Two floridly genre crime dramas debut Tuesday, demonstrating, if nothing else, the temptations and pitfalls of relying on character types rather than actual characters. They also illustrate the low-percentage odds of the midseason replacement.
CBS' "Intelligence" has by far the better shot of the two. Replacing the very disappointing "Hostages," it features "Lost's" beloved abs-flashing, wisecracking Josh Holloway. Here he plays a highly decorated super-agent with a microchip in his brain that offers access to every bit of information in the world and also allows him to open doors. With his mind.
So "The Computer that Wore Combat Boots," or, for the less aged among us, a reboot of "Chuck," if Chuck had been a highly trained military officer with a tendency to go shirtless rather than an adorable geek with an amusing coterie of friends.
Holloway's character doesn't have friends — he has a team. He works at a green-screen, tricked-out secret agency called Clockwork that's headed by a woman of granite-faced conviction that could only be delivered by Marg Helgenberger.
Requisitely mercurial, reckless and insubordinate, Holloway is also, as the genre now dictates, distracted by personal trauma. His beloved wife and fellow agent is missing and presumed dead — she appears to have gone out as a terrorist, a conclusion he refuses to accept.
This love-gone-wrong story line gives Holloway an excuse to clench that famous jaw and stare into the middle distance broodingly (cue audience sighs) at carefully calculated intervals. (Not only does he have a computer chip in his brain, he has a dagger in his heart.)
More important, it gives Helgenberger an excuse to assign him a handler, played by Meghan Ory, a Secret Service agent just as comely and commanding as the name would suggest. She and Holloway exchange a few barbs, a little gunfire and the smolder begins.
Breathlessly paced and festooned with some pretty groovy computer graphics — the chip allows Holloway to walk through scenes of past destruction in his mind — "Intelligence" isn't trying to be anything more than what it obviously is. The show is a panoply of familiar elements anchored by a new and attractive leading man.
Its success depends almost solely on Holloway's ability to take an overused template — his super skills shield a vulnerable soul! — and create a character who allows us to forget the many who preceded him. High-stakes action and cursory exploration of the increasing archaic nature of privacy help, but it's a tall order nonetheless.
Still, "Intelligence" is refreshingly fun to watch, which is more than one can say for ABC's "Killer Women," a clunky, clichéd Texas-based crime drama that has the added bonus of being unforgivably sexist, never mind that it was created and produced by women.
The pilot opens with spaghetti-western promise. A woman in a red dress and killer heels shows up at a church, murders the bride, then speeds off in a hailstorm of gunfire. Social satire? Intriguing genre mash-up? Alas, the answer is no. One look at the tag line — "Justice Never Looked So Good" — and all is revealed.
Immediately on the case is a lone female Texas Ranger played by Tricia Helfer. All dusty denim, unconcealed weaponry and cowboy hat, she's a gal who would rather wrangle cattle than try on dresses. And yet, she always manages to look fabulous, her hair tendriled just so despite being smashed by that crazy hat.
And she's got a secret weapon in her head too — women's intuition. That's right, like "Scandal's" Olivia Pope, this ol' Texas Ranger goes with her gut, and her profound understanding of her own sex.
One look at the chipped nails of the woman in red tells this law gal somethin' ain't right and soon she's lying to her boss (She's willing to break a few rules!) and sleeping with a DEA agent (She doesn't care what people think!) to get at the truth.
Which, by the way, is glaringly obvious, sexist and more than mildly racist. (Hint: The shooter's Latina, so a cartel will be involved.)
Creator Hannah Shakespeare has promised that each episode will deal with a female criminal, allowing the show to explore how women killers differ from men. But if this is Shakespeare's idea of a female detective — Justice Never Looked So Good! — it's hard to imagine it will go much deeper than some version of "He Done Her Wrong."