Alibi V.13 No.29 • July 15-21, 2004 

Idiot Box

Orange Alert

“The Grid” on TNT

Cops have been a staple since the dawn of the video age. Private detectives run a close second. Firefighters and rescue workers have had their moment in the sun. Currently, medical examiners are on the verge of running their course. So if it weren't for George Bush and the war on terrorism, I don't know what television programmers would have resorted to. (Postal inspectors?) Thankfully (maybe), the concept of Homeland Security has given networks a whole new genre of crime-fighting television to exploit. Whether American audiences want to watch an hour's worth of news about terrorism and then tune into a couple more hours of drama about terrorism remains to be seen.

ABC tried it earlier this year with the largely unwatched “Threat Matrix.” Now TNT is giving it a shot with the limited-run series “The Grid.”

TNT certainly looks like it's put a lot of effort into the show, which was originally produced for the FX network (who took a pass on the six-hour series). The show, co-produced by the BBC, examines a disastrous terrorist attack in London which attracts the attention of assorted international agencies. The show focuses mostly on an American counterterrorism team led by ex “ER” star Julianna Margulies. (One assumes the show spends more time with the British half of the cast when it airs on BBC.)

Margulies (hair ironed flat and eyebrows sketched onto her forehead in full “Extreme Makeover” style) gathers together a group of experts from the FBI, the CIA and the NSA. (Your ability to swim through alphabet soup will greatly enhance your viewing experience here.) The idea is to put aside all interagency squabbling and ignore the bureaucratic red tape that keeps things from getting done. This is a can-do bunch of counterterrorism experts! Rounding out the cast are Dylan McDermott (“The Practice”), Tom Skerritt (“Picket Fences”), Jemma Redgrave (“Bramwell”) and Bernard Hill (The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers).

The show spins around the globe at a blinding pace. Characters (and there are many) rarely spend two consecutive scenes in the same hemisphere. It's kind of like Traffic, but with sarin gas instead of cocaine. I'm not one to argue against shows that require some degree of intelligence, but this one should come with flowcharts. We've got American Muslims, Middle Eastern terrorists, corporate executives, CIA agents, FBI agents, MI6 agents and more. Action is kept to a minimum, with the story line focussing instead on the grueling procedure of crime investigation.

Everybody gets to give lots of speeches, with every hot topic from the missing WMD to Muslim repression of women discussed in the first hour alone. It's occasionally quite realistic, but it's pretty darn slow—especially with assorted “good” Muslims on hand to explain all the positive aspects of the religion. It's nice to hear both sides of the issue, but it slows things down even further. Those raised on detail-oriented BBC-style crime shows may find enough of interest to stick it out, but those looking for Tom Clancy-style thrills should just wait for the next season of “24.”

“The Grid” premieres Monday, July 19, at 7 p.m. on TNT.