Screensavors: The paperwork and the Pentagon

Hey, if you want logic, don't bother watching Xtra HOT's new E-Ring.

benjamin bratt 88 (photo credit: )
benjamin bratt 88
(photo credit: )
Finally, we know what's holding up the war on terror and the fight for democracy around the world. Turns out it's the paper work. Well, that and a lot of bad acting and scriptwriting. At least that's what we surmised from the debut episode of Xtra HOT's new E-Ring, (Saturdays, 21:15) which turns out not to be that thing hanging from your son's nipple, but "the outer and most important ring" of the Pentagon. So if it's so important, why is it all the way on the OUTSIDE? Hey, you want logic, don't bother watching this series, which went off the Nielsen radar screens after 13 episodes. Our own intelligence sources, which we can't reveal because then you'd have to shoot us, concurred that much of the show is malarkey, with a tall order of ham on rye to complete the picture. We're to believe that Benjamin Bratt's character Maj. Jim Tisnewski (Polish for "Why did I ever leave Law and Order") can spend his first day back from 14 months in Afghanistan setting the entire Pentagon on its head to rescue a Chinese spy. Yeah, right. Plus, as one observer in our family noted, Bratt's main squeeze Angie works for the CIA... FROM HOME. At least her laptop closes. On the side, she probably sells magazines by phone. Tisnewski gets a wake-up call from his new boss, Col. Eli McNulty (Dennis Hopper, who's graduated from playing the bad guy in 24) while he's in Angie's bed - the better to see hunky Bratt's torso, m'dears - to rush in to his new posting, where according to the gravelly-voiced announcer who introduces the show Law and Order style, "the security of the nation depends on the men and women who serve in the five rings of the Pentagon." To make sure we're aware that they have high technology at the Pentagon these days, the series makes obnoxious use of side-screen graphics, reminding us, for example, that Shanghai is in China. It also borrows shamelessly from 24, with a clock ticking down the hours left until extraction of the spy in trouble. Bratt rides a bike to work, but too bad he has to leave it outside. Apparently, navigating the halls of the Pentagon is like trying to fight the crowds at Disneyland. But that's nothing compared to how far Bratt will go to inject a little humor in the show. Stopped by a junior officer, he explains: "We've got a nunya in the works." "A nunya?" asks the confused officer. "A nunya damn business." That's about the highlight of the script, which appears to have been written to buttress any fears viewers might have about the great power of the US to make sure things go right. But fear not, my fellow Americans. After Tisnewski explains to his boss how the agent can be extracted, McNulty retorts: "It's not a matter of could we, major. We are America. We can do anything we want - it's SHOULD we." Yeah, tell that to the Dream Team. While Americans might like to believe that hokum, it's clear where the problem lies with that approach when stereotyped tight-ass black woman - basically a glorified army secretary - Sgt. Pierce introduces Tisnewski to "Joint Staff form 136 - the official paperwork of war." No wonder the war effort is stalling. First you have to fill out the official paperwork!! And we bet the show was sponsored by Tippex!! There's lots of West Wing-style walking and talking down the corridors of the Pentagon, which is to corridors what downtown Jerusalem is lately to potholes, and showdowns with liberal political appointees who scrunch up their faces at the generals. Naturally, Tisnewski's first attempt at skirting the powers that be fails, with McNulty reassuring him that "we ain't gonna win every battle, but we can win the war." "I know you're upset, but there's nothing you can do," says his girlfriend back at her place. "You know better than to say that to me," counters our hero. GROAN. Before you can "Orcon," or some other silly CIA-sounding piece of dialogue that fills this turkey, Tisnewski's bicycled back from his girlfriend's house with the key piece of information needed to get the plan moving. It turns out the Chinese spy's carrying the "Holy Grail" microchip indicating the Chinese have a stealth sub. Or was it the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch? One of the two... Just when it looks like even his new approach is going to be denied, one of the officials he'd been turned down by before pipes up, saying Tisnewski's got a "fresh-from-the-field perspective." "I can only speak as a soldier," says the newbie, going all patriotic on us. "My country always sent someone for me... ALWAYS." "Well put, soldier," comes the reply, and the extraction is on. By now, of course, the poor agent is already a couple of hours PAST the extraction hour, meaning in any real world she'd be, well, dead. But remember, this is Hollywood, so she just does some more freaking out while good ol' Form 136 gets dramatically checked off by all the necessary signators. "It's a go!" declares McNulty as Tisnewski beams. Then, as the spy is rescued, a Pentagon man yells: "We're clear! Redondo! Redondo!" which is either Spook-speak for "We did it," a plug for a new spaghetti sauce, or a chance for this agent to practice his Italian. Once home, Tisnewski's girlfriend badgers him for more information. "Oh, you know, I can't talk about that, Ang," he says, "I'm in the secret business." Well, it's no secret that this Jerry Bruckheimer effort at out-JAG-ging JAG and the others of its class fails miserably. Bratt tries but the script goes nowhere, and poor Hopper wishes he was back with Jack Nicholson in Easy Rider. We can only hope that the real people manning the high tech ops at the Pentagon are a few steps swifter than those seen here, or at least have better speechwriters. E-Ring, along with Close to Home, which follows on Xtra Hot's Saturday night sked, prove that at least when it comes to drama series, Bruckheimer and the Americans can't do everything right.