Cop dramas highlight child abuse

Viewers in search of back-to-back bummers are in luck. Tonight's episodes of "The Guardian" (8 p.m., CBS) and "NYPD Blue" (9 p.m., ABC) unfold with surprisingly similar themes and story lines. Both involve the bleak world of child custody battles and include characters accused of child abuse.

"The Guardian" wraps up its second season on a downbeat note. Make that a whole downbeat symphony. After throwing a cell phone in court, series star Nick (Simon Baker) has to submit to the indignity of anger management therapy. He does so with a passive-aggressive reticence that makes Tony Soprano look like Dr. Phil. Nick's sessions with an equally ticked-off shrink appear to be a parody of Tony's hours with Dr. Melfi. Except I've never seen a parody this grim.

The episode concludes with two violent acts (one out of the blue, one highly predictable) that will leave viewers bummed-out all summer while they wait for season three. On the bright side, look for a popular star in an uncredited cameo.

The makers of "The Guardian" show a certain bravery and conviction in offering an episode this dismal about a character so flawed and repressed. "The Guardian" deserves attention.

  • Kim Delaney returns to "NYPD Blue" as Diane Russell, now working in the special victims unit. Andy Sipowicz needs her help because he suspects that one of the parents who wants to adopt Connie's late sister's baby has a history of child molestation. Delaney is quite good in this empathetic role, one very similar to that of Mariska Hargitay on "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit." Are they laying the groundwork for Delaney to return in "NYPD: SVU"?
  • Scheduled on "Dateline" (9 p.m., NBC): Jane Pauley conducts her last interview, with Michael J. Fox and Tracey Pollan. The hour will glance back at Pauley's career, ending tonight after 27 years, with excerpts from interviews with Tom Brokaw, Stone Phillips, Barbara Walters, Bryant Gumbel, Bill Cosby, Cher, Bill Murray and others.

Tonight's other highlights

  • It's down to three on "American Idol" (7 p.m., Fox).
  • Angel returns, just in time, on the second-to-last episode of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" (7 p.m., UPN).
  • Jess travels to California to get to know his father, Jimmy (Rob Estes), on "Gilmore Girls" (7 p.m., WB).
  • Palmer wants to know more about the Kingsley conspiracy on "24" (8 p.m., Fox).

Late night

Jada Pinkett Smith, Amy Sedaris and The Jayhawks appear on "Late Show with David Letterman" (10:35 p.m., CBS) ... Jay Leno hosts Shepard Smith and Ben Harper on "The Tonight Show" (10:35 p.m., NBC).

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