Watching the premiere of USA's Touching Evil, the Americanized remake of the dark procedural series originally starring Robson Green, I wondered: would viewer preference for the original or its Yankee retread prove one of those aesthetic markers (like whether you favor the Japanese or American version of The Ring) capable of making or breaking relationships? Probably not, but the thought gave me some enjoyable moments imagining bar fights over the subject. ("Listen, dickhead, Jeffery Donovan's David Creegan has too many John McLain wiseass-isms to fully come across as damaged and edgy as he needs to be!" "Oh yeah, well, Green's Creegan is a candy ass!") At the moment, I'd personally probably give the edge to the Brit original. As he's shown on both Evil and the more recent Wire in the Blood series (recently aired on BBC America), Green is a master at portraying detectives whose hold on normalcy is tenuous at best. But on the basis of its opening, I am curious as to just how far Donovan will be allowed to take this character.
In both versions, Creegan's a detective who suffers a profound experience: a bullet to the head which nearly kills him but instead merely destroys the part of his brain that aids in impulse control. "I have no shame," he tells new partner Susan Branca (the sharply no-nonsense Vera Farmiga), but despite this propensity for impatience and flying off the handle, the guy's given a position on the San Francisco Organized and Serial Crime Unit because he's, you know, still good at what he does. First day back on the job, and Creegan is part of an investigation into a serial murderer specializing in kidnapping small boys. The culprit has snatched three, and if history repeats itself, he'll hold them for a week before killing his captives. This fuels Creegan's short-fused impatience, of course, particularly since he's able to suss out the kidnapper's identity halfway into the two-hour story but is unable to get him to crack.
Scripter Bruno Heller doesn't bother with all the explanatory niceties (I'm pretty sure we're never given a reason as to why the killer holds the boys prisoner instead of just killing them immediately, for instance), in keeping with our hero, who at one point is shown sneering at the unit's psychologist. Creegan doesn't like shrinks, we're told at one point, in part because he spent time post-trauma in an institution. But after he connects with an endearing schizophrenic suspect who believes himself to a dreaming visitor from "Alpha Nine, Hero Moon of the Second Hydraulic War," he works toward easing the guy into voluntarily committing himself.
Much like USA's other crime-fightin' San Francisco basket case, Monk, the focus in Touching Evil is more on its lead character than it is on the actual details of police investigation. Though judging from the two series' respective two-hour debuts, it appears as if Monk's writers lavish greater care on their more stylized formalistic whodunits than we'll ever see on Creegan's cases. Still, watching Donovan take the out-of-control cowboy cop into realms of near madness could provide its own compelling kicks. Or at least keep us diverted until Monk takes the time slot back in June. . .