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TELEVISION REVIEW

Deployed from Canada

July 11, 2008|Robert Lloyd | Times Television Critic

Although I am no more excited by the prospect of watching another police drama than I am by the prospect of writing about another police drama, there are things to like about "Flashpoint," a new, has-to-be-over-by-fall series from CBS. Its subject is a SWAT-style team called the Strategic Response Unit, based on Toronto's real-world Emergency Task Force.

That the show -- a product of Canada to which CBS signed on during pre-production -- may owe its presence on American TV in part or whole to last winter's writers strike should not be held against it. (How you may feel about CBS cutting deals in Canada as an end run around an U.S. labor dispute is another matter entirely, although a network exec told Variety last January that "Flashpoint" was merely part of an already expanding international business plan.) Indeed, some of its better qualities I see as somehow distinctly foreign.

Written and created by Mark Ellis and Stephanie Morgenstern (who are better known, though not below the 49th parallel, as actors), it has an appealing modesty that survives its bouts of aesthetic overexcitment -- the occasionally lurching camera, hammering soundtrack, the sentimental pop song laid over the last couple of minutes as the principals silently end a long, hard day. However extravagant the production becomes, the actors stay grounded. That it stars Enrico Colantoni (born in Toronto), of "Veronica Mars" and "Don't Shoot Me," as the team sergeant, is also a good thing; he gives crisis handling a nice workaday feel, as does Hugh Dillon (born in Kingston, Canada) as a crack shot. Domestic viewers may also recognize Pink Power Ranger Amy Jo Johnson ("Felicity") back in action mode. The first time we see her character, she is rappelling down the side of spiffy Unit headquarters. For fun.

The team includes hostage negotiator Colantoni, snipers Johnson and Dillon, a computer guy who doesn't like always having to be the computer guy, and a psychiatrist to analyze the stress patterns of wigged-out troublemakers. "Here comes the cavalry," one detective says to another as the special unit arrives on the scene, with that special disdain the less able reserve for the more skilled. Their dress is paramilitary, their rifle scopes state of the art, their language coded:

"How's the view?"

"Cold zero. I got the solution."

In the first episode, a Croatian man who has just shot his wife holds a passerby hostage in a metropolitan plaza; the language barrier intensifies the tension, which is ratcheted up to high. I was glad that the show put its foot forward with an ordinary person gone haywire instead of the more usual "crafty serial killer leaving a trail of naked female bodies in wetlands and alleyways while challenging the police to guess his identity." But the crisis situation is over by the halfway point; the rest involves sorting out the aftermath as it affects Dillon's character -- he almost shot the wrong person, and it has him rattled (and under investigation).

The two-line scene in which Colantoni and Dillon discuss this, in a restaurant restroom, is typical of the show's (mostly) low-key approach.

"I'm fine."

"You may want to do the math one day on all the 'I'm fines.' "

It is also the rare Canadian-shot "American" series that might actually be set in Canada. The displayed Toronto skyline is distinctive, if not universally well known, and although no one has uttered the name "Toronto," neither has anyone called it Minneapolis or Seattle or any other U.S. city in which it is clearly not set. I find this kind of a relief.

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robert.lloyd@latimes.com

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'Flashpoint'

Where: CBS

When: 10 tonight

Rating: TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children younger than 14)

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