KINKY - BUT NOT IN A GOOD WAY O'NEILL BRINGS LIFE TO 'DRAGNET' REMAKE, BUT PLOT LINES, WRITING ARE MORIBUND.
DICK WOLF'S ``Law & Order'' franchise was inspired to an obvious degree by ``Dragnet,'' so it's a little redundant to revisit the series.
Nonetheless, Wolf's remake employs the classic theme with a hip-hop drum track under it and, instead of original star Jack Webb gravely intoning that ``the story you are about to see is true,'' begins by informing us that stories are ``inspired by actual events,'' which is 21st-century-ese for ``we made this stuff up, so sue us,'' and anyway, the same, again, can be said of ``Law & Order.''
Then the show features four nude female corpses (privates hidden by discreet camera angles) and a shot of a corpse with her eyes dug out. This isn't your father's - or grandfather's - ``Dragnet.'' (Webb's ``Dragnet'' delved occasionally into kinky murders - one episode featured a woman hog-tied, but she remained fully clad; her blouse and skirt even maintained their smart dry-cleaning creases.)
Wolf's ``Dragnet,'' in its first couple of episodes, recalls the luridness of ``Law & Order: Special Victims Unit'' without that show's leavening of its sadomasochistic crimes with genuinely thoughtful explorations of extremely difficult social issues. Tonight's premiere features a criminal who goes to the trouble of elaborately re-creating the details of the Hillside Strangler's murders, celebrating the 25th anniversary of those crimes by spraying victims with silver spray paint.
Ed O'Neill (``Married ... With Children's'' Al Bundy) is an inspired choice to play Joe Friday, Webb's celebrated cop on radio and TV. He's a no-nonsense, seen-it-all, by-the-books detective who pretty much paved the way for the procedural crime drama that ``Law & Order'' and ``CSI'' have made phenomenally popular today, and O'Neill, who previously starred in the cop show ``Big Apple,'' has the dead eyes and delivery to make the characterization work.
More problematic is Ethan Embry as Frank Smith, Friday's partner - he's too young to be playing such an old soul; even Friday can't fathom how the guy made detective at such an early age.
Tonight's episode, as mentioned, focuses on a sexual sadist, allowing such phrases as ``erotic asphyxiation,'' ``murdering pedophile,'' ``carjacking necrophiliac'' and other more gruesome terms to be bandied about freely. It also allows for such lame lines as ``Mulholland Drive at night: the best view in L.A. - unless you're dead'' to be worked into the script.
A future episode dwells on exploitative videographers (``That's the most vile, disgusting thing I've ever seen,'' a character helpfully notes). It also offers some apropos-of-nothing cheesecake shots of an aspiring actress and a portrait of a USC film student so cliched that one's tempted to suggest Wolf should stay on the East Coast, where his ``Law & Order'' dramas are filmed. It also opens with a dumb black-humor line - eyeing a corpse, Smith deadpans, ``I thought I had a bad night.''
``Dragnet'' Version 2003 unspools its dramas at a quick enough clip that you don't have time to question its detectives' assumptions, and O'Neill gives the proceedings a gravitas that salves the show's exploitative story lines. (Even ``The Shield,'' which exceeds this ``Dragnet's'' propensity for wallowing in lurid crimes, has more on its mind than gruesomeness for gruesomeness's sake.)
When one suspect is said to have spent his youth ``(gratifying himself) to pictures of crime scenes,'' you're forgiven for wondering if that's not also describing Wolf's target audience for this show.
DRAGNET - Two and one half stars
What: Remake of Jack Webb's classic cop procedural, with Ed O'Neill as Joe Friday.
Where: ABC (Channel 7).
When: 10 tonight.
In a nutshell: Webb would have a coronary, if he hadn't already died of one. For less squeamish tastes, it's serviceable drama. But there's a measure of gratuitous sleaze here that can easily be considered cynical storytelling.
(color) Ethan Embry, left, is Frank Smith, and Ed O'Neill is Joe Friday, in the new ``Dragnet,'' a remake of the classic cop show premiering at 10 tonight on ABC.
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|Title Annotation:||Review; U|
|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||Feb 2, 2003|
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