooklyn South" also offers other Bochco signposts: An ensemble cast that's initially hard to sort out. Characters with intersecting professional and private lives. A Mike Post score, this one mingling sounds from Bochco's "Hill Street Blues" and "Murder One." A constantly grousing wife bursting in on her husband at the office, echoes of Fay Furillo of "Hill Street Blues."

In other words, "Brooklyn South" is a highly watchable, well-produced hour, but one largely like other Bochco police shows. Nitpickers may note, by the way, that at least one critic (blush) made the same observation about his "NYPD Blue" in initially underestimating that scintillating series.


Underestimating "Timecop," however, would be difficult.

H.G. Wells it isn't, even though his name is dropped in this series inspired by the "Timecop" movie with Jean-Claude Van Damme. The time is the near future, the superhero here Jack Logan (T.W. King), ace "timecopper" for an outfit that hurtles him back through time to confront arch villains from the past and, in some cases, heavies from the future who are doing some time traveling themselves.

Giving Logan technical support back at the office are Claire Hemmings (Cristi Conaway) and Dr. Dale Easter (Kurt Fuller), and the boss is Eugene Matuzek (Don Stark). They can send him back, but not forward to the future, where some of his targets seek refuge.

Logan is brash, cocky, hunky and plenty good with his dukes in a role that would be much more arresting were he less heroic and more sensitive and cerebral, hence more vulnerable. Tonight, he zooms back to 1888 to confront the Ripper of history, only to face a surrogate Ripper from the future who is determined to "kill five times as many women" as the original.

Logan also runs afoul of Scotland Yard in the person of H.G.'s uncle, an Inspector Wells, but the rank-and-file bobbies here are close cousins of the Keystone Cops.

Dueling time travelers is a nice idea, but it's executed here without grace or a sense of mystery. The imagination and excitement of the time-travel concept are undermined by a spotty script that relies on the mundane. The movie "Time After Time" involved the Ripper more compellingly by having him pursued to the present by H.G. Wells.

Moreover, the cast doesn't seem especially in tune with the material. The script's attempted witticisms, for example, topple from King's tongue like bricks.

H.G. probably would throw one at "Timecop."

* "Brooklyn South" premieres at 10 tonight on CBS (Channel 2). The network has rated the first installment TV-MA (may be unsuitable for children under 17), but says future episodes generally will be TV-14.

* "Timecop" premieres at 10 tonight on ABC (Channel 7). The network has rated it TV-PG (may not be appropriate for young children).

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