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TELEVISION REVIEW

Review: 'The Wanted' on NBC

The result is chilling, but the tactics behind this uneasy documentary-reality show blend tend to be highly questionable.

July 20, 2009|MARY McNAMARA | TELEVISION CRITIC

When NBC announced it would be airing the new series "The Wanted," more than a few people expressed concern. Following the exploits of a former Navy Seal, a former Green Beret and an investigative journalist as they track down known terrorists who, through one legal loophole or another, are "hiding in plain sight," "The Wanted" seemed in danger of blurring all sorts of famous lines: between objectivity and activism, between journalists and their sources, between investigation and entertainment.

As it turns out, the line that suffers the most is the one between the seriousness of the show's subject and the ridiculous way in which it is executed.

Executive produced by Adam Ciralsky, the aforementioned investigative journalist, and documentary filmmaker Charlie Ebersol (son of NBC Sports Chairman Dick Ebersol), "The Wanted" is neither documentary nor reality show but an uncomfortable marriage of both, with some of the most alarming camerawork on television.

Vacillating among set pieces in which Ciralsky, Scott Tyler (the Navy Seal) and Roger Carstens (the Green Beret and expert on counter-terrorism) formulate this week's "mission," interviews with various victims, officials and, in the pilot, the terrorist himself, and a lot of colorful locale footage, "The Wanted" is so overproduced, down to a roiling over-dramatic soundtrack, that it's hard to take seriously.

Whether engaging in scripted conversations at their "headquarters" or barking into cellphones against carefully selected vistas, the men keep their faces set in a perpetual frown that they hope conveys the grimness of the situation at hand, making it difficult at times not to laugh out loud.

In the pilot, they seek one Mullah Krekar, the founder of Ansar al Islam, who has been denounced as a terrorist by the American government, the Iraqi government and the United Nations and who is living in Oslo, where the Norwegian government refuses to extradite him because they fear he will be murdered or tortured if he is returned to Iraq.

Boiled down, what the team accomplishes is to get the Iraqi chief of counter-terrorism to send a letter to the Norwegian government promising that this will not happen. As many of those involved in the fight to have him extradited say repeatedly (not that this is scripted at all), the letter may be key to having justice served. Or not.

The team also sets up surveillance of Krekar and, in the most chilling aspect of the program, interview him. Krekar's responses are horrifying in their coldblooded proximity to nonchalance. Yes, he teaches jihad; yes, he believes that any Americans on Iraqi soil should be murdered; no, he did not aid in 9/11, but he believes Americans needed that message.

As an incitement to indignation, "The Wanted" is successful. That a man who so unapologetically advocates and organizes murder should be sheltered seems unacceptable. But as television, the self-aggrandizing attempt of "The Wanted" to create a "real life" A-Team threatens to overwhelm the meaning of their mission.

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mary.mcnamara@latimes.com

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'The Wanted'

Where: NBC

When: 10 tonight

Rating: Not rated

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