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Television > Idiot Boxing

Copping a feel

Men in blue make their presence felt; some locals invade Tinseltown TV, again

Like the game Clue, but on TV: Dean Chekvala in CBSí Harperís Island.
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Published 4/8/2009

If there were as many cops on the street as on our TV sets, wouldn't we all feel better served and protected? Since the days our remote control also was known as Dad, television has had an incurable affliction for taking a popular genre and beating it to a pulp. Once it was medical dramas (now, with ER saying goodbye after 15 seasons, serious healers are down to a precious few, pending the admittance of Jada Pinkett Smith's hawthoRNe to TNT in June); before that, Westerns rode roughshod. These days, between the CSIs, L&Os (C.I., SVU), NCIS, Case, Trace, Grace, Closer and Criminal Minds, the cops-and-robbers onslaught is enough to make you go Mental...ist.

For the networks, the challenge is to dress up this worked-to-death crime format in different and colorful packaging. The time-travel element of Life on Mars is a shining example; Southland, bowing at 10 p.m. tomorrow (April 9) on NBC (Channel 4 in Detroit) from the producers of ER, tries to emulate the edgy L.A. street patrol grit of films like Crash, with less cussing. The Line, premiering in July on TNT from Detroit-born überproducer Jerry Bruckheimer, stars The Practice pretty boy Dylan McDermott as head of an undercover unit so top-secret many of its own members don't know who's in the squad.

One of the most arresting new cop-show twists, however, debuts at 10 tonight (April 8) on ABC (Channel 7 in Detroit). I have concerns over the name of the show — calling it The Unusuals sets up some fairly high viewer expectations — but as police dramas go, this is one very odd squad.

Fact is, the fictional members of the NYPD's 2nd Precinct are as misfit in real life as they are before the camera. Harold Perrineau, the little devil who turned Lost on its ear before departing, plays a detective so afraid of dying that he sleeps in his bulletproof vest. His partner, portrayed by the ever-neurotic Adam Goldberg, has no problem standing in front of moving subway trains, a seeming death wish that makes him the polar opposite. Then there's the ex-Yankee detective who owns a diner he opens only when he's hungry (Jeremy Renner); his new partner, a former socialite who defied her wealthy family to become a cop (Amber Tamblyn); the sweet-faced evangelical (Josh Close) and the obnoxious publicity hound (Kai Lennox). As you might guess, this show is strongly character-driven.

The writing is brisk and clever, the action as well-paced as it is, well, unusual. There's an urge to compare The Unusuals to Hill Street Blues. Unless you're a TV historian or pretty damn old, however, you probably don't remember Hill Street Blues. (Yes, Virginia, Dennis Franz was in a series before Andy Sipowicz.) Like that classic show, however, nothing here is in black and white, there are secrets to be revealed, and The Unusuals is disarmingly unlike anything else on your box.

Dean's List: Look closely at Harper's Island, the ambitious 13-episode, limited-run murder mystery beginning at 10 p.m. tomorrow (April 9) on CBS (Channel 62 in Detroit) and you may spot a familiar face. Dean Chekvala, Sterling Heights native, pride of Clintondale High School and graduate of Wayne State University's College of Fine, Performing and Communication Arts, landed a plum role as "J.D. Dunn," brother of the groom in this wedding party-turned-bloody killing spree.

(Friends and family may know Dean better as "Checvala"; he and his older actor-musician brother, Pete, made the unilateral decision to replace the second "c" with a "k" for the benefit of Hollywood's pronunciation-impaired.)

Harper's Island is CBS's attempt to emulate those I Know What You Did/Scream/Final Destination neo-horror flicks that pack young audiences into theaters every summer. A group of family and friends journeys to a secluded island for the ritzy destination wedding of a boy-next-door and a wealthy heiress. But like Ten Little Indians, every week one member of the entourage meets a gruesome death. Who's the killer? The identity of the murderer isn't revealed until the final episode July 2.

Chekvala, 31, says his character, the tattooed "black sheep" of the family, "is kind of a loner, a little misunderstood, real troubled. He has a little riff with his bro. He's the troublemaker." That's about all he can say, however, everyone connected with the series has signed nondisclosure agreements not to reveal who the victims or the killer may be.

Spending four years in Chicago honing his skills before moving to L.A. in 2004, Chekvala, who has had guest shots on ER and Without a Trace, says Harper's Island is "by far" his biggest break in the business. Yet he's taking it in stride. Asked if he wanted to give a shout-out to anyone back in Detroit, Chekvala paused for a long moment before answering, "No. My family and friends, they know who they are." Very cool.

Jim McFarlin is a media critic for Metro Times. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com.

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