Tuesday, March 28, 2006

After Idol, the Braugher Hour

Because, as a friend of mine is fond of saying, "Life is TV," I'll be watching the debut episode of "Thief" tonight on F/X at 10:00. Over the past few years, I have gotten hooked on the F/X Tuesday night at 10 lineup. "Nip/Tuck," "Rescue Me" and, especially, "The Shield" have become regular stops in my channel surfing. I came to all of these shows midway through their first seasons, almost by accident, but I am tuning in to "Thief" from Day One because of Andre Braugher, who has the title role.

Braugher became a favorite of mine when, as Detective Frank Pembleton, he stalked the streets of Baltimore, searching for murderers in "Homicide, Life on the Street." More accurately, he put suspects in "The Box" and, through the brute force of his personality, interrogated them into submission followed by confession. Late in the run of this series, he even forced a fellow detective to admit to a point-blank assassination of a drug kingpin. Even as he questioned the existence of God, Pembleton embodied righteous justice with an Old Testament attitude minus the vengeful wrath. When they brought him out of retirement in the "Homicide Life Everlasting" TV movie reunion special, he was teaching ethics at a Jesuit college. You know, just like your average retired cop.

I've never found Braugher as captivating since although he was pretty strong in the short-lived "Gideon's Crossing." He was memorable in a bad way in the disastrous 2000 karaoke movie, "Duets," with Paul Giamatti, Gwyneth Paltrow and that master thespian, Huey Lewis. How exactly did this movie get pitched? "Easy Rider" meets "Star Search?" (this was pre-American Idol. Yes, such a time did exist) A middle-aged salesman in a dead-end job throws it all away to pursue his lifelong dream of becoming a national karaoke champion? Not exactly Rocky Balboa. I can't fault Giamatti for taking this role on ("American Splendor" and "Sideways" were still a few years off), but Paltrow was coming off an Academy Award in "Shakespeare in Love." Not surprisingly, Lewis delivers a solid performance as a crackerjack karaoke man. And Braugher somehow pulls off a riveting "Free Bird," but Laurence Olivier, Peter O'Toole and Katharine Hepburn could not have salvaged such a flawed premise. If I had paid money to see it in a theater, it might have replaced "Howard the Duck" as my all-time worst movie in that category.

Back to Braugher. His best characters ooze moral authority, so it will be interesting to see how he brings that quality to bear in the role of a career felon. The other dramas in the F/X stable have deconstructed a firefighter who struggles with addiction and the post-9/11 world, a corrupt cop who finds going straight is not going to work either, and a pair of plastic surgeons whose material and personal needs keep obfuscating their noble goals. "Thief" will no doubt try to show duality and generate empathy for Braugher's character. And if the show has the same quality of writers as the others, there will be plenty of dark humor, always the best kind.

If reading this intrigues you but it's too late to tune in, don't worry, F/X will probably show it at least four more times before next Tuesday, so you will have plenty of opportunities to catch "Thief."

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