'Evidence': An Airtight Case; 'Heist': Unbelievable Rip-Off

Exhibit A:
Exhibit A: "The Evidence." Rob Estes and Orlando Jones are thrown together under harrowing circumstances and over uncommunicative corpses. Well worth investigating. (By Alan Markfield -- ABC)
By Tom Shales
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Some viewing decisions are sheer agony -- or annoying, anyway. The most vexing current example: "The Sopranos" on HBO vs. ABC's "Desperate Housewives" on Sunday nights.

Tonight at 10, though, two networks debut cop shows that don't present any such dilemmas. ABC's "The Evidence" is a high-stakes heart-pounder, and NBC's "Heist" is a lowbrow nap-maker.

What lifts "Evidence" well above the clamor of standard cop shows is the charisma between its two male leads: Orlando Jones as Cayman Bishop and Rob Estes as Sean Cole. Jones is cast in the kind of role Eddie Murphy played in the "Beverly Hills Cop" movies, but he jaunts nimbly through a performance uniquely his own, with no overt Murphyisms, so to speak.

The show's gimmick is effective and unobtrusive. At the beginning, the proverbial stentorian voice ("Law & Order"-ly type) presents us with the details of a homicide case. In the premiere it's Laura Green, young pharmacist, Case 2510605. We survey an assortment of assembled clues; some of those associated with Green's death include a locket with a picture scratched out, a cellphone displaying a partly dialed number and, as the stentorian voice bluntly puts it, "one human finger, severed."

Oh yeah, there's a close-up of it, too.

Along the way, there are fake-outs and red herrings; ads for the show invite viewers to play along at home, trying to guess who dun what, but this is hardly a TV version of the board game Clue, and the murder details are too realistic to put anyone in a very playful mood. Fortunately, Jones -- who came to national attention largely through a series of 7Up commercials -- adds bright notes just when they're needed.

Noticing an intensely perplexed expression on his partner's face, Bishop tells Cole, "Either you're thinking of something, or you've got to go to the bathroom real bad." Okay, it's the delivery more than the line that gets the laugh. But the scene turns poignant as Estes recalls how his wife was slain years earlier, the case still unsolved. He worries that cherished details of how she looked, sounded and acted are fading from memory: "Every day I'm forgetting something else about her."

That gives the show a "Fugitive" element, of course, with the plight of Lt. Estes and his search for the killer always there to be revived. Eight episodes have been filmed; if "The Evidence" does well, it's a candidate for the fall season. Samuel Baum and Dustin Thomason wrote a tense script for the pilot, and director Gary Fleder brings a touch of originality even to such trite rites as a cop chasing a crook out a window and down a fire escape.

The producer is John Wells, of "ER" fame, and although "The Evidence" isn't revolutionary, it does prove that there's room for another crime show if it's done with enough clever energy.


Over on NBC, though, "Heist" could easily qualify as TV's one cop show too many -- confusingly shot and edited, populated with snarlingly cranky characters, and crowded with cheap tricks designed to alleviate the show's prevailing pall.

A serialized drama -- at least to the extent that tonight's convoluted robbery case is not wrapped up by the end of the hour -- "Heist" is drowning in dialogue by sibling executive producers Mark and Robb Cullen (another executive producer is lovable Bernie Brillstein, whose specialty is really comedy, not cops). On stakeouts or when just killing time anywhere (killing it with a cleaver), these cops are bigger chatterboxes than Joan Rivers.

Apparently the buddy banter is supposed to be cute, hopping from one non sequitur to the next. Two cops investigating suspicious activity suddenly break into an argument about Mother Teresa and whether she believed in God. "She definitely questioned His existence in some of her letters," one says professorially, just before a big gun battle explodes all over the street. The writers manage to get a discussion on the desirability of a "big butt" into the first three minutes of the show.

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