This wholly implausible drama aims to siphon off some of Fox's "World's Wildest Police Chases" audience with something akin to "World's Most Sadistic Justice Seeker." Mean-spirited and unsettling, "Vengeance Unlimited" is a nonstop squirm-a-thon.

This wholly implausible drama aims to siphon off some of Fox’s “World’s Wildest Police Chases” audience with something akin to “World’s Most Sadistic Justice Seeker.” Mean-spirited and unsettling, “Vengeance Unlimited” is a nonstop squirm-a-thon.

That the premiere is as darkly involving as it turns out to be is almost as disturbing as the show’s premise. It plays shamelessly off auds’ post-O.J. Simpson angst, offering a smirking antihero whose primary objective is to wreak havoc on the lives of those who have gotten away with crimes solely because they can afford the best sleazy lawyer in town.

Mr. Chapel is the name of this judge, jury and executioner, and as played by Michael Madsen in a performance that is far too cool and cavalier to be remotely believable, he’s rumpled and calculatingly malevolent.

Chapel approaches the friends and loved ones who survive victims abandoned by the legal system and tells them he will exact revenge on that sleaze declared not guilty for $1 million in cash or a favor down the road. Guess which one everyone chooses?

In the opener, Chapel volunteers to bring down a rich, arrogant slob who got away with murdering a secretary who had stumbled onto his money-laundering secrets. The guy is acquitted thanks to the bait-and-switch, water-muddying techniques of a $1,500-per-hour attorney (swell work from Ray Wise). Drug dealers and assorted other lowlifes are also involved, but you know Chapel will bring everyone down in the least realistic way.

Aiding Chapel in his righteously indignant pursuit of virtue and principle is streetwise paralegal (of all things) KC Griffin (Kathleen York), one of those people who owes Chapel a favor. Her role in the pilot is essentially to humor the guy as he metes out punishment and eats chocolate in equal measure. Maybe it’s his blood sugar level that’s driving him to retribution.

The real problem with “Vengeance Unlimited” — which executive producer John McNamara (who created the magnificent but short-lived “Profit” for Fox) insists is meant to be a fantasy — is that not only does the show celebrate the single-minded pursuit of retribution, it does so with a wink and a nod, as if vigilantism is somehow just another form of slapstick. Perhaps that’s what helmer James Frawley thinks he’s giving us: nasty criminal conduct as wholesale farce.

As a result, things get kinda confusing through the kickoff hour. Who exactly are we supposed to root for? The only logical answer is, unfortunately, no one. Tech credits are spiffy.

Vengeance Unlimited

ABC; Thurs. Sept. 29, 10 p.m.

Production

Filmed in Los Angeles by McNamara Paper Products in association with Warner Bros. TV. Executive producer, John McNamara; co-executive producers, David Simkins, James Frawley; supervising producer, Charles Holland; producers, Jimmy Simons, Kim Newton; director, Frawley; writers, McNamara, Simkins.

Crew

Production designer, Anthony Cowley; camera, Donald M. Morgan; editor, Michael Kewley; music, Mark Morgan; sound, Ken Segal; casting, Lorna Johnson. 60 MIN.

Cast

Mr. Chapel - Michael Madsen KC Griffin - Kathleen York Edmund Pike - Gregg Henry Rick Delany - Allen Cutler Bill Hargess - Daniel Roebuck Jack Schiller - Ray Wise Prosecutor - Michael Whaley Murray Grandman - David Brisbin
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