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THE FALL TV SEASON

The 'Threat' here is to ABC

September 18, 2003|James Endrst | Special to The Times

The war in Iraq drags on; Osama bin Laden keeps sending us video hate mail; President Bush says we need billions to fight terrorism around the world; the nation now lives in a perpetually yellow state of "elevated" potential danger; and every day, it seems, we find another hole in our own defense system.

Which is why everyone would probably sleep easier if they could believe the Department of Homeland Security -- created after the devastating terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 -- was as on the ball as the special forces depicted in ABC's "Threat Matrix," an hourlong drama making its debut at 8 tonight.

Of course, even with the second anniversary of the 9/11 attacks still top-of-mind for so many Americans, "Threat Matrix" may go virtually undetected, scheduled as it is opposite NBC's "Friends" and another season of CBS' scratch - crawl - run - for - the- money reality show "Survivor."

On the other hand, viewers who do find themselves drawn to ABC's dramatic dead zone might end up catching up on some much needed sleep. (Tonight's episode will be rebroadcast at 8 p.m. Sunday, opposite the prime-time Emmy Awards.) Even with all the bells and whistles, electronic clicks and whirs and those spacey bird's-eye views of Planet Earth from the spy satellites that circle the globe -- always watching, watching, watching -- most of the cast and the performances on "Threat Matrix" are as stiff as a bunch of young Democrats at a power breakfast with President Bush.

You can't really blame stars James Denton and Kelly Rutherford. They do most of the heavy lifting as John Kilmer and Frankie Ellroy-Kilmer, colleagues in a divorced-but-they-still-love-each-other scenario that has them carry the weight of the world and its very survival on their shoulders. That burden is found in the daily information digest known as the threat matrix, which contains news of the disaster du jour.

Before Frankie, the only character who keeps this series alive, heads off for a dangerous mission (aren't they all?), John just has to ask, "Are you up for this, Mrs. Kilmer?"

Special Op cop that she is, Frankie doesn't miss a beat: "I'm not Mrs. Kilmer anymore."

Yes, their love is deadpan and strictly by-the-book. It's no surprise, though, when Frankie gets into serious trouble, handles herself admirably but worries poor Johnny half to death.

As for the rest of the regulars -- Will Lyman as Col. Roger Atkins, Anthony Azizi as Mo, Kurt Caceres as Tim Vargas, Mahershalalhashbaz Ali as Jelani and Melora Walters as Anne Larkin -- you've got to pity them, forced as they are to spout mind-numbing exposition while virtually chained to their chairs, watching the world on whatever computer screen is in front of them at the Ops Center.

While naturally pumping up its heroes whose "job is to keep us safe" whether the threat is coming from Persia or Peoria, the producers are going out of their way to make sure the show appears politically correct.

In other words, there will be Arab good guys as well as bad guys and people who look like they come from the heartland bringing death and destruction. The idea is that terrorism is "an equal opportunity employer."

A moot point really.

Try as it might to take the ticktock tack of a "24" -- where time is of the essence -- there's never any real sense of urgency in "Threat Matrix." And like "The X-Files," you'd expect a "trust no one," borderline paranoia to creep into the dramatic equation. But it doesn't.

For ABC, "Threat Matrix" represents an elevated risk. One that will color its network's world orange.

*

'Threat Matrix'

Where: ABC

When: 8-9 p.m. Thursdays, premiering tonight

Rating: The network has rated the series TV-14 (may not be suitable for children under the age of 14).

James Denton...John Kilmer

Kelly Rutherford...Frankie Ellroy-Kilmer

Will Lyman...Col. Roger Atkins

Kurt Caceres...Tim Vargas

Mahershalalhashbaz Ali...Jelani

Melora Walters...Anne Larkin

Anthony Azizi...Mo

Creator, Daniel Voll. Executive producers, Voll, Michael Edelstein, James D. Parriott, Emile Levisetti.

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