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Good Cops and Good ‘Company’

TIMES TELEVISION CRITIC

Television hardly needs another cop series. Yet a good cop series is always welcome, and that’s exactly what the first two episodes of ABC’s “High Incident” indicate it to be. Not that quality will necessarily ensure the longevity of this drama, created by Steven Spielberg, Eric Bogosian, Michael Pavone and Dave Alan Johnson.

Unlike present police shows, the protagonists of “High Incident” are uniformed cops in squad cars, cruising the underclasses of torn undershirts and beer bellies in fictional El Camino, Calif.

They bump into mayhem a lot. The premiere’s conflicts include a domestic fracas sparked by an elephantine bully and a shootout that leaves one cop dead in the street and his partner grieving. And violence aborts a wedding in Episode 2.

They also gab a lot, displaying their personality flaws and private lives as prominently as their badges.

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None more so than thrice-divorced Sgt. Jim Marsh (David Keith), who is shaping up as the most interesting, enigmatic cop on this beat, already facing a sexual harassment charge by Officer Anne Bonner (Lucinda Jenney), and so much a stickler that he gives a motorist a ticket for nose-picking.

Thus does “High Incident” display its nose for levity, although pushing it out of joint sometimes by overreaching for humor as well as for pathos. Nonetheless, its a promising start for a series that features good work by Keith, Jenney and Catherine Kellner, Cole Hauser, Matt Craven and Aunjanue Ellis as some of the other cops slogging it out in El Camino.

With former “Hill Street Blues” star Charles Haid ably directing, the show’s more somber moments drive the drama, nourishing characters whose blemishes make them all the more real and believable.

*

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“Good Company” not only projects the youngish ambience of “Friends” (yes, another of those), but also has a character in tonight’s premiere who refers to NBC’s sitcom hit. Obviously, the newer, hipper CBS wants its new comedy to reach the same audience.

More than merely “Friends Jr.,” though, “Good Company” has plenty going on of its own--specifically some snappy, twisty writing in its first two episodes and funny, likable, well-played characters.

The setting is a Madison Avenue ad agency, where Will (Jon Tenney) is the talented art director heading a team consisting of Jody (Tim Fall), Liz (Lauren Graham) and Dale (Anne Smith).

Ron (Jason Beghe) is the doltish, back-stabbing account executive, Jack (Seymour Cassel) the crafty chief copy writer who guides Will through corporate minefields, Zoe (Wendie Malick) the despotic new creative director who totes her infant baby as a crutch and Bobby (Terry Kiser) the weirdly silent CEO.

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The premiere finds Will--the show’s sane center--having to beg Zoe for his job back after quitting, then facing the daunting task of creating a sales campaign for a hard-to-market product. Company downsizing is his enemy in next week’s even more successful episode.

These initial episodes are amusing in no small measure because of the winning, neurotic nastiness of Malick’s character in contrast to the nobility of Will, as two opposites merge in the cause of good comedy.

* “High Incident” premieres at 9 tonight and will be repeated at 10 p.m. Tuesday on ABC (Channels 7 and 3).

* “Good Company” premieres at 9:30 tonight on CBS (Channel 2).

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