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Crime Time

Police dramas are alive and well, with Boomtown featuring a straight-arrow reporter, and Michael Mann back on the beat.

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LAPD BLUES: The cast of NBC's Boomtown, in which crime stories are told from various points of view.  

Rashomon it's not. I say this only because every review so far of Boomtown has mentioned the 1950 Akira Kurosawa movie, as if we are bereft of any other analogue for multiple points of view that complicate our picture of the truth; as if, for instance, painting were innocent of perspective, physics of uncertainty, and music of the blues. What Boomtown is instead is Hill Street Blues with Doppler shifts. If, in the modern novel, no narrator is ever reliable, in the postmodern cop show, reality itself is relative.

So, someone in Los Angeles is hurt. Someone else calls in this injury to the authorities. Beat cops and paramedics arrive, followed by journalists and detectives, after which a politician. Each new pair of eyes will see something slightly different, introduce an ulterior agenda, and inchworm the story forward a foot or so. We stay interested because executive producers Graham Yost (Speed) and Jon Avnet (Fried Green Tomatoes) know what they're doing and have conscripted a crackerjack cast to do it -- Gary Basaraba (Brooklyn South) and Jason Gedrick (EZ Streets) as beat cops, Donnie Wahlberg (Band of Brothers) and Mykelti Williamson (Forrest Gump) as the detectives who second-guess them, Neal McDonough (Minority Report) as the extremely ambitious district attorney, Nina Garbiras (The $treet) as the reporter who asks embarrassing questions, and Lana Parrilla (Spin City) as a shell-shocked paramedic.

I'm not absolutely positive, but Garbiras may be the first print journalist in about a decade to be portrayed on prime-time television as having both principles and decency. She also has about her some Mary-Louise Parker, which means you'll like her a lot.

She is certainly a better reason to visit L.A. than almost anyone we meet in Robbery Homicide Division, Michael Mann's dark new cantata-for-the-damned cop show, which leaves Hollywood for the rougher Third World neighborhoods. And the cops themselves -- Tom Sizemore, Barry "Shabaka" Henley, Klea Scott, David Cubitt, Michael Paul Chan -- are rougher than the neighborhoods, rolling from Koreatown (a shooting outside a nightclub) to Van Nuys (the gangland-style execution of an entire family) to a suburban mini-mall where a rookie cop is gunned down because her cell phone doesn't work. If Miami Vice was Pop Art, Robbery Homicide Division is Hieronymus Bosch.


MISSING IN ACTION: Without a Trace dramatizes the FBI's Missing Persons Squad.  

Whereas Without a Trace -- more relativity theory -- would work nicely adjacent to Boomtown. Before they can decide if a missing person has been abducted or just ran away, Anthony LaPaglia and his FBI team of Poppy Montgomery, Eric Close, Enrique Murciano, and Marianne Jean-Baptiste must reconstruct the last 24 hours of his or her DOD (Day of Disappearance). The victim is the ghost in their machine, either in phantasmal flashback (as they extrapolate from data they've gathered) or in spectral fade-out (as they reach the limit of their understanding). LaPaglia, whose very thought process seems ferocious even when his demeanor's not, is an ideal lead for a series in the newly popular C.S.I. mode that prizes the process of detection more than the personality of the detective, and that seems to be asking such postmodern questions as whether our identity can indeed be inferred from credit cards, bus passes, restraining orders, and bounced checks.

On the other hand, now that I've finally seen the actual season premiere of C.S.I.: Miami, I have begun to worry that they've inflated David Caruso to a monstrous sensitivity, with his wounded eyes looking in vain for justice and mercy in the gassy swamp.

In Brief

Haunted
(Starting September 24; 9 to 10 p.m.; UPN) stars Matthew Fox as a private eye who, ever since a near-death experience, has been able to communicate with the dead about his cases. The dead, it turns out, don't always tell the truth, and they're big on symbols.

Presidio Med
(Sneak preview Tuesday, September 24, Wednesdays thereafter; 10 to 11 p.m.; CBS) has added another guy, Paul Blackthorne, to what had been a collective of feminist physicians in a San Francisco clinic. But this superior soap still belongs to Dana Delany, Blythe Danner, Anna Deavere Smith, Sasha Alexander, and Julianne Nicholson.

That Was Then
(Starting September 27; 9 to 10 p.m.; ABC) is much more interesting than the advance criticism has suggested. A 30-year-old door-to-door salesman of doors (James Bulliard) is precipitated into his own past by a period rock song, and discovers that rectifying the mistakes that he made when he was 16 only makes the future worse. With Jeffrey Tambor as the father, who is a bookie, and Bess Armstrong as the mother, who is having an affair.

Hack
(Starting September 27; 9 to 10 p.m.; CBS) finds a strange role for the talented David Morse -- an ex-cop cab-driving vigilante. A low-rent Equalizer that has so far managed to waste the gifts of Andre Braugher as Morse's guilt-ridden buddy still on the Philadelphia force.

Prince William
(September 29; 7 to 9 p.m.; ABC) stars Jordan Frieda as the unfortunate son of Prince Charles and Princess Diana, who is asleep at his father's when news comes of his mother's death in Paris. With Martin Turner as Charles, Carolyn Pickles as Camilla Parker Bowles, Eddie Cooper as William's younger brother, Harry, and Ireland as England. Even if you loathe the whole idea of royalty, this is rather sweet.

American Dreams
(Starting september 29; 8 to 9 p.m.; NBC) is another pleasant surprise, introducing the immensely talented Brittany Snow as an Irish-Catholic teen in Philadelphia in 1963 who wants nothing in life so much as to dance on Dick Clark's American Bandstand, which, of course, her TV-salesman father (Tom Verica) opposes, although her Mary McCarthy–reading mom (Gail O'Grady) tries to smooth the way. Meanwhile, Brittany's older brother (Will Estes) has decided to quit high-school football despite a possible scholarship to Notre Dame. And JFK is on his way to Dallas. Great pop tunes and original black-and-white Dick Clark footage seamlessly included.

Boomtown
Starting Sunday, September 29; 10 to 11 p.m.; NBC.
Robbery Homicide Division
Starting Friday, September 27; 10 to 11 p.m.; CBS.
Without a Trace
Starting Thursday, September 26; 10 to 11 p.m.; CBS.


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