'Falcone:' CBS's answer to 'The Sopranos'?

Two TV dramas this week show good men fighting ugly wars. The soldiers who resist violence, whether on the streets of New York or in the hills of Bosnia, suffer along with the innocent they try to protect.

The new drama series Falcone (CBS, April 4, 9-11 p.m.; followed by eight one-hour episodes, 10-11 p.m., on consecutive nights) may be that network's answer to HBO's "The Sopranos," but the protagonist here is unequivocally a hero.

Based on the true-life adventures of an undercover FBI agent (who inspired the film "Donnie Brasco"), the show presents a fascinating and complex man: Special Agent Joseph Pistone - aka Joe Falcone, jewel thief and mafia soldier. While working to bring down the infamous Volonte crime family, Pistone must keep his own family from falling apart.

Because the show is based on fact, we get a step-by-step account of how the feds fight the bad guys in our midst. The underworld is a big dirty place, and somebody has to clean it up.

Pistone finds himself in many an ethically dicey situation. He can't blow his cover, and yet he can't sit by and watch an innocent get "whacked." Meanwhile, his wife and children need him, and when their anonymity is jeopardized, it may mean moving in the middle of the night or coping with the children's fears.

Jason Gedrick plays the soft-spoken Falcone with finesse - understated acting is rare in television, and intelligence and soulfulness are even rarer. His mafia contact is Sonny Napoli, played with brooding intensity by Titus Welliver, who makes his Mafioso comprehensible and human, if not sympathetic. Amy Carlson infuses Pistone's wife, Maggie, with fire and wisdom.

"Falcone" is not instantly involving - it takes a little while to sort out who's who - but gets better with each episode. Warning: The violence quotient is too high. It may be in the nature of the police work depicted, but it can get unnecessarily graphic.

Many of the same issues arise in Peacekeepers (BBC America, April 1 and 2, 10-11:30 p.m.). It's a heart-rending account of the conflict in Bosnia, from the perspective of British United Nations forces as they try to help the humanitarian efforts to feed starving people and care for the wounded. It offers an insider view you never get from the evening news. In some cases, the UN heroes were forbidden to save lives in the face of genocide. And when their own were hurt, they could not retaliate.

What is most startling is the contrast between the moral idiots who attack the innocent with such ferocity and the young troops so full of hope and decency who manage the UN efforts. Every life is seen as precious, and decency is hard-pressed to stand by in the face of evil. "Peacekeepers" stars Ioan Gruffudd, seen recently on American TV in the miniseries "Hornblower."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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