Nick Fallin juggles his career as a hotshot corporate lawyer in Pittsburgh with his court-ordered community service as a children's advocate. (He reluctantly chose to put in 1,500 hours of pro bono work rather than face disbarment for a drug conviction.) Nick's life sounds exciting—or at least nerve-racking—but you'd never know it to study the face of Australian actor Simon Baker (Red Planet), who has the lead in this new series. Baker looks equally disengaged whether he's playing arrogance, confusion or concern.
Plotting on The Guardian has shown improvement since the premiere in late September. The third episode presented an intriguing situation—custody and paternity issues surrounding the wheelchair-bound son of a prostitute—and resisted the temptation to resolve it too neatly. Characterization, on the other hand, is still a weakness. Nick seems hardly more than a construct, a walking pretext for two kinds of legal drama. It might help if he had more meaningful interaction with Burton Fallin (Dabney Coleman), his father and law-firm boss. Granted, Burton isn't made out to be the warm, communicative type, but would it kill him to ask an occasional question about Nick's personal life? Over at Children's Legal Services, Nick's relationship with supervisor Alvin Masterson (Alan Rosenberg) has been marked by unrelieved antagonism. Masterson needs to develop some redeeming features or we'll wonder how he became a do-gooder in the first place.
In the end, though, tinkering around the edges won't be enough to ensure The Guardian's future if Baker's performance remains a void at the center of the drama.
Bottom Line: Unpersuasive advocate
UPN (Wednesdays, 8 p.m. ET)
Whenever I reflect on the original Star Trek—something I try to do at least once in a blue moon—I wonder what Spock would have been like as a woman. This latest Trek spinoff, an unspectacular prequel to the 1960s series that started the whole TV and movie franchise, satisfies my mild curiosity by introducing T'Pol (Jolene Blalock), a female Vulcan with pointy ears and pouty, glossy lips. T'Pol is second in command to Jonathan Archer (ex-Quantum Leap star Scott Bakula), the he-manly captain of the starship Enterprise NX-01 in the mid-22nd century. In the late-September pilot T'Pol chided Archer for his "provincial attitudes" and "volatile nature," while he took critical note of her "Vulcan cynicism" and "repressed emotions." Is it me or do you sense sexual tension?
Luckily for UPN millions of Trekkers are deaf to the mockery of skeptics. Myself, I don't accept the ship's doctor (John Billingsley) as an alien just because he looks as if he has two snakes glued to his forehead. I felt cheated at the end of episode 2 when a race of androgynous beings with a 400-year life span was solely represented by a guy in standard-issue alien makeup. And I have a "seen one, seen 'em all" attitude toward laser-gun battles. To make new fans, show more enterprise.
Bottom Line: Goes not so boldly
NBC (Sundays, 9 p.m. ET)
Show of the week
Early this month a Saturday Night Live parody called Law & Order: Parking Violations Unit cleverly suggested that the NBC schedule suffers from L&O overload. But thanks to the mesmerizing performance of Vincent D'Onofrio as New York City Det. Bobby Goren, this new series enhances the value of the brand.
Criminal Intent is designed to distinguish itself from the original Law & Order and its Special Victims Unit offshoot by devoting more time to the wrongdoer's point of view. This added emphasis on the perp is good news for a guest actor like Griffin Dunne, wonderfully slimy in the Oct. 21 episode as a murderous lawyer with multiple addictions. D'Onofrio, though, is unquestionably the star of the show.
D'Onofrio (Full Metal Jacket, Men in Black) was unforgettable in a 1997 episode of Homicide: Life on the Street as a commuter angrily facing death after being pushed off a subway platform. Now he's playing a cop potentially as fascinating as Andre Braugher's Frank Pembleton on that departed series. Goren is a man of wide-ranging knowledge—from art to automobiles—but his insight into the criminal mind is awesome for someone who acknowledges taking only "a few psychology courses in college." Shouting or whispering, accusing or sympathizing, gesticulating or just raising an eyebrow, he displays an unerring instinct for a suspect's sensitive spots. You have a right to remain silent, but he makes it so hard.
