Ken Olin had something to prove after "thirtysome-thing." That's why he decided to play an undercover cop with more than his share of angst in the CBS drama "EZ Streets" (10 p.m. Wednesday, Channel 4).
"I know it's hard to believe, but as a man, the idea of shooting first and talking later was, it's like appealing to me," deadpanned the guy the TV world best remembers as whiny yuppie Michael Steadman on "thirty-something."
During a summer interview in Los Angeles, Olin added: "Honestly, the idea of doing a show that was set in a grittier environment, that was more urban in its orientation, a character that I perceived to be courageous, and in the most complex sense of the word."
CBS' decision to premiere the show on Sunday opposite the much-publicized Fox move of "The X-Files" appears to have backfired and given "Streets" a tougher road to success. "X-Files" won the time slot with its second-highest overnights ever (the national figures arrive today) and "EZ" finished fourth and last in the time period. It also lost audience every half-hour, which isn't a good sign for any show.
If you missed Sunday's premiere -- and with a Bills game and "X-Files" opposite it, that's likely -- Olin plays Cameron Quinn, a city detective who couldn't stop the murder of his partner but who is now trying to reclaim his partner's reputation.
You see, Internal Affairs thinks Quinn's partner stole $10,000 and is dirty. It also suspects Quinn might have been in on it, since his father apparently was a dirty cop.
Quinn didn't get along with his dad, who was murdered Sunday night. Actually, he doesn't get along with many people.
The word "uncompromising" pretty well fits Quinn. On Sunday, he was estranged from his father, lectured by his partner's angry wife and interrogated by Internal Affairs. He even was chewed out by his girlfriend, a co-worker who wasn't thrilled by his post-coital demeanor.
But at least his mom loves him. And you get the idea that he used to have something going with the lawyer, played by Debrah Farentino, who is defending and bedding the hood suspected of killing Quinn's partner. Quinn's undercover assignment is to get inside the suspected killer's gang.
Confused? Well, nothing is easy on "EZ Streets."
That's pretty much its charm -- and its undoing. Written by Paul Haggis, who also created "Due South" and "Walker, Texas Ranger" and, believe it or not, wrote for "thirtysomething," "EZ Streets" is full of pretentiousness and absurdity.
The show's hood, Jimmy Murtha, is a cartoon character played by Joe Pantoliano. He shoots people in cold blood, threatens opponents in a softball game and keeps a refrigerator full of limbs from his victims in order to implicate them in his future murders.
Yeah, right. To think that Farentino would have anything to do with this guy strains credibility.
Jason Gedrick, the innocent defendant in last season's "Murder One," is along for the ride as Danny Rooney, a naive ex-con who took a three-year rap for Murtha but still is in his debt. Danny wants his wife and child back. He beats up his boss for hanging up the phone on him when he is talking with his daughter. But he is more understanding when he sees his wife's boyfriend. Yeah, right.
By the way, Olin's father was played by Rod Steiger. He got his good looks from his mom. Yeah, right.
You find yourself saying, "Yeah, right" a lot during "EZ Streets" even when it pulls you in. Credit the Celtic music, which elevates the series to a higher level and almost makes you forget how ridiculous many of the scenes are.
Wednesday's hourlong premiere has the same strengths and weaknesses as Sunday's pilot. It begins with the funeral of Quinn's father, a solemn occasion that Quinn uses to castigate one of his father's few remaining friends on the force.
Says Momma Quinn, played wonderfully by Rosemary Murphy: "You are a cruel SOB. You get that from him."
Soon, Murtha is going to confession (yeah, right) and his girlfriend is stripping naked in church (yeah, right). Quinn spends most of the episode looking for the locker that can be opened with a key in his possession. The locker is supposed to contain something that helps unlock the case.
One suspects that Haggis is writing this on the run, especially because one of the key characters in it was added after the original two-hour pilot was shot.
That character does something Wednesday (it evokes another "yeah, right") that puts Quinn in another thorny position.
Olin likes the position he's in. He is the director of Wednesday's episode, something he has done increasingly since getting out of Michael Steadman's skin in "thirty-something."
"I think just for me the idea of doing something in this milieu was very appealing, and I don't think that I would have been interested in coming back and making this kind of commitment to something that was redundant," he said.
"And I also think that 'thirty-something,' at the time, honestly, it was very much of its time. It was very much about a group of people at a certain age, at a certain time in this country's history in which self-exploration was vital, at least to some people. And I think that's changed, that time has passed.
"So I think to do something which really explores the ethical landscape of our urban world and that decay and those struggles is very pertinent."
Yeah, right. In a strange sort of way "EZ Streets" has similarities to "thirtysomething." Its pretentiousness and strained dialogue will drive you crazy even when you're enjoying it.
Rating: 3 1/2 stars out of 5.
When the week's national ratings arrive today, Fox is assured the No. 1 spot for the first time in its history, because practically its entire schedule consisted of the six-game World Series between the champion New York Yankees and the Atlanta Braves.
The much-publicized Friday premiere of "Millennium" was Fox's highest-rated drama premiere in overnight history. Its overnight rating was just a shade behind the season premiere of "The X-Files" for the title as Fox's top-rated dramatic hour in history.
Of course, all the promos during the World Series helped both Chris Carter series significantly. If they do as well next week, Fox really should be dancing in the streets.