In a fall season marked by low expectations, UPN delivers a surprise with this slick action thriller that brings to mind the original “Mission Impossible” series. Created by best-selling crime writer Michael Connelly and Pulitzer Prize winning reporter Josh Meyer and overseen by executive producer John Sacret Young (China Beach), “Level 9” is an impressive addition to the netlet’s schedule. Merits aside, show faces a major battle in the Friday at 9 slot, up against CBS’ new surprise hit “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.”
Although “CSI” may already have the viewer advantage, the geeks with guns that make up the elite “Level 9” special cyber ops force definitely have the technical edge. “Level 9,” a rapid response strike force designed to combat high-tech crime, is 10 years ahead of the local police force. They have the gadgets and hardware that would make even James Bond’s Q envious.
Comprised of the cream of the federal law agencies — with a few hackers and techno nerds thrown in for color and cunning — “Level 9” is headed by the stony Annie Price (Kate Hodge), a former FBI agent with trust issues.
Debut seg sets up possible series mythology with a story arc about hackers who have stolen witness protection files from a U.S. Marshals’ office and put the list of names up for sale on the Internet. The stunt may have been orchestrated by Hodge’s nemesis, a master hacker who goes by the name CrayZhorse.
Jack Wiley (Max Martini), a local LAPD detective with superb instincts and a good old-fashioned sweat-and-tears work ethic, stumbles into Level 9’s radar while investigating what at first appears to be a routine missing person’s case. To avoid compromising security, Price reluctantly recruits the savvy Wiley as part of the team.
Connelly and Meyer have crafted an intriguing premise that combines the proven cop show formula with the endless possibilities of the Internet. Their tight script is matched by Robert Harmon’s able direction and a capable and ethnically diverse cast.
Although presented as an ensemble, the center of attention rests on Price and Wiley, who are designed to butt heads, but ultimately make for a nice mixture of brains and brawn.
The supporting cast is likable, especially Romany Malco as Jerry Hooten, a former postal inspector who specializes in surveillance, and Fabrizio Filippo as Ronald Travis, an ex-con who still has to prove himself worthy of the team.
Tech credits are quite good, even for the rough cut reviewed.