Kathryn Erbe (an executed killer on Oz last year) complements D'Onofrio effectively as his plain-spoken partner, while Jamey Sheridan snaps clichéd commands as their superior. The assistant D.A., coolly played by Courtney B. Vance, seems like one character Goren can't outwit.
Bottom Line: Top cop drama
The WB (Fridays, 9 p.m. ET)
When I heard that Reba McEntire was doing a series called Reba, I feared she'd be playing a country-and-western star with a patient husband, a couple of moderately mischievous children and a penchant for singin' in the kitchen. Turns out fictional Reba Hart is a Texas mother of three who discovered in the pilot that her teenage daughter (JoAnna Garcia) and her estranged husband's girlfriend (Melissa Peterman) were both pregnant. A fine howdy-do, and a partly pleasant surprise.
Subtlety is not a hallmark of the writing, nor of Christopher Rich's performance as Reba's faithless spouse. McEntire delivers some lines too carefully, as if reminding herself which words to emphasize. But the star has a straightforward quality that makes her character seem real by sitcom standards, and humor should flow steadily from the relationship between Reba and her new son-in-law (Steve Howey), a genially obtuse high school athlete who moves into the Hart house with his exercise machine and his inspiring poster of the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders.
Bottom Line: Give the gal a try
>Sunday, Oct. 28 THE WEDDING DRESS CBS (9 p.m. ET) The garment of the title has magical powers in this TV movie with Tyne Daly and Neil Patrick Harris.
Monday, Oct. 29 ALLY MCBEAL FOX (9 p.m. ET) New lawyers join the firm and Boz Scaggs performs in the fifth-season premiere.
Tuesday, Oct. 30 CASTLE GHOSTS OF IRELAND Travel Channel (8 p.m. ET) Erin go boo! Explore three haunted edifices on the Emerald Isle.
Wednesday, Oct. 31 SWEENEY TODD PBS (9 p.m. ET) Patti LuPone and George Hearn star in a concert version of Stephen Sondheim's dark musical about a revenge-crazed barber.
Thursday, Nov. 1 FRIENDS NBC (8 p.m. ET) Phoebe feels an attraction to her future brother-in-law (guest star Sean Penn).
Friday, Nov. 2 PROVIDENCE NBC (8 p.m. ET) Robbie weds Tina after his dad gets drunk at the bachelor party.
Saturday, Nov. 3 MISS CONGENIALITY HBO (9 p.m. ET) FBI agent Sandra Bullock
goes undercover at a beauty pageant in this laugh-filled 2000 movie.
>When George Segal saw Lee J. Cobb in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman on Broadway in 1949, he was riveted. "My father was a salesman and took us to see it," says the Just Shoot Me star, whose father sold beer hops and malt door-to-door in New England. "Getting in the car after the show, there was such silence. It wasn't just because my dad was a salesman—it was much bigger than that. I thought, 'Wow, you can be that good at something.' We'd never seen acting like that."
Nor did Segal foresee that he'd be starring opposite Cobb in the 1966 Emmy-winning TV adaptation. "[Cobb] really brought my game up," says Segal, who played Biff to Cobb's Willy Loman. Watching the cable special, which airs for the first time in 28 years Oct. 28 at 8 p.m. on Trio, Segal, 67, was astonished. "I've always been in this body, so I think I still look like that," says the L.A. resident. "I'm surprised when I look in the mirror that I'm old!"
Lately he has been acting more like a lovestruck teenager, having married high school sweetheart Sonia, 68, five years ago. After graduation in 1951, "we went in different directions," says Segal. When he went to visit her after his wife's death, "We just kind of fell into each other's arms, and have been together ever since. We're still on our honeymoon."
- Sona Charaipotra.
CBS (Tuesdays, 9 p.m. ET)