At first glance the new crime dramas Profiler (Saturdays, 10 p.m. EDT, NBC) and Millennium (Fridays, 9 p.m. EDT, Fox) seem like the sort of unwholesome entertainment that would send Bob Dole into a frenzied new round of Hollywood bashing. The shows share the same premise: a central character brings down Hannibal Lecter-type psychopaths by using an uncanny gift to see inside the criminal mind, literally envisioning the evildoers' motivations. In the process both series serve up images unusually brutal for prime-time TV: severed heads, bodies crackling in flames, victims buried alive, near naked women beaten and stabbed to death.
Yet beneath the bloody mayhem lies the same knotty issue that the Republican presidential candidate has himself been working hard to articulate: How do we keep home, hearth and the middle-class dream from eroding in a world ravaged by crime, drugs and sexual confusion? Profiler's Samantha Waters (Ally Walker) and Millennium's Frank Black (Lance Henriksen) are obsessed not with the individual madmen who each week slice and dice their way into the crime fighters' paths but with keeping the world impenetrably safe for their small children.
Millennium, produced by The X-Files creator Chris Carter and one of the most eagerly awaited debuts of the fall season, suffers from delivering its point too aggressively. The show is constantly contrasting the bleak offices and dark labs in which Black works to hunt the deranged cult leaders and sexual serial killers who are his prey, with the image of his blindingly yellow Seattle home, framed always by a blue sky that is eerie in its brilliance. Says Carter: "For me the whole reason to do the show was that yellow house--a bright center in a dark universe." Meet Frank Black, Everypatriarch, on a mission to keep ugliness from tainting his family.
And it is a mission he doesn't take lightly. Henriksen, a craggy-faced, baggy-eyed actor, portrays Black as the kind of guy who wouldn't crack a smile if Strom Thurmond showed up in his driveway doing the Macarena--levity is useless in this cruel, cruel world. Speaking always in an exhausted whisper, Black is so intense that a perfunctory how are you doing from his wife Catherine (Megan Gallagher) elicits the answer, "I'm just confused about something I thought I understood about evil."
Yet as over the top as Millennium can get, the show does succeed at creating a marvelously unrelenting sense of unease. Black is a former FBI agent who now works for a quasi-governmental law-enforcement organization known as the Millennium group. He has amassed enemies over his long career, and every time the camera turns to one of his co-workers or a friendly new neighbor attempting a chat, there is the sense that his haven could crack like a Pottery Barn picture frame.