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TINY SCREEN: No More Mister Nice Guy When Nice Guys Go Bad:

Lately, a very unsettling trend is emerging on late night crime shows.  There’s nothing new about the obsession with child abuse, murdered children, pedophiles – you can’t turn on “Without a Trace,” “Cold Case,” or any of the CSIs without running into a vulnerable kid and an evil perp.  No, that’s not it. 

But NBC’s “Law and Order SVU” has gone one step further – it’s become a kind of reverse car wash for erstwhile nice guys.  They go in a known (and trusted) entity and come out the other side a parent’s worst nightmare.

You can imagine my horror upon tuning into last week’s episode of “Law and Order,” entitled “Pure,” featuring none other than Martin Short as a serial rapist and murderer who hunts down teenage virgins because his wife admitted to him she wasn’t “pure” when they were married. Short, whose most recent film credits include Barbie as the Princess and the Pauper, 101 Dalmatians II and Treasure Planet – Martin Short, the sweet-faced comedian we all know and love doing and saying unspeakable things!  Murdering women? Virgins?  It was all too much to bear.

The previous week, Matthew Modine was a child killer.  This one was truly impossible to wrap my mind around.  The character captured little girls and assaulted them because he couldn’t control his rage.  The episode was brilliantly shot, with close-ups tight enough to do a connect-the-dots with Modine’s pores, and culminating in  a shoot-out at the killer’s crash pad where he has a victim tied up and ready for his return. 

Sure, Modine hasn’t exactly been in the public eye of late, but as someone who came of age in the ’80s, Modine is fondly remembered as the charming fellow who wooed Michelle Pfeiffer in Married to the Mob, and the cute guy in Vision Quest.  Truth is, he’s done a variety of roles for most of his career but we all remember him as the baby faced ’80s heartthrob.  Now, if enough people saw last week’s L&O, he may be regarded somewhat differently.  At least we know he’s eager to change the public’s perception about what he’s capable of as an actor — for better or worse. 

Less shocking, perhaps, was the appearance of another baby-faced actor, John Savage, in another recent episode of “SVU,” playing a child molester who kept baseball hats of the hundreds of boys he molested during his career as a Little League coach.  He remembered each boy by sniffing their hats.  

Perhaps Savage isn’t exactly the most recognizable name to the American public, but his face sure is, and who could forget the innocence of the character he played in the film version of Hair or the broken-hearted stoicism of the surviving cop in The Onion Field.  He’s known mostly for his role in The Deer Hunter, but he’s been working in films for decades, playing heroes, fallen heroes, good and bad guys.  Even with this versatile past, it was still disturbing to accept him as the lowest form of bad guy out there: child molester.

As creepy as it all may seem, when all is said and done, it’s often a shrewd move to reinvent your stale old image on a popular TV show.  Look at what it’s done for William Shatner on “Boston Legal” (and James Spader, for that matter).  TV is a much safer place to turn bad than on the big screen, where it’s a much bigger risk if it flops.  When Alan Alda was revealed as the killer at the end of the awful ’80s thriller, Whispers in the Dark, no one bought it for a second, and audiences howled with laughter.  On the other hand, Martin Short can force his TV wife to murder captive virgins and the viewing universe doesn’t budge.


This Week’s

Notable TV


Thursday, March 10


Elton John at Radio City, 8 p.m., BRAVO.


Jeff Foxworthy: The Early Daze, 8 p.m., KCET.


Y Tu Mama Tambien (****), 8 p.m., IFC.


 “Concert for George”, 8 p.m., KCET.


The Starlet, yet another creepy reality program, 9 p.m., NBC.


Friday, March 11


Mrs. Doubtfire (**), cause we all know men do it better, 7:30 p.m., BRAVO.


The War of the Roses (***), 7:30 p.m., FMC.


Cat Stevens: Majikat, 9:30 p.m., KCET.


Blood Work (**), god-awful Clint Eastwood movie, 10 p.m., TNT.


Law and Order: Trial by Jury, 10 p.m., NBC.


Saturday, March 12


Little Women (****), with Katharine Hepburn, 7:30 p.m., TCM.


U-571 (**), 7:30 p.m., BRAVO.


The Ten Commandments (**), the passion of the Heston, 7:30 p.m., ABC.


Excess Baggage (**), failed comedy to endure for kicks, 8 p.m., UPN.


Sunday, March 13


Space Cowboys (***), 7:30 p.m., TNT.


Short Cuts (***), with Julianne Moore, 7:30 p.m., IFC.


The Lion King  8 p.m., DISNEY.


 Ben Hur (***), yet another mediocre Oscar winner, 9 p.m., TCM.


Monday, March 14


Death Becomes Her (**), with Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn, 7:30 p.m., AMC.


Buffalo ’66 (***), 8 p.m., IFC.


Somewhere in Time (**), 8 p.m., WE.


Edward Scissorhands (***), with Johnny Depp, 9 p.m., FMC.


Tuesday, March 15


Breaking Away (****), 7:30 p.m., FMC.


Atlantis: The Lost Empire, 8 p.m., DISNEY.


American Idol, with one quitting, one getting reinstated, 8 p.m., FOX.


Frontline: Son of Al Qaeda, 9 p.m., KCET.


Wednesday, March 16


The Lost Boys (***), that 80s relic with the two Coreys, 8 p.m., SCI FI.


American Idol, the results, 9 p.m., FOX.


The Commitments (***), 9 p.m., FMC.


The Life and Times of Frida Kahlo, 9 p.m., KCET.

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