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TV THIS WEEK | THE BIG THING

Chaos-bred champions

July 08, 2007|ROBERT LLOYD

ESPN'S lively new miniseries "The Bronx Is Burning" takes a trip to summer 1977, when, amid internal power struggles, the Yankees strove to win their first World Series in 15 years and a killer stalked the boroughs. Like the source book by Jonathan Mahler, it focuses triply on the Bronx Bombers in the season they imported the expensive, divisive Reggie Jackson; the hunt for the Son of Sam; and the sociopolitical paroxysms of the city in an age of polyester, punk and wild-style graffiti. Director Jeremiah Chechik ("Benny & Joon") catches the flavor of the times.

The historical record provides some of the best dialogue, including outfielder Mickey Rivers' riposte to Jackson's claim to have an IQ of 160, "Out of what, a thousand?" But writer James Solomon's imagined conversations have a nice, plausible flow as well. Underplaying for the team are Leonard Armond Robinson as Rivers, Erik Jensen as Thurman Munson and Joe Grifasi as Yogi Berra. Dan Lauria, Nestor Serrano and Casey Siemaszko are detectives on the killer's trail. Michael Rispoli does an uncanny Jimmy Breslin.

On one level it's just the story of three needy men. An unusually subtle John Turturro finds the clashing notes in manager Billy Martin. Oliver Platt's George Steinbrenner is a large child who sees himself as a father figure, and Daniel Sunjata ("Rescue Me") plays Jackson not simply as ego but a man who honestly feels misunderstood by just about everybody. Much of it plays as comedy. And why not? It's only a game.

(ESPN, Mon., after the Home Run Derby)

-- ROBERT LLOYD

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