Riding high on the coattails of “Monk,” USA is back with another slightly defective detective, albeit with a significantly darker bent. Adapted from a well-regarded British miniseries, “Touching Evil” could have been pitched as “Monk” meets “Millennium,” with a touch of “The Dead Zone” thrown in for good measure. Well-cast and reasonably entertaining, this is still pretty standard cop fare, gussied up by an all-star roster of exec producers that probably excited cable execs (Bruce Willis! We got Bruce Willis!) more than it will viewers.
The two-hour premiere introduces Det. David Creegan (Jeffery Donovan), who took a bullet in the head, died for 10 minutes and hasn’t been quite the same since. Along with a chunk of his brain went the capacity to feel shame, among other attributes. On the plus side, he possesses a handy gift/curse — a bit like Lance Henriksen’s character in “Millennium,” Fox’s dour and since-departed serial-killer-of-the-week series — when it comes to investigating crimes.
Creegan lands at the special crimes unit, where he’s paired up with the usual sultry femme partner (Vera Farmiga, last seen looking more model- than cop-like in NBC’s “UC Undercover”). The two launch into an investigation of a series of child abductions, as Creegan soon zeroes in on the likely culprit, a scientist (Zeljko Ivanek) who has come forward as a witness.
After that, it’s a game of cat and mouse, gradually revealing tidbits about Creegan, who is eyed warily by his new partner. “Being dead was easy,” he tells her. “Coming back was the tough part.”
Along the way, Creegan takes an interest in a mentally disturbed man (played by the always reliable, beady-eyed Pruitt Taylor Vince) who’s convinced reality is just a dream, and vice versa.
It’s hardly groundbreaking stuff, though director Hughes and writer Bruno Heller bring conviction and flair.
Buoyed by a strong supporting cast, “Evil” lopes along well enough before a rather flat ending. Donovan possesses a certain amount of charisma — mixing goofball behavior with a dark streak, in a Mel Gibson-in-“Lethal Weapon” sort of way — and Farmiga pensively pouts just fine, which is about all she has to do in a thankless role.
Still, if the series hopes to distinguish itself based on the protagonist’s eccentricities as he pursues a loathsome killer each week (and Ivanek certainly fits the bill), again, the prevailing sense is, been there, seen that.
Chalk it up as another example of the difficulties ferrying scripted British concepts across the pond, from ABC’s short-lived “Cracker” to NBC’s “Coupling.” Not that this USA version is bad, it’s just that with all the intriguing cops and crime shows on the air, it simply feels like an unnecessary “Evil.”