Mark Harmon can act.
Go ahead, laugh. I don't expect you to take my word for anything that sounds so preposterous, especially given the consistently wretched work he's done in made-for-TV movies the past couple of years.
But just for the heck of it, take a look at "Reasonable Doubts," the new NBC drama starring Harmon and Marlee Matlin, which premieres at 10 tonight on WMAR-TV (Channel 2). It's one of the most pleasant surprises of the new season. And Harmon's work as Richard (Dicky) Cobb, a hard-nosed, law-and-order Chicago police detective, is in large part responsible.
Cobb, who loves working the streets, is not too thrilled when he's reassigned as an investigator for a top assistant district attorney, Tess Kaufman (Matlin). Though the change seems reasonable -- Cobb knows sign language and Kaufman is hearing impaired -- the new co-workers really dislike one another right off the bat.
This being a weekly TV series, it probably won't shock anyone to learn that they'll eventually wind up in each others' arms. In that sense, the show is oh-so-predictable. But that's about the only thing that's run-of-the-mill here.
Matlin, who won an Oscar for "Children of a Lesser God," builds a great performance out of half a dozen small moments she makes snap, crackle and pop in a way you won't see elsewhere on TV. Watch her whole body react to a glob of ketchup that squirts onto Cobb's face as he wolfs down a jumbo hamburger at lunch. Watch her face collapse as she unexpectedly sees her husband embrace and kiss another woman.
"Reasonable Doubts" is also one of the few new shows that tries to explore the visual possibilities of TV to create mood and texture. Like creator Robert Singer's other show, "Midnight Caller," this one uses the big-city night as a canvas for neon impressionism. There's one sequence of romance realized for Cobb and love lost for Kaufman that shimmers with a night-beat sensualism.
And, then, there's Harmon. What he does best is play Cobb as a tightly wrapped guy with a sense of humor which he isn't exactly sure how to express. That's a tall order, especially when he must put a light edge on any scene opposite the intense Matlin. Harmon holds his own and then some. Dare we start talking Emmy?
Go ahead, laugh. . . .
'FBI: The Untold Stories'
Pernell Roberts hosts this let's-make-a-deal show in which the FBI selectively opens its files and the producers shamelessly celebrate the Bureau by re-creating the cases.
The format is tried and true but the re-creations are flat. Not that it matters much: This show is stuck in a suicide time-slot opposite "Cheers," "Beverly Hills, 90210" and "The Trials of Rosie O'Neill."