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Fall '02: Life in the Fastlane

There's a Coors Light commercial where someone -- who is presumably leading the kind of life where he is always having more fun than I am -- screams about his love for burritos at 4 a.m., hanging with his friends ... and, and TWINS! I'm thinking the anonymous singer is soon going to be wailing about his love for Fastlane.

The thing is, I will be too, and I can't stand Coors, burritos at 4 a.m., or, or TWINS. Fastlane is a shiny, dumb concoction custom-designed for people with negative attention spans, and it is absolutely fantastic. Whoever put this together somehow managed to distill roughly ten thousand man-hours of MTV -- commercials included -- and convert the results into an eminently watchable, extremely enjoyable show.

Here are the basics: Van (Peter Facinelli) is Sonny Crockett for the born-in-the-'80s set; Deaq (Bill Bellamy) is the Ricardo Tubbs who leaves New York and heads for warmer climes (L.A., in this case) to avenge his brother's death. Tiffani Theissen is their tough-talking lieutenant Wilhemina; she's part exposition sprite, part precaution against the inevitable criticism that will follow when people notice that the majority of Fastlane's female characters are women of negotiable virtue. This threesome is deeply undercover, and apparently spend all their time tooling around in confiscated goods, the better to bust the style-conscious perps who constitute L.A.'s seedy underbelly. Only L.A. would have a seedy underbelly where everyone's on the Zone.

The entire show has the look and feel of a high-end sneakers commercial, with lots of quick cuts, stylish transitions, and glittering, expensive people, places and things. Nobody is troubled by inner turmoil for more than thirty seconds, and if they are -- well, there's always another fast car or off-the-hook party to take their mind off their troubles.

The show is so good because it doesn't take anything seriously. Facinelli and Bellamy are in on the joke from the word go, smirking at the camera and peeling their shirts off under the flimsiest pretexts before going on to take control of any given situation. They're both charming in limited doses, which works well here, given that the average scene is about ninety seconds long. There were the isolated moments of agita -- Facinelli chews up the first five minutes of the show by throwing a straight-from-the-books hissyfit after his partner gets killed undercover -- but overall, the tone of the show is lightweight, and manages to leave the viewer with the impression that everyone who's in the Super-Duper-Extra-Stylish-Secret division is there because they think what they do is fun.

Fun is what's missing from a lot of television shows: it's easy for cop shows to collapse under the weight of their myriad serious plot lines, and while that sort of thing rakes in the Emmys on a slow year, it can be tiresome for the viewer who simply wants an hour-long escape hatch. Fastlane isn't out to unseat time slot rival The West Wing at next year's Emmys, nor is it going to be giving us searing, nuanced looks at larger social conflicts as embodied by individual cops in the system, a la The Shield. But it is incredibly entertaining, and sometimes, that's all I want from a show.

Well, that and a way to shut up Mister I-have-my-Coors-and-my-fun, but until I can cram a bottle of Golden, Colorado's finest in his pie hole, I'll settle for watching Fastlane instead.


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