ABC's 'Marshal' a modern western attuned to the '90s

January 31, 1995|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

He's hip, sexy, sardonic, and he always gets his man. He's Winston McBride, deputy U.S. marshal and baby-boomer law-and-order guy for the 1990s.

"I heard about this guy," says a local sheriff when McBride arrives on the crime scene in an upcoming episode of ABC's "The Marshal." "He's a big-time re- triever, big-time."

That's the premise of the series, which debuts at 10 tonight on WMAR (Channel 2). McBride (Jeff Fahey) is the U.S. marshal who is called in to track down the really hard-to-capture fugitives.

"The Marshal" is most of all a modern-day western. After tonight's premiere, it will take up its regular time slot Saturday night at 10, opposite CBS' "Walker, Texas Ranger," another western series set in the modern day.

In the pilot, McBride tracks down a woman wanted since the 1960s, when she was part of a radical group that killed a guard during a bank robbery. I won't tell you what happens when he finally catches her, because it is the most interesting moment of an otherwise rather addled story.

While the man- and woman-hunts form the story line of each episode in the series, it is the character of Fahey and the audience's reaction to it that are going to make or break the show.

He's a wise guy, for one thing. The first glimpse viewers will get of McBride tonight is him popping up out of a snowdrift to draw a bead on a bad guy who's involved in a standoff with lawmen.

"Hungry, Garth?" McBride asks the gunman.

"What?" the fugitive says, startled.

"See, I have this theory that guys who break from federal prison with careful and intelligent planning never remember to have a good meal before they go. And you've been loose about what, 32 hours? Probably haven't had as much as a Hostess Ding Dong. Have you, Garth?"

Later, the husband of the '60s radical says to McBride, "Are you telling me my whole life with her has been a lie?"

"Don't know, I wasn't there," McBride says.

If you like that kind of Elmore-Leonard-wannabe dialogue, you'll probably like McBride a lot -- though Chuck Norris goes for the same kind of chuckles on CBS.

"The Marshal" is a new series that bears watching. It is especially of interest as part of what looks to be the beginning of a general movement in prime-time television shows toward more conservative values.

The bad guys are the 1960s radicals, and it's the law-and-order guy who is the hip one in tonight's version of what the 1960s were all about.

This is big-time revisionism, big-time.

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