Past Imperfect

Tim Pigott-Smith (as Detective Sergeant Frank Vickers), with Sarah Parish.Photo: Carlton International

Remember Tim Pigott-Smith? If you saw The Jewel in the Crown, you are unlikely to have forgotten his slithery embodiment of Ronald Merrick, the racist, sexist, deeply repressed British imperial cop who exacerbated the violent partitioning of the Indian subcontinent by his very presence. Such lavish villainy was practically Shakespearean. While his Detective Sergeant Frank Vickers is just as corrupt in the first of four episodes of The Vice (Mondays, starting June 7; 9 to 10:30 p.m.; BBC America), he isn’t quite as complicated. So what if, fifteen years ago, he murdered a young woman and bricked up her body in a basement? Then, as now, he had a business to protect.

Back then, Pat Chappel (Ken Stott) was a rookie who let the veteran Vickers get away with graft. Now Chappel is in charge of the vice unit of London’s Metropolitan Police, with a score to settle that he can’t explain to his own team. We jump-cut in time, meeting everyone from a prostitute turned schoolteacher to a father who dials his disappeared daughter at a sex-shop number where no one ever answers. Throughout, Pigott-Smith practically minces, like a flower of evil on little cat feet. (Note that Stott’s schlumpy Chappel, like many detectives on British TV, is an emotional mess. On this side of the Atlantic, we are more inclined to vest the boss with warm wisdom, like a camp counselor, or lofty detachment, like a Buddha, or autocratic dogmatism, like an Old Testament patriarch.)

In the third season of The Dead Zone (Sundays, starting June 6; 10 to 11 p.m.; USA), not only is Johnny Smith (Anthony Michael Hall) seized as usual by speed-freak visions of the past, as if in an epileptic fit, he is also tormented by the future, by precognitions of postapocalyptic junkyard moonscapes. And if, either in fast-forward or in rewind, he’s going to save the world from this future, he must do so after his arrest for murder. I won’t say anything more about the opening two-parter, except that when the hero of a series is accused of murder, it suggests that, while the series may not have jumped the shark, it has at least mounted a minnow.

Timothy Hutton, a physics professor, also sees the future in 5 Days to Midnight (Monday, June 7, 9 to 11 p.m.; Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, June 8, 9, and 10, 9 to 10 p.m.; Sci-Fi Channel), and what he sees there, again and again, is a bullet hole in his own head. Naturally, he is anxious to avoid that outcome. Thus he will involve himself, his daughter, and his girlfriend in a very long chase sequence that takes us from a briefcase to a cyclone to a psych ward to a sars epidemic to a little dog that should have been dead, not to mention Randy Quaid. Those of us who have admired Hutton in everything from Daniel to Nero Wolfe will just have to take the hit.

Past Imperfect