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Frontierland

Into the West revisits dusty territory, but with honest grit, while a slew of cop shows provide light, grisly fun.

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Was this guilt trip necessary? Never mind the scabrous Deadwood. After decades of horsing around on television—after series devoted to Kit Carson, Wild Bill Hickock, Bat Masterson, Daniel Boone, Hopalong Cassidy, Wyatt Earp, Jesse James, the Lone Ranger, the Cisco Kid, Zorro, and Cochise; after cattle barons, bounty hunters, half-breeds, and Bible nuts; after sandstorms, saddle sores, lynching bees, landgrabs, and sheep dip; after the self-mockery of Maverick, and the self-importance of McMurtry; after prophetic utterance, buckskin sex, and genocide—do we really need twelve more hours on six weekends to take us Into the West, on yet another ghost dance from the visions of a Lakota medicine man in 1825 to the massacre at Wounded Knee in 1891?

The short answer is yes. Executive producer Steven Spielberg, co-writer William Mastrosimone, six hardworking directors, and a cast of dozens—all of whom are more sincere than Eleanor Roosevelt—want us to feel so bad about what the Manifest Destiny of White People did to our aboriginal population that they have given Native Americans equal time, almost to the minute. Into the West is Dances With Wolves without most of the cross-dressing; our noses are rubbed in primal crime. What’s more, while we’re riding around on training wheels in the inaugural episode, indigenes like Growling Bear, Loved by the Buffalo, Running Fox, and Dog Star are easier to recognize than interlopers like Fletcher, Jacob, Johnny, or Jedediah, because Gordon Tootoosis, Simon R. Baker, Zahn McClarnon, and Michael Spears are clean-shaven and bare-chested, whereas Will Patton, Matthew Settle, Gary Busey, and Josh Brolin are as pelted as beavers and, like country-music recording artists, never remove their hats.

By hours three and four, of course, we have no trouble recognizing Keri Russell and Beau Bridges, and terrible things will happen to them both. And when Settle’s Jacob takes an arrow, his cousin, Skeet Ulrich’s Jethro, seems a bit too eager to brotherly-love Jacob’s wife, Thunder Heart Woman (Tonantzin Carmelo in the Mary McDonnell role). Sean Astin, Rachael Leigh Cook, Balthazar Getty, and Matthew Modine won’t show up till the third night—for gold rushing, river drowning, treaty signing, and Quantrell’s Raiders—but the real additions are Graham Greene, without whom no recent account of Wankan Tanka (the Great Spirit) has been complete, and Russell Means, who was on the FBI’s least-favorite list, as the first national director of the American Indian Movement, long before he ever appeared on Walker, Texas Ranger. In the company of Lance Henriksen, Wes Studi, Keith Carradine, Irene Bedard, David Paymer, Tom Berenger, and Joanna Going, we are on our slow way on a Trail of Tears to George Custer, Sitting Bull, and memory’s Badlands.

If you are so shameless as to prefer to be less troubled, there’s plenty of summer narrative waiting, although it looks a lot like winter and fall. The Dead Zone, for instance. The fourth season features the same cosmos as the first three: a hero (Anthony Michael Hall) back from a coma with a telepathic touch; his former fiancée (Nicole deBoer), now married to the good-guy sheriff (Chris Bruno); a politician (Sean Patrick Flannery) with a sinister side; and a cleric (David Ogden Stiers) with divided loyalties. But like The X-Files, The Dead Zone is most fun when least cosmic. Hall’s pursuit of a serial kidnapper of Stepford wives is more enjoyable than his role in the forthcoming smackdown between Good and Evil.

Meanwhile, two new series stop crime in Los Angeles. The Inside features Jodie Foster look-alike Rachel Nichols as a profiler who joins an FBI office that very much resembles the one in Numb3rs, except that Peter Coyote is the boss instead of Rob Morrow, and Coyote will sacrifice anybody to get his serial killer, even the lovely Nichols, who is seized by visions because . . . never mind. Fair warning: The three episodes of The Inside that I’ve seen go out of their way to be gruesome. Not so the single hour of The Closer available for preview. The wonderful Kyra Sedgwick stars as a CIA-trained interrogator lured from Atlanta to Los Angeles by a former lover, assistant police chief J. K. Simmons, for his Priority Murder Squad. While coping simultaneously with a southern accent, an appetite for doughnuts, and the resentment of subordinates, Sedgwick will solve the murder of a computer-company executive—not by telepathy or reading entrails, but by being smarter than anybody else. Not to mention better-looking.

Into the West
TNT. Limited Series.
Premieres June 10, 8 P.M.


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