Two new series that ask us to look kindly upon crooks come to television within a week of one another. "Heist
" (no relation to the David Mamet film of the same name) is first, tonight at 10 on NBC; "Thief
" (no relation to the Michael Mann film of the same name) follows Tuesday on FX. They have much in common each boasts a season-long story arc leading to a really big job, each proposes a team of specialists who are ridiculously good at not only their specialties but also whatever other jobs the script needs them to do and who pride themselves upon harming only faceless institutions but at heart they are very different shows.
Directed by Doug Liman (who made "Mr. & Mrs. Smith," which the network advertises like it's a good thing) and written by Mark and Robb Cullen (FX's "Lucky"), "Heist" requires a thorough suspension of disbelief. Like the remade "Ocean's Eleven" one of the many films it amalgamates and whose multi-casino robbery here becomes a raid on three Rodeo Drive jewelry stores it proposes capers of an inelegant complexity that leave no room for error and whose success depends on an absurdly exact, almost psychic reading of human nature.
To my taste and thinking, "Thief" is the far superior series, even though it also strains credulity at times and drops the odd pop-cult reference (John Coltrane, "Dog Day Afternoon," but at least in context). Once again, its hero-crooks are seen to be superior to other crooks both in their choice of targets banks and insurance companies and in their methods. "Done right, money all around, nobody gets hurt, it's win-win," says the boss (Andre Braugher) of his gang's business plan. But when he observes, "Everybody steals biggest thieves in the country got their own Fortune 500 companies no such thing as a straight life," it plays as the shaky self-justification it is. Where in "Heist" crime becomes a glamorous lark, the thieves of "Thief" are workmen first.
It benefits immensely from the presence of Braugher, at long last in a role that, like that of Det. Frank Pembleton on "Homicide: Life on the Street," suits his particular intensity, the quietly simmering mix of righteousness and psychic disarray that he plays so well. He is no superhero he makes as many bad choices as good ones. Yancey Arias, Malik Yoba, Clifton Collins Jr., Michael Rooker, Will Yun Lee and Mae Whitman all do excellent work as well, their life-sized performances helping check the show's occasional stylistic excesses. 'Heist' and 'Thief' Where:
10 to 11 tonight Ratings:
TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14) Where:
10 p.m. Tuesday Ratings:
TV-MA (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 17)