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Swamp thing 'The Glades' treads some familiar turf

Posted 9:08am on Friday, Jul. 09, 2010

The Glades, A&E's new scripted series, almost seems like a reaction to The Cleaner and The Beast, the cable network's most recent scripted dramas.

While The Cleaner and The Beast were dour shows -- the latter feeling even more downbeat because it was general knowledge that its star, Patrick Swayze, was battling the cancer that would eventually kill him -- The Glades feels lighthearted and summery, even as its first episode centers on the mystery of what happened to a woman who was found in a swamp without her head.

Australian actor Matt Passmore (of the cult fave McLeod's Daughters) plays Jim Longworth, a Chicago cop who has ... let's call it a major misunderstanding with his boss, and relocates to Palm Glade, a small town near the Florida Everglades. You can tell that Jim's a maverick because he's a smart-aleck, he refuses to wear his uniform, he puts down his slovenly partner (John Carroll Lynch) and he'd rather work on improving his golf game than solving cases (when Jim is called in to work during the middle of a particularly good round, he goes to unusual lengths to protect his lie on the course).

Because Jim can't get through a conversation without making some sort of sarcastic quip, The Glades takes on the same sort of light, escapist air as USA shows such as Psych and Burn Notice, but because those series came first -- and were already derivative in their own ways -- The Glades feels more like something that was produced by some sort of light-drama assembly line. (Clifton Campbell, who wrote the pilot, was an executive producer on White Collar, one of USA's other escapist dramas.)

The premiere episode doesn't give Jim much of a backstory aside from the reason he had to leave Chicago, and although he says he hates being in Palm Glade, he certainly seems to enjoy all the free time he has to play golf -- not to mention the work time he uses to hit on a local nurse and mom (Lost's Kiele Sanchez) who also helps him out with cases.

To its credit, the premiere isn't as self-conscious about exposition as most TV pilots are these days, and it does come with a nifty (if not wholly plausible) twist that indicates that there is some imagination at work. But it doesn't provide as firm a sense of place as other location-centric series as FX's Justified and HBO's Treme, and its conceit that nasty things can happen in pleasant settings is hardly anything new.

Passmore manages to keep Jim just on the likable side of smug, but everything around him is featherweight and familiar. There's a difference between light drama and something that's so gravity-free it barely sticks to your TV screen.

ROBERT PHILPOT, 817-390-7872

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