Tuned In: Braugher steals show in 'Thief'; 'Teachers,' 'Diaries' lack class

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First things first: Andre Braugher is back starring in a weekly TV series, and, with the exception of the two seasons he spent on CBS's "Hack," that can only be good news. An intense actor whose characters always brim with intelligence, Braugher elevates just about any material he's given.


Yancey Area, left, Andre Braugher and Malik Yoba rob for a living in the FX series "Thief."
Click photo for larger image.

'Teachers'

When: 9:30 tonight, NBC.
Starring: Justin Bartha.

'Thief'

When: 10 tonight, FX.
Starring: Andre Braugher.

'The Bedford Diaries'

When: 9 p.m. tomorrow, The WB.
Starring: Milo Ventimiglia.

So there's reason to rejoice that FX has cast Braugher as the lead in "Thief" (10 tonight), a six-episode drama series that pales in intensity compared to "The Shield" but is nonetheless a better hour of drama than, say, NBC's similarly themed "Heist."

Braugher stars as Nick Atwater, a professional thief whose wife (Dina Meyer) and stepdaughter (Mae Whitman) believe he sells classic cars. He's the latest in what's becoming a patented FX line of anti-heroes: characters we cheer for even when we don't always condone their actions. Some "Shield" fans will see other parallels, too, particularly some events in tonight's premiere episode, which also brings to mind the "Nip/Tuck" pilot in its closing moments.

After staging a bank robbery in San Francisco that doesn't go by the book, Nick and his crew return to Nick's home in New Orleans. Nick's partner in crime (Linda Hamilton) breaks the bad news: Nick's team stole money belonging to the Chinese mob, and they're out for revenge if the money isn't refunded.

"Thief" offers strong moments aplenty, but what it lacks are strong connections, both between those moments and among some of its characters. A crooked cop (Michael Rooker) seems superfluous in the first three episodes sent for review, and the motivation of the Chinese hitman, once the money has been returned, isn't clear either. Similarly, Jack (Clifton Collins Jr.), a member of Nick's crew, suddenly gets a conscience in episode two that comes out of nowhere.

Perhaps in time the assorted plot threads in "Thief" will converge or at least make more sense, but in the meantime, there are too many head scratchers. But if you're a Braugher fan, it's still worthwhile to sit back and savor the show's strongest scenes, particularly those between Braugher and Whitman (last seen on "Arrested Development" as Ann Veal, the blah girlfriend of George Michael).

Whitman holds her own when the distrustful stepdaughter and her stepfather bond, argue and view one another with suspicion. It's a complex relationship that's often tense, which makes the occasional scenes of warmth between the pair that much stronger.

'Teachers'

It's been years since "Head of the Class" became a minor hit on ABC, so the time would seem right to set a new comedy inside a classroom. But no time is right for "Teachers" (9:30 tonight, WPXI), a remake of a British sitcom that portrays educators in a less flattering light than "Boston Public." That takes some effort.

In tonight's pilot, the teachers are portrayed as mostly lazy or boring. The show's alleged hero, Jeff (Justin Bartha), comes off as an arrogant jerk who's never possessed a comb. Late in the premiere he admits he likes teaching so much he's embarrassed by his own enthusiasm, which makes no sense. Shouldn't a teacher be excited to teach? Why pretend not to care?

No matter, the show is less interested in the profession or the students than it is in giving Jeff adversaries (a weak, chirpy principal; a nerdy math teacher) and love interests (a blond British prude, a saucy brunette).

Worse yet, "Teachers" is seriously lacking in laughs, particularly in tonight's pilot written by Matt Tarses and directed by James Burrows. A subsequent episode offers a few chuckles but too few to keep "Teachers" in session.

'The Bedford Diaries'

The WB's midseason cast-offs continue to roll out, and it's hard to imagine they won't continue to be ignored. Odds that any of them will survive The WB's merger with UPN are slim.

And that's OK, because "Bedford Diaries," despite its pedigree, offers no reason to deserve your support or mine. Given the griping I hear from viewers scandalized by any inference of sexuality, it won't get it.

Created by Tom Fontana and Julie Martin ("Homicide: Life on the Street"), the drama follows college students who have to record video diaries discussing their sex lives for a class. OK, not just their sex lives -- they can talk about love, too.

Problem is, the characters are neither likeable enough to cheer for nor despicable enough to loathe. They're just sort of unformed lumps of gray clay with a few stereotypical streaks of color.

Owen Gregory (Penn Badgely) is in the human sexuality class with his sister, driven student government president Sarah Gregory (Tiffany Dupont), and to its credit the show acknowledges the potential ickiness of siblings sharing their sexcapades.

Owen falls for Natalie (Corri English), who attempted suicide a few years earlier by jumping off the roof of a college building.

"A girl who would jump off a roof," Owen says in one of his diary entries. "There is something very hot about that kind of crazy."

Milo Ventimiglia (Jess on "Gilmore Girls") shows up as Natalie's ex-boyfriend, a recovering alcoholic who's also the campus newspaper editor. He's in the same sex class Professor Macklin (Matthew Modine) teaches.

Even without The WB's edits made last week out of fear of fines by the Federal Communications Commission, there's really not much sex in the two episodes of "Bedford Diaries" (9 p.m. tomorrow, WCWB) sent out for review. Instead, there's a heaping helping of navel-gazing among these self-absorbed college students. What could possibly be less sexy?


TV editor Rob Owen can be reached at rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Ask TV questions at www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Q&A.


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