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TELEVISION REVIEW

That's Doctor Detective

Rufus Sewell stars in 'Eleventh Hour' as a scientist-crime solver. The star's talent helps overcome slow pacing.

October 09, 2008|Mary McNamara | Times Television Critic

With all those "CSIs" and "Law & Orders" cluttering up the TV grid, it's not surprising that it's no longer enough to just be a really good detective. These days, you have to be a Detective With Something Extra. On "Life," it's insight gathered in the slam; on "Bones," it's archaeological forensics, while "Life on Mars" brings time travel into the mix.

On "Eleventh Hour," which premieres tonight on CBS, it's biophysics. Dr. Jacob Hood (Rufus Sewell) is the sort of guy whose name causes people to stick out their hands and say, "Oh, yes, I've read your paper on dark matter." He works for the FBI, investigating those especially tricky cases that the cops alone can't seem to crack. In the first two episodes, his breadth of knowledge runs from an in-depth knowledge of flora, fauna and Nietzsche to an intimate understanding of cloning. Smarty-pants science.

He is also so dangerous to the bad guys that he requires his own FBI handler, one Rachel Young (Marley Shelton), to make sure he doesn't get himself killed, and to allow him to, say, question a suspect without an attorney present.

"Eleventh Hour" is a remake of a 2006 British show of the same title (Sewell too is British, but he plays an American), which may explain its unusual pacing. For a show that features a ticking clock as part of its opening credits -- Hood is so fabulous he is only called in at the eleventh hour -- the pilot gets off to a slow start.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday, October 10, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 41 words Type of Material: Correction
Eleventh Hour': A review in Thursday's Calendar section of CBS' new series "Eleventh Hour" reversed the order in which episodes would be shown. Thursday's premiere was about cloning. The second episode, airing Oct. 16, is about young boys having heart attacks.

A young boy recklessly zips his bike through oncoming traffic, only to drop dead of a heart attack onto a nearby lawn. In the first few minutes, we learn that young boys are, in fact, dropping dead with frightening regularity in this small Southern town. Unfortunately, the dialogue imparting this information is so hackneyed -- "People fear what they don't understand," Hood is made to say sagely -- that it's difficult to care too much about the kids because you're so busy worrying that the very talented Sewell will drown in cliches before your very eyes.

But if you can sit through those opening scenes, "Eleventh Hour" begins to pick up, if not in speed then in complexity. And by its conclusion, it has established an air of creepiness that is both promising and unsettling. If nothing else, it takes a certain amount of guts to open a pilot by killing off a bunch of 11-year-olds and end it with a joke.

The second episode is even more unnerving, taking us to the wintry woods of Washington state, where a ghastly discovery has been made and smarty-pants science of the noir variety is involved.

But while supercool science may be the hook, the real draw of "Eleventh Hour" is Sewell. Often cast as a hypnotically charming villain, he is instantly believable as a being of higher intelligence, and if writer Mike Davis is parsimonious with back story and personal details, more power to him. Front-loading these special detectives with personal tragedies and broken bits has become something of a fetish. Sewell is a layered and subtle enough actor to bring viewers back, if only to find out what makes Hood, um, tick.

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mary.mcnamara@latimes .com

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'Eleventh Hour'

Where: CBS

When: 10 tonight

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

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