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TV Series Review

It's been four years since the U.S. launched its worldwide war against terrorists. A good deal of that war is fought in the shadows, something the producers of NBC's E-Ring try to capture.

Taking its name from the outer ring of the Pentagon where all the bigwigs are situated, E-Ring tells the story of Maj. Jim Tisnewski (Benjamin Bratt), a former Delta Force officer now assigned to a desk job overseeing global special operations. J.T., as he's known, is a man of action, and riding a desk is not his idea of how to win a war.

J.T.'s boss, Col. McNulty (Dennis Hopper), has a bit more patience for Pentagon procedure. The former Green Beret and Vietnam POW may struggle with lingering battle fatigue, but when it comes to busting bureaucracy he has an advantage over J.T.: He knows how to "work the building." When to twist arms. When to bend rules. That suits J.T. just fine. After all, isn't a little arm-twisting and rule-bending appropriate when the fate of the world is at stake?

This stylistic convergence of JAG and The West Wing features equal parts political maneuvering and gung-ho action. A key sequence in each episode involves getting paperwork signed to approve a military operation. We see the form pass from office to office with various players—military and civilian—putting their John Hancocks in the appropriate boxes.

Then the action switches to, well, action. Navy SEALs snatch a spy off the beach mere seconds before Chinese security forces arrive. Delta Force soldiers shoot it out with an Arab terrorist in a dusty souk in some faraway land. J.T. takes down allegedly Christian terrorists who've seized a mosque full of civilians.

E-Ring initially featured clear-cut good and bad guys. A little deception was necessary for fighting a shadowy enemy. But such tactical deceit is gradually leading to murky morality by the supposed heroes in the halls of power. McNulty helps J.T. circumvent a direct order from the Secretary of Defense. It's implied that a female CIA agent has sex with a Colombian drug lord to gain his confidence. J.T. deliberately breaks the law, and the Pentagon lawyer assigned to keep tabs on him literally looks the other way so she can deny actually seeing the violation.

While violence in E-Ring's early episodes was relatively restrained, it's getting bloodier (including the murder of J.T.'s live-in lover). If the show keeps heading in that direction, it may leave viewers with their own form of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Episodes Reviewed: Sept. 21, 28, Oct. 5, 19, 26, Nov. 2, 9, 16, 2005

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Tom Neven

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