`Grid' aims at nation still in the grip of 9/11


July 19, 2004|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

Poisonous sarin gas is released in a London hotel, killing more than a dozen civilians. A terrorist cell, probably al-Qaida, is behind it and expected to strike again ... soon ... with a major attack in the subways of New York. The clock is ticking ...

That's the set-up for The Grid, a new limited series premiering tonight at 9 on cable channel TNT. The six-hour, four-night series is structured along the lines of the 2003 Traffick miniseries (USA), which used whip-around storytelling to deal with drug smuggling, but its heaviest debt in subject matter, style and tone is to 24, the Fox action-drama starring Kiefer Sutherland as counter-terrorist agent Jack Bauer.

In terms of drama, The Grid is not in a league with 24, but there is still a lot to like, particularly as it connects with the archetype of a newly evolving television hero. Julianna Margulies (ER) and Dylan McDermott (The Practice) play counter-terrorism agents designed to strike the same chords with viewers as Bauer and Alias' Sydney Bristow (Jennifer Garner), who arrived on-screen in 2001 in the wake of 9/11.

Troubled in their personal lives, highly competent and driven professionally, they are part of a team whose mission is nothing less than saving America from those who would destroy it.

Descended from lawmen like Gunsmoke's Matt Dillon (James Arness) in the TV westerns of the 1950s, and tough urban detectives like Homicide: Life on the Street's Frank Pembleton (Andre Braugher) in 1990s cop dramas, Margulies' Maren Jackson and McDermott's Max Canary are trying to tame an international frontier. The bad guys are al-Qaida, but the series takes great pains to not indiscriminately target all Muslims.

The Grid is a television drama trying to speak to the psychic fallout of 9/11 with a message that there are still heroes in Washington working day and night to keep us safe.

There's a certain comfort in believing in heroes -- even when they are make-believe. And that's the primary appeal of The Grid.

The Grid

When: Tonight at 9

Where: TNT

In brief: A team of counter-terrorism agents takes on al-Qaida.

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