'NYPD' vs. PBS' Daring 'Evil': A Comparative Analysis Brit Series Delves into Psychological, Metaphorical Aspects of Crime

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The return of "NYPD Blue" earlier this week is matched by the return of the British police-detective show "Touching Evil" to "Mystery!" today as part of the series' 20th year on PBS.

It gives a critic - and a viewer - a chance to weigh the relative merits and shortcomings of U.S. and British police dramas. Unfortunately, what ultimately becomes clear is that cop shows are at low ebb on both sides of the big pond.

"Touching Evil," which begins its six-week, three-story second series at 9 p.m. today on WTTW Channel 11, is certainly every bit as interesting as "NYPD," even if it makes Steven Bochco's "groundbreaking" cop drama look relatively timid. While "NYPD" indulges in the odd bit of blue language and the occasional bare backside, "Evil" revels in full frontal male nudity and a killer with a hair fetish and a penchant for scalps tonight. Consider yourself warned.

"Evil" is not your father's "Mystery!" miniseries. If you tune in expecting to see a detective with a funny mustache or a dowdy old lady with a fondness for solving mysteries, you're in for a surprise.

The PBS series has gotten more daring in its choices since the bold British import "Cracker" created a sensation on A&E, and "Evil" was, in fact, "devised" by Paul Abbott, the guiding force behind "Cracker."

What "NYPD" and "Evil" have in common is that both emphasize character first and foremost. The main focus of "Evil" is on three cops in London's Organized and Serial Crime Unit (OSC): Detective Inspector Dave Creegan (the furrow-browed, scarred and conscience- stricken Robson Green), D.I. Susan Taylor (the puffy, scowling, sunken-eyed Nicola Walker) and Detective Constable Mark Rivers (Shaun Dingwall as the ditsy blond rookie).

Creegan and Taylor are the primary focus, like Sipowicz and whomever he happens to be partnered with at any given moment in "NYPD."

Yet where "NYPD" and most U.S. cop shows at least pay lip service to the mystery angle, "Evil" is content to reveal the killer right away and go for atmospherics. Alternating misty darkness with expressive use of color, "Evil" truly is truly bluer than "Blue." It also delves more into psychology. If it seems less "real" than "NYPD," it is also more metaphorical.

It is also more contrived in how it sets up its psychology. "Evil" begins tonight with an inept bit of police work that is apt to drive a U.S. viewer bonkers. Creegan and Taylor track down the killer with the help of a muckraking tabloid reporter named David Laney (James Nesbitt). …