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Touching Evil, Pilot (2004) A Movie Review by Nix

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Paul Abbott



James Bigwood

Martha Haight

Arnold Rifkin

Bruce Willis


regular cast

Jeffrey Donovan .... David Creegan
Vera Farmiga .... Susan Branca
Zach Grenier .... Capt. Hank Enright
Brian Markinson .... Bernal

obody does moody, off-kilter crime shows better than the British. There's just something about that culture, the fake niceties and forced pleasantries that lends itself to dark crime shows that explores the dark underbelly of "civilized" society. Even the darkest American crime show has had to resort to the supernatural to justify itself ala "The X-Files" and "Millennium". For the most part, American shows play it straight, deferring towards gritty cop dramas based on realism ala "Homicide" and "NYPD Blue". "Touching Evil" is one of those crime shows with complex characters engaged in complex crimes with complex outcomes.


The original British "Touching Evil" first surfaced as a mini-series in 1997 in the UK, and was followed by two mini-series in the following two years. The American show is an imported version, re-using all of the same character names, as well as the name of the organization that the federal agents work for. The premise seems to have been kept intact (from what I've read) with federal agent David Creegan (Jeffrey Donovan) being one of those instinctively intelligent cops concern with the ends rather than the means, and Susan Branca (Vera Farmiga) as his bemused partner who cares about the means to the ends. In short, Creegan is Mulder and Branca is Scully, but instead of aliens they're chasing serial killers.

Creegan and Branca work for an elite law-enforcement unit called the OSC that specializes in rapid response to potential serial killings. Their Skinner is Captain Hank Enright (Zach Grenier), who has a history with Creegan. As the 2-hour pilot opens, Creegan finds himself at the wrong end of a gun, and gets a bullet in the head and another in the chest for his troubles. He ends up dead, literally, before returning to life at the hospital. Now barely a shell of his former self, Creegan returns to active duty in Enright's OSC.

Vera Farmiga, formerly of the grossly underappreciated "UC: Undercover", is just right as Branca, who gets partnered up with the very strange Creegan. How strange is Creegan? He wears sweat pants and T-shirt to work, and seems devoid of little things like courtesy or shame. With a big chunk of his brain missing from the shooting, Creegan has little to no inhibitions left. And oh yeah, he's been in a nuthouse for the last 3 years. But if Creegan is strange, so too is Jay Swoopes (Kevin Durand), the unit's tech guy. In the pilot's most humorous moment, Swoopes and Creegan have a meeting of minds while watching surveillance tapes from a crime scene, much to Branca's chagrin.

The pilot offers up a slowly unraveling and cerebral case involving young boys that have been abducted by a brilliant scientist played by Zeljko Ivanek (who ironically played a crusading D.A. on "Homicide"). Creegan is certain Ivanek is the culprit, but the scientist has been killing for a while, starting when he was just a boy and the victim was his supposed best friend, and he knows how to get away with things. The pilot matches Creegan's kooky wit against Ivanek's surgical intelligence, with the lives of the three boys at stake. Through it all, the pilot never flinches from the belief that, if called to do so, Creegan would kill the scientist to save those boys.

As a possible series, "Touching Evil" looks like a winner. Not only is it an original series on the USA basic cable network, but it has a slick look, good writing, and a strong cast that will appeal to critics and the general viewing audience. The fact that it's a USA original series will ensure that "Touching Evil" gets every chance to succeed, as the continued survival of "Monk" has proven. Had "Evil" been on one of the broadcast networks the show, with its somber and complex tone, would never have lasted more than a season. Mainstream America isn't ready for a show like this; but on the USA network the show will do good business.

The only possible bump that I can see in "Touching Evil's" road to success is the level of writing. Can the filmmakers maintain this level of consistent writing? The original British version ran as 3 mini-series in 3 years, which is nothing compared to the grind of an hour an episode per week for a whole year. And it must be said that serial killer TV shows are notorious for running out of quality episodes after the first season. The only way for the filmmakers to maintain quality in the writing is to open the show up to freelance writers and constantly rotate its writing crew, as "The X-Files" did successfully for a decade.

The other thing that makes "Touching Evil" work is the cast. While there are some familiar faces, such as Peter Wingfield ("Highlander" TV series) as an OSC agent, both Donovan ("Blair Witch 2") and Farmiga are relatively new, not unlike Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny. If it seems as if I'm comparing "Evil" too much to "X-Files", that's because the two shows have very similar vibes to them, right down to the writing, casting, and slick, surreal direction by episode director Allen Hughes (one half of the Hughes brothers). And if "Evil" has even half the success of Chris Carter's supernatural series, it will have had a healthy run.



March 12, 2004


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