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4 minute read
Ginia Bellafante

As detective Cameron Quinn, the morally confounded hero of the new CBS drama EZ Streets (Wednesdays, 10 p.m. est) Ken Olin doesn’t drive around in anything resembling the circa-1963 Volvo coupe he handled as thirtysomething’s Michael Steadman. Portraying a man without Hope, or kids, or even a Cuisinart, Olin must tool about in a not-old-enough-to-be-hip Chevy Impala. The car is worn out, used up and just getting by. As such, it’s the perfect metaphor for detective Quinn.

EZ Streets’ creator Paul Haggis, a thirtysomething scribe during the show’s early years, was initially reluctant to consider Olin for the new show but soon came around, impressed by the actor’s ability to submerge himself so totally in this gritty character. Here, as he did when he portrayed wife killer Charles Stuart in the genuinely scary 1990 TV movie Good Night, Sweet Wife: A Murder in Boston, Olin shows he has a deep understanding of life’s darker conflicts–a gift his four-year role as television’s most emotionally aware materialist did not easily suggest.

The world EZ Streets portrays is almost irredeemably bleak. Unlike most TV lawmen, Quinn is driven by narrow options rather than a passion for justice: his partner is dead, his bosses hold him partially responsible and believe that both men were dirty dealers. Living in a mythical city ravaged by drugs and sleazy politics, Quinn must take an assignment to infiltrate the local mob–it’s either that or face prison. In the tainted world he is forced to enter, his ethics inexorably get murkier and murkier.

And so too do Daniel Rooney’s (Jason Gedrick). He is a pained, low-level hood whose predicament is an inverse echo of Quinn’s. Rooney is doing everything he can to avoid returning to his life as a mob lackey, but he can’t seem to win the battle against his own fallen nature. Trying to do right by a wife who won’t have him, he gets a job, but quickly loses it after beating up the boss who scolds him for spending too much time on the phone (with his daughter). Gedrick, who did such a fine job last season as alleged strangler Neil Avedon on Murder One, is one of the few young actors around with cartoonishly chiseled good looks who can persuade us to see beyond them. He makes Rooney’s failed efforts at clean living heartbreaking.

In general, EZ Streets sustains a mood of despair unlike any other drama on television. It is in Olin’s gait and Gedrick’s saturnine smiles and weary gaze, which always convey the elusiveness of triumph. The show’s Celtic musical score is haunting, and even the camera moves with a discomfiting languidness over images of burned-out buildings and desolate empty lots that are fertile ground only for violence. These gang-controlled blocks (from E Street to Z Street) of the unnamed city in which the show is set are an all-too-obvious manifestation of its rotten and corrupt core. For those who live here, a life of rectitude is as remote a luxury as a week at Canyon Ranch.

And yet, for all its solemnity, EZ Streets somehow manages to avoid melodrama. Indeed, Haggis brings a mordant wit to his new show. He has conceived head gangster Jimmy Murtha (Joe Pantoliano) as the kind of guy who mercilessly blows people up, then goes to confession and can’t quite deliver the goods. “I know what you do. God knows what you do,” the priest chastises. “You’re trying to tell me that the only sin you have to confess is that you took the Lord’s name in vain?” Murtha’s response: “I’m giving you what I can.” Then he negotiates his penance of 10 Hail Marys down to two: “Hey, that’s all I can do.” EZ Streets is filled with people who make cheap and slippery compromises. So far, the show’s creators have not.

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