If Tennessee Williams wrote an undercover cop drama, it might look a lot like DirecTV's "Rogue."
Full of heightened emotion and last-minute surprises, it holds your interest, but doesn't always track. Thandie Newton -- as the cop who decides to infiltrate a family "business" -- never seems committed to one side or the other. She could turn quickly (and may) but it's hard to get a handle on who's guilty of what.
Certainly Marton Csokas, as head of the shady business, has plenty of angst to consider. He rants like a Shakespearean actor trying to stage "King Lear" without proper financial support. He's always over-the-top, rarely in sync with Newton's subdued performance.
Operating out of Oakland, Calif., he could be the man behind much of the town's problems -- or the one who could clean it up.
He has two sons: a hot-head (Joshua Sasse, who looks the part but has a hit-and-miss American accent) and a brain (a deliciously subtle Matthew Beard) who are key to keeping his business alive.
Assorted relatives and hangers-on complicate the process but there's always the "legal" side of this situation that could bring it all to a screeching halt.
That's where Newton's Grace Davis comes in. She plays both sides like a Stradivarius, hoping to compose an ending that brings closure to her own nagging family drama.
"Rogue" has a rich, gritty look and a free hand with things like nudity and violence.
But push it too much and this becomes the great Cinemax series that got away.
Newton and Beard keep it grounded; Csokas and Sasse try to get it to fly.
Frequently, the mixed signals cross and "Rogue" seems unhinged. Stick with it, though, and you'll be rewarded with some nice moments that justify an unwieldy script.
Episodes don't end neatly; characters aren't always equal.
Instead, "Rogue" is a bit like life -- messy and unpredictable.
Newton and Beard deserve attention; Csokas needs restraint.
Like Al Pacino in just about everything in the last 10 years, he plays to the last rows of a 2,000-seat theater. He's theatrical. But a guy this overt would have been targeted long before an undercover cop entered the picture.
"Rogue" debuts this month on DirecTV.