‘DEA’ improves on formula for ‘Cops’

By Kevin McDonough

United Feature Syndicate

While many credit or blame "Survivor" for the reality-TV era, the real granddaddy of the genre has got to be "Cops." Its use of cheap and grainy documentary footage offers a sense of realism, and its subject allows viewers to enter the shabby back alleys of neighborhoods both alluring and forbidding. Like the best and most popular shows, "Cops" offers a blend of the shocking and the expected. The action on "Cops" is always different and always the same.

Two decades later, the new series "DEA" (10 p.m., Spike, TV-14, V) expands and refines the "Cops" formula. The series follows a squad of agents for the Drug Enforcement Agency as they investigate, entrap and arrest drug dealers in some of the nastiest neighborhoods of Detroit.

At first, the atmosphere is all macho attitude and paramilitary regalia. It soon settles down to high jinks and banter between guys whose daily routine mixes boredom and adrenaline in a nine-to-one ratio.


For all of its bluster, "DEA" operates on a level of ambiguity that is both refreshingly honest and deeply unsatisfying, at least from an entertainment perspective. The agents get almost all of their information from confidential informants. That’s a fancy name for snitches, or rats, or busted dealers who agree to offer evidence and even pretend to buy drugs as evidence in order to get a lighter sentence or no sentence at all.

In tonight’s pilot, the agents make bust after bust, and after each arrest, they offer their prey lenience or complete absolution if they cooperate and help them find bigger dealers. After an elaborate stakeout and bust, they tell a heroin dealer that they "can make this all go away" if she leads them to Mr. Big. Or at least Mr. Bigger-than-she-is.

This shows a great deal of independence and latitude offered the DEA agents and a deviation from the typical cops-and-robbers plot. People watch cop shows, and most dramas, for a story with a beginning, a middle and an end. That’s why both "Cops" and "Law & Order" have been popular for 20 years. "DEA" presents a tale without resolution on a treadmill of futility in a world of moral twilight.

  • The two-part series "Return to the Amazon" (8 p.m., PBS, concludes next week) follows oceanographer Jean-Michel Cousteau and his team as they return to a rain-forest base first explored by Jean-Michel and his famous father, Jacques Cousteau.

Filled with eye-popping photography of the river and rain forest, "Return" celebrates the remarkable biological diversity of the area while raising awareness of its rapid ruin. In the 25 years since Cousteau visited, an area the size of Texas has been deforested.
Tonight’s other highlights

  • A repeat two-hour "Mythbusters" (7 p.m., Discovery, r) takes on pirate lore.
  • The documentary "Autism Every Day" (7 p.m., Sundance) follows eight families coping with the disorder over a 24-hour period.
  • A contestant’s swan song is sung on "American Idol" (8 p.m., Fox). Every departing contestant will appear on "The Tonight Show" on Wednesday until a winner emerges.
  • Last night, Barbara Walters talked about people living to 150. The special "Caring for Your Parents" (8 p.m., PBS) looks at how families are scrambling to look after elderly parents who are living decades longer than before.

Cult choice
Three brothers named Carradine, two Quaids, a pair of Keaches and a couple of Guests star in "The Long Riders" (9 p.m., Eastern, TCM, TV-MA). The sets of brother actors play members of rival families in this 1980 Western directed by Walter Hill.

Series notes

Julie Chen hosts "Big Brother" (7 p.m., CBS ). … Howie Mandell hosts "Deal or No Deal" (7 p.m., NBC). … Fox reaches a new low on "The Moment of Truth" (7 p.m., Fox, TV-14). … The song remains the same on "Wife Swap" (7 p.m., ABC, TV-PG). … Tyra Banks hosts "America’s Next Top Model" (7 p.m., CW, TV-14). … A double-murder case from his past haunts Rossi on "Criminal Minds" (8 p.m., CBS, TV-14). … A body washes ashore on "Law & Order Criminal Intent" (8 p.m., NBC, r, TV-14). … Hectic home-schoolers on "Supernanny" (8 p.m., ABC). … Grim plus atrocious equals "Pussycat Dolls Present: Girlicious" (8 p.m., CW, r, TV-PG, L). … The mystery of the abandoned warehouse on "CSI: NY" (9 p.m., CBS, TV-14). … Three roommates suffer the same fate on "Law & Order" (9 p.m., NBC, r, TV-14). … Morgan Fairchild guest stars as herself on "Men in Trees" (9 p.m., ABC, TV-14).

Late night


George Clooney and Norah Jones appear on "Late Show with David Letterman" (10:35 p.m., CBS). … Jay Leno hosts Ani DiFranco on "The Tonight Show" (10:35 p.m., NBC). … Randy Jackson, Julie Bowen and Back Door Slam appear on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" (11:05 p.m., ABC). … The Bravery performs on "Late Night with Conan O’Brien" (11:35 p.m., NBC). … Craig Ferguson hosts Marg Helgenberger, Jonny Lee Miller and Daniel Lanois on "The Late, Late Show" (11:37 p.m., CBS).

What To Read Next
Get Local