'The Antagonists' doesn't quite succeed in blending odd elements


CBS' latest mid-season entry "The Antagonists" can be seen as a house divided against itself, not because of the inevitably romantic boy-meets-girl, they-can't-stand-each-other schism between its two main characters -- yet another pair of prime-time lawyers -- but because the show was designed to appeal to fans of both "Murder, She Wrote" and "Miami Vice" by combining an old-fashioned mystery with newfangled production techniques.

Jack Scarlett, played by David Andrews, a defense attorney in this California beach community, is brash, bold and almost irresponsible. Kate Ward, played by Lauren Holly, a prosecutor, is beautiful and on her way to the top.

Tonight's 90-minute pilot, which runs at 9:30 on Channel 11 (WBAL) -- the series starts in its regular time slot of 9 p.m. Thursdays later this week -- begins with guest star Belinda Bauer staring in the mirror and playing with her low-cut neckline while dreaming about herself wrapped around some guy in bed. It's pushing-the-envelope stuff.

She staggers out of a party into a drunk driving arrest and hires Jack to defend her. The case ends up in the pile of folders on Kate's desk. Then jewelry found in the car is linked to a murder and the prosecution starts playing cat and mouse with the DUI charge to link the woman to the car.

That appears to be the battle between our antagonists except that the show's only half over. It turns out to be a frame within a frame, an open mystery that closes.

It's not a bad plot. Far better than a "Murder, She Wrote," nearly on a "Columbo" level. That's supposed to attract the traditional mystery fans.

But the pair of heroes pursuing the red herrings are not Angela Lansbury and Peter Falk. They're a couple of '90s types. Add elements like a surrealistic all-white prison interview room -- with the world's slowest-moving window fan -- and a pair of ultra-hip nerds in the crime lab and you have an allegedly avant-garde edge.

Putting these disparate elements together means that "The Antagonists" is tugged from all sides. It needs strong acting to bridge the various gaps. Unfortunately, that's not what you get from the two principals. Holly is OK, clearly competent, but Andrews, who actually did go to law school, is a no-technique, take-it-or-leave-it type. In some scenes, his reading is fine. In others, it falls flat.

Maybe if the producers of "The Antagonists" would sign an oath that under no circumstances will their two principals ever, ever have a romance "The Antagonists" might be worth watching.

As it is, though it might be a slightly different model car, it looks LTC if it's driving us down the same old road.

"The Antagonists"

** A brash, hip veteran defense attorney locks horns with a beautiful newcomer in the prosecutor's office.

CAST: Lauren Holly, David Andrews

TIME: 9:30 tonight, then Thursdays at 9 o'clock

CHANNEL: CBS Channel 11 (WBAL)

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