USA hopes `Evil' follows in `Monk's footsteps

TVPreview

March 12, 2004|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

In the wake of such network disasters as Coupling and Cold Feet, it might be hard to believe that American television could ever get it right in adapting a British series. But cable channel USA has done an acceptable job of remaking the U.K. crime drama Touching Evil for U.S. viewers.

Most of the gender and social class issues visited in the day-to-day lives of the British detectives are missing in the USA version, and that's a huge loss. Furthermore, an underlying existential sensibility has been replaced with an emphasis on the weirdness of the central character, and that's a questionable choice, too. But, overall, there is enough kept in translation to give USA's Touching Evil a passing grade.

The reason for the often odd behavior of FBI Agent David Creegan (Jeffrey Donovan) is that he was shot point blank in the forehead and lay dead for about 10 minutes on an operating table. He came back to life, but part of his brain is missing. He feels, for example, no sense of shame, and his internal censor seems to have disappeared altogether. His adolescent lack of restraint grates on his partner, Agent Susan Branca (Vera Famiga), who goes by the book.

With Bruce Willis as one of the executive producers, it is not surprising that the series tries to generate the kind of Dave-and-Maddie tension that distinguished Willis' work with Cybill Shepherd in the ABC series Moonlighting. Donovan doesn't have the kind of troubled-boy sex appeal that Willis showed back in the 1980s - or Robson Green had in the British version. But Donovan does bring a certain unshaven, moody swagger to the role.

There is a more practical reason that USA turned up the weird in its version of Creegan. With Monk - the USA series starring Tony Shalhoub as one of the most wonderfully strange detectives in television history - ending its season last week, the cable network plugs Touching Evil into the same Friday night spot hoping fans of Adrian Monk will be looking for another weirdball cop to love. Creegan is no Monk, but they are drinking from the same cup.

Tonight's pilot, which hews closely to its Brit model, features Creegan and Branca thrown together on his first day back on the job. They barely know each other's names when they are sent out to track down a serial kidnapper of small children.

Unlike Monk, Touching Evil tries to be deadly serious in exploring crime. Tone is everything in a series like this, and Touching Evil still has some basic tuning to do. It's not so much a matter of the pilot hitting wrong notes as it is a need for the writers and producers to sound a more stirring score in coming weeks if they hope to be a worthy replacement for Monk.

Touching Evil

When: Tonight at 9

Where: USA cable

In brief: A weird detective arrives hoping to fill in for Monk on USA.

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