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Vice is nice in TNT's 'Wanted'

TNT's new show is more Miami Vice's Crockett and less CSI: Miami's Caine.

By CHASE SQUIRES
Published July 31, 2005


While the big networks and other cable outlets went for cheap laughs with reality shows this summer, TNT has produced some killer stuff. Really.

The Into the West saga was the product of big money and big names (Steven Spielberg, producer); The Closer, a hard-core cop show, featured name actors Kyra Sedgwick and J.K. Simmons.

Tonight, TNT's Wanted debuts, loud, flashy and a great ride.

It's a comic book. It's a rock video. It's . . . Miami Vice. And that's not a bad thing.

"When I read the script, it seemed like a throwback to me," star Gary Cole said, speaking on a cell phone as he rode down U.S. 101 in Los Angeles on his way to the set. "It's more like 10 or 20 years ago, a lot of action as opposed to crime shows that became procedural."

Yeah! Action.

Creator Jorge Zamacona (his writing was a staple on grit-fests Oz and Homicide: Life on the Street) said he bucked the current vein of police shows, where science takes the lead and ethical issues become soapboxes.

"This is more street, more pow, bang," he said. "You know the guy's lying, just go out there and hit him in the head."

On the phone from his Los Angeles office, Zamacona laughed a lot as he described the creative process. One thing comes through clearly: Wanted is supposed to be fun. His TV cops are allowed to be distinctly individual, sometimes a little weird, and very, very gritty. The writing stretches the language lines of basic cable. It's not HBO, but there are plenty of cuss words throughout, just no f-bombs.

And as fun as it is, it's not a kids' show.

Under hitmaker Aaron Spelling as executive producer, Zamacona said he had free rein to work with Cole (vice president "Bingo" Bob Russell on The West Wing and creepy boss Bill Lumbergh from cult favorite Office Space) on a shoot 'em up series that's big on bad guys and guns.

The result is a welcome change from cop dramas that take themselves seriously (i.e., brooding David Caruso as Horatio Caine on CSI: Miami). For those still pining for Don Johnson's Vice detective Sonny Crockett, this is as good as it gets.

Cole, who coincidentally auditioned for the role of Crockett way back when, has demonstrated his ability to morph into a variety of roles, whether it's weasely boss, dunderheaded vice president or creepy/evil Sheriff Lucas Buck in American Gothic. A talent he credits to his start in live theater.

"Theater is the ability to sustain something all the way through, one take," Cole said. "It's where I learned to do what I'm doing. For me, it's good to go back and forth, film and theater, to keep learning and working."

The premise of Wanted is kind of silly - a handful of specialized supercops from a variety of state, local and federal agencies move into an old airport hangar sort of place as a task force charged with tracking down the 100 most wanted, most loathsome criminals in Los Angeles.

Cole, as Lt. Conrad Rose, leads a team of specialists. There's the obligatory ubergifted computer geek with face piercings, the FBI pretty boy, the Naval Intelligence officer with the knack for negotiation, the ATF guy who's a bedrock conservative, actor Lee Tergesen (Tobias Beecher on HBO's Oz) as a foul-tempered sidekick, and other misfits. They ride around in zoomy cars while they beat people and blow stuff up.

Meanwhile, the lieutenant is going through a divorce from a woman he still loves, and trying to be a good father to his children.

"These are the guys who are just never represented like they are on those other shows. They don't speak that way, they're vulgar, they're irreverent, they're spiritual, they're all that," Zamacona said. "The technical stuff on those other shows, that's not what this is. This is about rolling up in a black and white at 2 o'clock in the morning and, "What's going to happen when I get out of this car?' "

So what if you saw this before on Miami Vice? Wasn't it great?

REVIEW: Wanted premieres tonight at 10 p.m. on TNT. Grade: A.