The spirit of Larry, Moe and Curly lives on in "Players," a new NBC drama about three paroled felons who are used by the FBI to help nab their own scummy kind. They're con artists on the right side of the law and, as a bonus, they clash like the grown-up children they are. It's what "The Mod Squad" would have been if the protagonists had all undergone lobotomies.
The spirit of Larry, Moe and Curly lives on in “Players,” a new NBC drama about three paroled felons who are used by the FBI to help nab their own scummy kind. They’re con artists on the right side of the law and, as a bonus, they clash like the grown-up children they are. It’s what “The Mod Squad” would have been if the protagonists had all undergone lobotomies.Yet as screwy as these guys are, they still know how to pull a con — and to dress with style. As we have come to learn, felonies are more acceptable with the audience than crimes against fashion.Rapper Ice-T, Costas Mandylor (“Picket Fences”) and Frank John Hughes (“Homicide: Life on the Street”) comprise “The Fraud Squad” in this cheeky, loosey-goosey little dramedy from Dick Wolf that’s sometimes fun to watch in a fall-down-and-go-boom kinda way. More often, however, it’s merely dumb, making “The A-Team” seem like “Brideshead Revisited” by comparison. Ice-T does his best impression of Sinbad as Isaac (Ice) Gregory, your basic street-smart thug given a second chance at freedom as long as he doesn’t mind risking his life on impossible missions every day. He’s teamed with a smooth-talking hunk named Alphonse Royo (Mandylor) and computer nebbish Charlie O’Bannon (Hughes), their mandate being to stay one step ahead of the scammers and swindlers. That assignment is complicated by the fact these dudes always seem to be bickering about something. But if they don’t get along, it’s back in the slammer. Of course, to see the way these guys jive, you’d swear that prison must put a priority today on teaching stand-up comedy. Opening script by Shaun Cassidy is fairly preposterous, but has some clever moments, such as opening when the trash-talking trio entraps a couple of cops on the take. And later, when they complete an assigned task involving $50 million in government bonds, it’s amusing to see them get scammed themselves by a senior FBI agent gone bad (Roy Thinnes of “The Invaders”). Where Cassidy and company run into trouble is when they try to get serious by giving Mandylor’s character an ex-girlfriend and a 12-year-old son he’s never met because he’s been incarcerated. He tries to strike up a relationship with the boy because, you know, a kid just can’t have enough bad role models. It’s all pretty lame. Donald Petrie’s direction keeps most of the action in “Players” on the “Looney Tunes” level. And in this cartoon, Ice-T — or Mr. T, if you will — is the Foghorn Leghorn. It’s obviously designed to be T’s vehicle, but taking his show seriously is a bit of a chore. The premise of making the FBI the Felon Bureau of Investigation is by itself plenty limiting. It’s akin to Microsoft recruiting hackers for executive posts. Wolf can do better than this “Law & Disorder.” But “Players” is harmless enough, particularly if you enjoy watching ex-cons show how just plain wacky they are. Tech credits are solid.