06/18/1984 at 01:00 AM EDT
HBO (Sunday, June 17, 10 p.m. ET)
HBO's new dramatic series, set in a prison, is a Hill Street Blues from the robbers' side of the story instead of the cops'. There isn't quite the panache and slickness of the network effort here, but it's still good—quite good, in fact, for original cable programming. In the first few minutes there's reason to fear that a prison drama on cable is just an excuse to fling strings of four-letter words, to kick in and step on heads and even to show naked rear ends (male) in a shower scene. But there is more to it. The characters here are worth caring for. Robert Desiderio is the lead in the pilot, a charismatic con who thinks he's going to be paroled but who runs into a snafu and then into solitary. His comrade, Geoffrey Lewis, is your basic "gruff yet compassionate con," in HBO's words—and he's good at portraying one. Trinidad Silva, Jesus on Hill Street, is the smallest prisoner, "whose diminutive stature belies his big heart." Silva is better than that; he really is likable as everybody's buddy. The warden, unfortunately, is also the prisoners' buddy; since the bad guys here are the good guys, the good guy (the warden) should be a little meaner. That's not a major problem in a fledgling series; it can be developed. The strength of Hill Street and the other chic shows is their acting and their characterizations. Maximum Security is starting off pretty strong on both counts. HBO promises future episodes. Let's hope that the producers—including Ron (Splash) Howard—will keep up the good behavior.