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TELEVISION REVIEW

'Inside': another serial killer face-off

June 08, 2005|Robert Lloyd | Times Staff Writer

"The Inside," an in-no-sense-summery series premiering tonight on Fox, offers Peter Coyote as Virgil "Web" Webster, the autocratic and manipulative head of a very special "Los Angeles Violent Crimes Unit" operating freely within the FBI, and Rachel Nichols as Rebecca Locke, the new girl in town. (She has come to replace an agent who peeled off her own face, to give you a general idea of the vibe.) Abducted as a child, Rebecca has consequently developed an unerring ability to get into the heads of victims, criminals and creeps alike and to reconstruct crime scenes from the wispiest remains.

Apart from some of the design choices -- 21st century noir is the prevailing mode -- there is little here you haven't seen before, if perhaps not exactly in this configuration. (That is what "originality" means in a voracious medium that demands content faster than actual new ideas can be generated: a different shuffle of the old cards.) You may be reminded at times of "Alias," "The Medium" or "The Profiler."

Certainly you may think of "CSI: Whatever," for despite its sharp threads, this is ultimately another in the parade of modishly gruesome police procedurals, tonight offering yet another in a seemingly endless series of overly clever serial killers. As you might well expect, it does not take long for the naked corpses (female, good-looking) to make their appearance. Even though it is built around a plucky, if affectless, heroine, the series suggests as well that in the big city the wages of being female are death. (Critic shakes head sadly, peels off own face.)

Perhaps I am living in a fool's paradise. Perhaps I underestimate the seriousness of the serial killer problem. Certainly I understand the dramatic convenience and appeal of villains who are more than usually villainous. But they've become a bore, with their inevitable special signatures, their cat-and-mouse games, their hubristic boasts and their ruminations on the thin line that separates copper from quarry. Enough now.

Such retread conservatism is disappointing, given that show co-creator Tim Minear -- working with Howard Gordon ("24") -- is a veteran of "The X Files," "Angel" and "Firefly" and was executive producer of the tonally perfect "Wonderfalls." His new show's best moments are the ones that break away from dull dread into offbeat humor, as when agent Melody Sim ("Wonderfalls" alum Katie Finneran) asks a hyper Rebecca, "How many coffees did you have this morning?" "None -- should I have one?" she answers, as though she does not quite understand the ways of Earth.

But these bursts of playfulness are no match for the prevailing portentousness, nor for the ponderous blue light that colors every scene, as if the sun itself were fluorescent, giving everything and everyone a remote and sickly, unreal look.

On the plus side, Minear and Gordon know how to prepare a red herring -- you won't get to the end of a story 20 minutes before the detectives do. And the cast is excellent. Like Patricia Arquette in "The Medium," Nichols has a kind of aqueous, dreamy quality and a face that draws the camera in close, while Coyote is a naturally unsettling presence.

Also on the team are the acid Baldwin, Nelsan Ellis in the Greg Morris techie role, and Jay Harrington as special agent Paul Ryan, who wants to protect Rachel from Webster. He likes to put her in harm's way, though she does not need a push: Twice in three episodes, she gets herself handcuffed. I would be happy to accept that as a running joke, but I fear it isn't.

*

'The Inside'

Where: Fox

When: 9 to 10 tonight

Ratings:TV-14-LV (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14, with advisories for coarse language and violence)

Rachel Nichols...Special Agent Rebecca Locke

Jay Harrington...Special Agent

Paul Ryan

Katie Finneran...Special Agent

Melody Sim

Adam Baldwin...Special Agent

Danny Love

Nelsan Ellis...Carter Howard

Peter Coyote...Virgil "Web" Webster

Writer and director Tim Minear. Creators Tim Minear and Howard Gordon. Executive producers Tim Minear, Brian Grazer and David Nevins.

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