Oatmeal-raisin cookies make private-eye series palatable

Leg Work CBS, Saturday, 9-10 p.m. Premi`ere of new private-eye drama, starring Margaret Colin. Oh, the tribulations of a private eye like Claire McCarron! She owes a big repair bill on her Porsche and is over her credit-card limit. She needs a roommate to share the rent on that gorgeous apartment she's inherited. And does she realize what she spends in restaurants? her business manager demands one day - in a restaurant.

You'd think Claire's troubles were a bore, if it weren't for being shot at and chased by killers. But she is definitely a crime-fighter, even if her personal life does keep getting in the way - like that plain-clothes policeman who is supposed to be guarding her but ends up watching her bake oatmeal-raisin cookies.

Actually, it's that private life that makes this series a little more palatable than many - and, at its best, more refreshing. To get something out of a police show is often a matter of looking for differences - even small ones - in style or human insight, to alleviate the format. You have to dig for gold within the dross of the police action.

In this case the gold is an uncertain, very imperfect woman whose personal concerns are as much a part of the action as the clich'ed story line she becomes engulfed in during this opening episode.

Claire really doesn't have everything in hand, the way a regulation TV sleuth should. Although not Amanda King, she is somewhat naive and shockable, a trait that helps viewers absorb the story in the same uncynical way. It's about an insurance executive who owes Claire $6,000 for some investigative work, but he is shot before she can collect. Who killed him - who, in fact, the man really was - become the questions that take viewers through a grim trail of drugs, threats, and blackmail before ending in (what else?) a showdown of bullets.

But it's Claire's role as a charming patsy - skillfully conveyed by Margaret Colin - that gives the story its identity. When assaulted by a man in her apartment, she screams. She's not afraid to use her good looks to get away with things Sam Spade never would have - like ramming her car into a vehicle trailing her, one that turns out to be driven by a plain-clothes policemen assigned to guard her. When he ends up in her kitchen watching her bake, she admits ``I'm scared'' and convinces you she means it - just before her glamour-girl roomie, Fawn, comes in and suddenly has all of the man's attention.

But there's sass beneath Claire's innocence, and it's a lively part of the character painted in this episode. What will Fawn do later in life? Claire asks her cop friend later on. I mean, ``Aunt Fawn?'' or, later on, ``Grandma Fawn?'' Claire's friend suggests Fawn might switch to her middle name. Like what, Claire asks, ``Bambi?''

The show is at its most fetching when at its funniest. Claire wants, for instance, to chase a killer's car and asks her date - the owner of his own Porsche - to follow him.``Does he really think he can beat a Porsche?'' she says, bringing the date's pride of ownership to a near-boil and his car to racing speed.

After a wild confrontation and shootout with the villain, a marvelous camera shot of the date's face - dazed and incredulous - is captured through the bullethole in the windshield. He knew she was a detective, but he hadn't bargained on this.

Savvy prime-time viewers, on the other hand, will undoubtedly have bargained on it. They may be pleasantly surprised, though, at the light human touches to be found in the midst of the police routines.

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