'Hack' pushes anti-death penalty agenda

Drama fans who don't mind stunt casting, lessons and even a few hugs might enjoy tonight's solid, if predictable, episode of "Hack" (8 p.m., CBS).

For those unfamiliar with this freshman series, David Morse stars as disgraced cop-turned-cab driver Mike Olshansky. Even stripped of his badge, Mike spends his hours helping the innocent, righting wrongs and fighting bad guys.

On his downtime, he engages in soul-searching conversations with his pals, Father Tom Grzelak (George Dzundza) and former police partner Marcellus Washington (Andre Braugher).

Guest star Chad Lowe turns in an above-average performance as Jimmy Scanlon, a death row prisoner who killed a police colleague of Mike's several years back. As the episode begins, Mike argues with Grzelak while the priest prepares to attend an anti-death penalty vigil protesting Scanlon's execution. To Mike, the matter is simple: Do the crime, pay the price.

But that's before Mike and the audience are given a seminar in capital punishment. Scanlon's thug brother John (Gary Cole) kidnaps our hero cabbie, locks him in a cell and tells him that he will be executed at the same moment as his brother.

Clearly deranged, John narrates a countdown to Mike's last breath, dresses him in prison garb, allows him to make a final phone call and lets him dictate a final statement to his loved ones.

This might seem more suspenseful if Mike weren't the series star and therefore ensured of survival. But this "Hack" should make viewers think twice about the mechanics of state-sponsored murder, even if it does use a small sledgehammer to get the point across.

Tonight's other highlights

  • The senator's first appointment faces an unanticipated crisis on "Mister Sterling" (7 p.m., NBC).
  • An FBI agent (Bruce Willis) protects a boy with an unusual talent in the 1998 thriller "Mercury Rising" (7 p.m., UPN).
  • Scheduled on "Dateline" (8 p.m., NBC): An Annapolis grad is implicated in a love-triangle murder.
  • Weekend warriors work round-the-clock to transform a friend or loved one's favorite room in the surprise design "reality" show "While You Were Out" (7 p.m. and 8 p.m., TLC).
  • An anti-porn crusader dies for her cause on "Law & Order: SVU" (9 p.m., NBC). Pam Grier guest-stars.

Series notes

Bob Barker is host of "The Price Is Right Million Dollar Spectacular" (7 p.m., CBS) ... On back-to-back episodes of "Fastlane" (Fox), Van's dad (Robert Forster) can't adjust to freedom (7 p.m.), Van helps his dad break out of jail (8 p.m.) ... Office politics on "What I Like About You" (7 p.m., WB).

Perfection has its drawbacks on "Sabrina, the Teenage Witch" (7:30 p.m., WB).

Tom Bergeron is host of "America's Funniest Home Videos" (8 p.m., ABC) ... A funeral for a friend on "Reba" (8 p.m., WB) ... Maria keeps her romance under wraps on "Greetings from Tucson" (8:30 p.m., WB) ... Death casts a long shadow at a convention of little people on "CSI" (9 p.m., CBS).

Late night

Brendan Fraser and Kids in the Hall appear on "Late Show with David Letterman" (10:35 p.m., CBS) ... Jay Leno welcomes Casey Affleck and Susan Tedeschi on "The Tonight Show" (10:35 p.m., NBC).

Supergrass performs on "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" (11:35 p.m., NBC) ... Heidi Fleiss and Johnny Marr appear on "The Late, Late Show with Craig Kilborn" (11:37 p.m., CBS).


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