The bad guys

What can you say about a new one-hour police show that:

• Was created and written by Matt Nix, the executive producer behind one of my favorite current series going, USA's stylish Burn Notice

• Stars a pair of familiar, bankable names in actors Colin Hanks (Tom's son, Band of Brothers) and Bradley Whitford (The West Wing); 

• Boasts a pilot episode that guest stars the likes of Nia Vardalos (My Big Fat Greek Wedding — and where's she been?), Andrew Divoff (Lost) and Tom Amandes, whom you may remember from Everwood but true vidiots recall as Eliot Ness on TV's last incarnation of The Untouchables in the '90s; 

• Was directed by former child star turned in-demand Hollywood craftsman Tim Matheson; 

• Is thought highly enough by FOX to merit a "sneak preview" episode tonight (May 19), leading into a live elimination round of American Idol

Well, I really don't know what to say. The Good Guys, which premieres at 8 p.m. Wednesday (Channel 2 in Detroit) before settling into a 9 o'clock Monday time slot beginning June 7, defies simple explanation. It contains so many pieces that should make it an interesting show, but it's hard to piece together. Disappointingly, it's nowhere close to the program you'd expect given the sum of its parts. If these are The Good Guys, let's hold out for a better series celebrating the villains, shall we? 

No, wait — in a sense, this show already does that. Shot in Dallas (where "we can blow stuff up without impacting residents," one production executive told the Dallas Morning News), Good Guys is a buddy-cop farce with flashes of such bygone series as Starsky and Hutch or Matt Houston. It's a throwback that should be thrown back.  

Whitford plays a straight-outta-the-'80s police stereotype from his bushy porn moustache to his zippered half-boots and imitation leather jacket (and given his sartorial splendor as Josh Lyman on West Wing, you have to credit Whitford with a lot of balls for being willing to alter his TV image so dramatically). He's Dan Stark, an old-school dinosaur who saved the governor's son 25 years ago with his former partner Frank Savage; he saw their exploits turned into a Savage and Stark TV series, and has been firmly seated on those laurels ever since. Now he's virtually the department mascot, assigned the pettiest of cases as he sexes up crime victims (Vardalos), swills bourbon on the job and fears such newfangled crime-fighting tools as computers. "Aren't you worried they're ... going to turn on you?" he asks. 

His new partner is Jack Bailey (Hanks), a rigid, overeager terrier who's forced to babysit Stark because he's constantly running afoul of his superiors, particularly squad commander Lt. Ana Ruiz (series regular Diana Maria Riva), while lobbying for a promotion to homicide. When Bailey requires a sympathetic ear, he turns to his ex-girlfriend, assistant district attorney Liz Traynor (Jenny Wade). In tonight's pilot, while attempting to recover a humidifier stolen in a home burglary, Stark and Bailey stumble across millions in drug money hidden in a golf bag — and the assassin sent to retrieve the dough at any cost. This apparently will be the show's M.O., a minor offense uncovering a major felony with the "good guys" as unwitting dupes, but it's tough to imagine this formula holding interest week after week. 

The Good Guys does show flashes of Nix's kooky style — the drug lord is obliged to hire "the world's second-best assassin" to retrieve his money because the best hit man is attending a film festival, and Bailey and Stark receive a thank-you letter from the criminals when the case is over — but it may be slathered in too much style. With the economy still on the critical list and crime on the upsurge, the notion of funny, drunk cops just doesn't play well these days. (I don't know why the Fraternal Order of Police isn't all over this.) ABC tried twice recently to offer variations on the genre with The Unusuals and Life on Mars, and flopped miserably both times. If you're expecting another Burn Notice with The Good Guys, prepare to get burned. 

Batter up, again:
Now this sounds like a home run. PBS has persuaded America's documentary darlings, former Ann Arborite Ken Burns and his production partner Lynn Novick, to create The Tenth Inning, a new two-night, four-hour addendum to their landmark 1994 doc Baseball, which will air Sept. 28-29 as a highlight of PBS' fall schedule. The new work will chronicle the sport's crippling 1994 strike, interleague play, the dominance of Asian and Latino players, the McGwire-Sosa-Bonds homer hysteria, performance-enhancing drugs and the Boston Red Sox's unfathomable World Series victory. It also will give PBS stations a legitimate reason to rebroadcast the original nine-part Baseball series, Burns' best documentary and the most-watched program in PBS history.

Jim McFarlin is a media critic for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]