"Cold Case," premiering Sunday, is the latest crime spree from the offices of producer Jerry Bruckheimer. With "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," "CSI: Miami" and "Without a Trace," this makes four hours of CBS prime time that Bruckheimer now controls -- nearly a fifth of the network's total real estate. There is no arguing with success, but one can, after all, recognize success without congratulating the victor.
The pilot episode is so cliched, predictable, obvious, devoid of humanity or even human interest that one would actually like to say nothing definitive about it, in the reasonable assumption that next week's would have to be better. It opens in 1976, to Boston's "More Than a Feeling" and a teenage high-society murder. Twenty-seven years later -- just the blink of an eye for you and me -- we meet young Det. Lilly Rush, played by Kathryn Morris ("Minority Report"), who will belatedly close this cold case in something like a day and a half, and therefore be doomed for the rest of the series to bringing other long-unsolved crimes to a satisfying conclusion.
"You're a crusader," says one annoyed suspect.
"I guess I am," the plucky lass replies.
The pilot episode boasts barely a believable moment. Believability may not be the point, of course -- certainly it is not the defining feature of the Bruckheimer canon, where it remains subservient to style and stimulation of the adrenal gland.
Yet the two "CSI" series and "Without a Trace" are not sold as fantasies: With their emphasis on procedural minutiae, scientific whatnot and inside jargon, and especially in the clinical exactitude of the mayhem they purvey, they pretend to show us something about the actual real world, to get down to the strangely glossy nitty-gritty other crime shows are too tender or chicken to reveal.
"Cold Case" is happily not quite as gruesome as its cousins when it comes to their pornographic interest in exit wounds and splatter patterns -- though it does serve up a tableaux of blood and bodies on white tile, as a kind of appetizer to the main action, and shows, as much as is practicable, a girl being murdered with a tennis racket.
It would be undemocratic to suggest that Morris is too young and beautiful to play a detective -- I give you Chris Noth, ladies and gentlemen, I give you Kyle Secor, I give you Jimmy Smits. (I would think that some superior might suggest that as a representative of the city of Philadelphia, she has one too many buttons undone on her blouse, but that is none of my business.)
She is a tough cookie, with a quick mind and not the hint of a jot of an iota of fear. Not for her the long haul through old documents, the patient reinterpretation of old testimony and evidence; she does her work by getting so far up into the face of this or that suspect or witness that they start talking, if only just to make her go away.
Her co-workers, who are all in a sense subordinate to her beauty, have little to do. They are played by John Finn, Thom Barry, Justin Chambers and Jeremy Ratchford. None of them resembles a civil servant.
Apart from the basic concept and the effective visual gimmick (played for slightly more than it's worth) of flashing the younger selves of now-aged suspects into the present -- a nice visual metaphor that says you never escape yourself -- this is thin stuff.
Strip away the beautiful people and the stylish visuals -- "stylish" being a kind of code here for "nothing to say" -- and you are left only with the idea that it is good to see bad people punished, even if it takes a while.
Stylishness on television, as ushered in by mid-period MTV and "The X-Files," was exciting for a minute, because television was for many years not a stylish medium, but that minute was long ago over.
"Cold Case" is right -- the show has a bleached, icy look, as if it were all being played out in a freezer under some new kind of really flattering fluorescent light. A long passage in which the perps are finally arrested, in the rain, in slow motion, looks like nothing so much as a Nike ad. That this may have been precisely the idea -- those ads sell a lot of shoes -- doesn't necessarily make it a good one.
When: Sundays, 8 p.m.; premieres Sunday
Rating: The network has rated the show TV-14-D,L,V (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14, with advisories for suggestive dialogue, coarse language and violence).
Kathryn Morris...Lilly Rush
John Finn...Tom Stillman
Thom Barry...Will Jeffries
Jeremy Ratchford...Nick Vera
Executive producers Meredith Stiehm, Jerry Bruckheimer, Jonathan Littman and Shaun Cassidy. Director Mark Pellington. Writer Stiehm.