Heist and The Evidence: Crime shows without a clue.

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March 22 2006 3:27 PM

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Heist and The Evidence: Crime shows without a clue.

Dougray Scott and Steve Harris in Heist. Click image to expand.
Dougray Scott and Steve Harris in Heist

Heist (NBC, Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET) left me feeling used. This wasn't an entirely unpleasant sensation, but I've got to conclude that the show's ideal audience is either adolescent or drunk. As whipped up by the movie director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Mr. & Mrs. Smith), the pilot episode of this caper series is cheaply derivative, generally condescending, and largely hollow. It is also swank and busy enough to create the occasional illusion that it is entertaining.

The crooks, whose ultimate aim this season is to liberate $500 million in jewelry from three Rodeo Drive shops during Oscar week, seem to have been conceived in a petri dish in a lab behind Elmore Leonard's house and raised at a Quentin Tarantino film festival. They chatter and dryly jest about Mother Teresa's letters, Karen Carpenter's diet, Attila the Hun's late work, Willie Sutton's law, and Vito Corleone's advice on where to keep your friends. It's too mechanical to accomplish anything in the way of characterization, and as an attempt to butter us up by flattering our sophistication, it is margarine. The cops are also a self-consciously cinematic lot. Says the light-comically racist white detective to his new black partner, "This is just like Lethal Weapon, except I actually do hate you." Even Heist's first big heist is a kind of meta-heist: To pick up the working capital they'll need to execute the big score, our affable band of felons steps in on some lesser crew's bank job. The rococo robbery of the robbers cannot withstand a commercial break's scrutiny, but Liman, in the manner of a three-card monte hustler, keeps things moving so slickly that you're tempted to forget what scrutiny is or how you use it.

Dougray Scott gives it his best Steve McQueen as a criminal mastermind who slinks tenderly into his daughter's music recital and does his existential sulking within the exposed-brick walls of his lonely hideaway. Tonight, Scott's Mickey O'Neil initiates some cat-and-mouse foreplay with Detective Amy Sykes, a cop played by model-actress Michele Hicks. As an actress, Hicks is a very good model; the writers haven't given her much help by making her character flagrantly "edgy": the drinking alone, the shoplifting for kicks, the pricking her finger with a thumbtack so she can suck on her blood and shoot a troubled stare into the middle distance. That said, her murderously sultry eye makeup, like the rest of the heavy cosmetics tarting up the silliness of Heist, is fantastic.

Perhaps the only Tarantino allusion in tonight's pilot episode of The Evidence (ABC, 10 p.m. ET) crops up when Sean Cole and Cayman Bishop of the San Francisco Police Department follow a lead in the brutal murder of a pretty medical student to a cavernous sex club where, maybe, the victim once put in some time as an actress in amateur porn films. On their way out the door, they see a bondage hood ("Bring out the Gimp!") on a mannequin, inspiring Bishop to say to Cole, in what locally passes for wit, "You forgot your hat."

If there exists a device called a Procedural-O-Matic, then it created this show. The Evidence mingles the most familiar elements of contemporary forensics programs (jittery and jaundiced close-ups of fatal wounds, charmingly eccentric lab techs, the sort of leads that offer pretenses to enter sex clubs) with the most durable cop-show clichés (the bit where the fuzz toss the punk into a chain link fence along the sideline of a basketball court). As Cole, Rob Estes (Silk Stalkings, Melrose Place) is compelled to keep mourning a wife whose murder was never solved, whose voice is still on the outgoing answering-machine message, and whose smile is playfully coy in gauzy flashbacks. As Bishop, Orlando Jones (Drumline, 7-Up ads) tries to lift his buddy's spirits in a series of moderately homoerotic encounters. As Dr. Sol Goldman, Martin Landau does nothing disgraceful. And fog, in a supporting role, handsomely veils the Golden Gate Bridge.

Troy Patterson is Slate's writer at large and writes the Gentleman Scholar column.