September 22, 2005

TV: E-Ring

The E-Ring is the outermost of the Pentagon's five rings; it's where the top officers work and plan missions. (I would have thought that the most sensitive stuff should be on the innermost layer of the building, just for security reasons, but hey, no one asked me...)

Among those officers is Major J.T. Tisnewski (Benjamin Bratt), who's just back from 14 months in Afghanistan and is called into work a week ahead of schedule by his new commanding officer, Colonel Eli McNulty (Dennis Hopper). A Chinese woman, working in Shanghai as a US spy, has signaled for extraction, and Tisnewski and McNulty have to get the mission approved.

And in that phrase -- "have to get the mission approved" -- we find the biggest problem with E-Ring. Our principal characters are too high up the ladder to actually carry out the mission -- that's left to an anonymous Navy Seal team -- and too far down the ladder to approve the mission, themselves. We're left with a show about middle management, watching McNulty and Tisnewski work their way through the bureaucracy to get things done, and no matter how exotic the setting, middle management doesn't make for great TV.

Neither does Benjamin Bratt's performance, which is overly melodramatic, with each line milked for ever drop of emotion that might be found. Dennis Hopper, on the other hand, is relatively subdued and understated. The most appealing member of the cast is Aunjanue Ellis as Sergeant Jocelyn Pierce; the role threatens to teeter into cliched sassy-black-woman territory, but I think Ellis will be able to keep that from happening.

In one of the season's most competitive time slots, up against five other dramas, including Lost and Veronica Mars, E-Ring isn't worth the bother.

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