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FAMILY THAT FIGHTS CRIME TOGETHER ...

Byline: David Kronke

``Cover Me,'' klutzily and with only a smidgen of verity subtitled ``Based on the True Life of an FBI Family'' (even the network's press material gets it wrong), opens with a firecracker series of quirky, funny scenes. We see Chance (Michael Angarano), an 11-year-old kid frantically driving his injured dad Danny (Peter Dobson) from danger in the family Rolls-Royce. Next, there's dad (in a flashback) quixotically rejecting his infant son in the hospital maternity ward and later (in another flashback) accepting him - when the boy accidentally shoots him.

Danny's a Fed, who has enlisted his entire family to help him in his fight against crime. He gets mad when his teen daughter's boyfriend finds her hidden wire while groping her, then accusingly turns to his other daughter: ``You were supposed to be her backup!''

``I had cheerleading,'' she says with a shrug.

Unfortunately, not long after that, ``Cover Me'' - developed and executive-produced by Shaun Cassidy, whose last series, ``Hollyweird,'' was canceled before it hit the air - devolves into a more stock, conventional crime melodrama, albeit one with a twist or two. Whatever ``true story'' this is based on, plenty of artistic license has obviously been taken - Danny drags Chance to meetings with mob bosses, where he's a witness to a shootout (the reason Danny has deputized the whole brood is explained, but hardly convincingly).

It's one part ``The Smith Family,'' the short-lived series starring Henry Fonda as a family-man/cop, the tone of which shifted from lighthearted to harder-edged midway through its run, and one part ``Hart to Hart,'' with the droll crime-fighting couple (itself cribbed from the ``Thin Man'' film series). The oddball touches are necessary, given such a far-fetched premise, but there needs to be more.

Dobson is charismatic enough, and Melora Hardin is a charmer as his wife, Barbara, but the action deteriorates into shtick and formula darn quick. In order to break a case, Danny has to go undercover and flirt with a sexy swindler; Barbara has to go undercover to flirt with a nerdy one - and she isn't thrilled at the inequity of the deal.

Narration, used to get us through the dodgier plot points in the pilot episode, quickly becomes redundant. Basically, ``Cover Me'' stumbles between two bar stools: It's not quite credible enough to entertain action fans and not quite idiosyncratic enough to win over fans of esoterica and black comedy.

- D.K.

THE FACTS

--The show: ``Cover Me: Based on the True Life of an FBI Family.''--What: Drama about a crime-fighting family.

--Who: Peter Dobson, Melora Hardin, Cameron Richardson.

--Where: USA Network.

--When: 8 tonight, continuing at 8 p.m. Sundays.

--Our rating: Two and 1/2 stars

CAPTION(S):

2 photos

Photo:

(1) Peter Dobson enlists his family to help fight against crime in the HBO series ``Cover Me,'' premiering tonight.

(2) Michael Angarano, Antoinette Picatto and Cameron Richardson are the children of an FBI family in ``Cover Me.''
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Title Annotation:L.A. Life
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Television Program Review
Date:Mar 5, 2000
Words:492
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