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TELEVISION Actor Braugher carries 'Thief' on FX


Published: Sat, March 25, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.


The show uses language that's taboo on the big noncable networks.
DALLAS MORNING NEWS
Never underestimate the power of Andre Braugher.
Still little-appreciated, he just keeps appreciating.
Now comes the role that brings him to full value. The onetime driving force of NBC's oft-overlooked "Homicide: Life on the Street" hoists FX's "Thief" on his shoulders and carries it manfully through Tuesday's 10 p.m. premiere and two subsequent episodes sent for preview.
The best new drama series of the season emerges under his leadership. Braugher plays heist-aholic Nick Atwater in ways that few actors could envision. Vexed and vulnerable but outwardly very sure of himself, he commands the small screen with what seems to be the greatest of ease. That's the secret. Make it look like a walk in the park when it's really an obstacle course that only the few, the proud, the great can conquer. James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano comes to mind. Not many can play at that level.
FX gives Braugher a wide canvas within the network's typically male-centric setup. "The Shield" (which "Thief" replaces Tuesdays), "Nip/Tuck" and "Rescue Me" take their cues from leading men with self-destructive bents.
About the language
Vocabularies are stark, too. All four dramas have industrial strength TV-MA ratings, signifying their unsuitability for viewers under the age of 17. Advertiser-supported cable networks remain legally exempt from FCC "indecency" guidelines while "public airwaves" broadcasters again are feeling the heat. Strictly taboo on CBS, NBC and their free-of-charge rivals, the S-word gets another brisk workout on "Thief." Other, somewhat tamer words won't be spelled out here, either.
"Thief" knows how to behave like an adult drama, though. Unlike NBC's similarly themed "Heist," its featured players are much more than ill-drawn crayon scrawls.
Bossman Nick, who calls the shots during an opening San Francisco bank job, has deceived his wife, Wanda (Dina Meyer), into thinking he earns a nice living selling classic cars. His stepdaughter, Tammi (Mae Whitman), has been a rebellious handful for both of them.
Second-in-command Elmo Jones (Malik Yoba) is an all-business father of five with another child due shortly.
"Can't have any weak soldiers in the platoon," he says when coke-addled Izzy Driscoll (Clayne Crawford) almost blows a big job as well.
Gabo Williams (Yancey Arias), a smooth-talking seducer, and conflicted Jack Hill (Clifton Collins, Jr.) round out Nick's disparate gang of five. Their common ground is the big score, with Roselyn Moore (Linda Hamilton) serving as both fence and financial angel. Also look for "Monk" refugee Bitty Schram. She joins the series in Episode 2 as art dealer Lila Granville, whose affair with Gabo might only be his latest con job.


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