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'Killer' should take a break from the bleak

How deviant do you like it? Because ''Killer Instinct" has heavy-duty deviance for you, if you think ''Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" is just too vanilla. The Fox crime drama, which premieres tonight at 9 on Channel 25, is a gruesome show about detectives who track down the most twisted criminals ever. Against the foggy backdrop of San Francisco, they scare the Hannibal Lecters of the world out of their lairs.

''Killer Instinct" is relentlessly grim, one more TV series that borrows from the tone of ''Silence of the Lambs." It's not awful, exactly, but it's so willfully bleak as to become monotonous. Jack Hale (Johnny Messner) is the stiff-faced detective in charge of the Deviant Crime Unit. Tonight, he and his new partner (Marguerite Moreau, who is replaced next week by Kristin Lehman) go after a rapist-killer who first paralyzes his victims with spiders. The spider scenes are, of course, vivid and creepy, and when the episode is over you will remember them. But the rest of the plot will probably fall out of your brain, along with so many other procedural stories, and into the great maw of forgettable TV.

Messner acts with very low affect, which suits his character but doesn't help the show's atmosphere. Jack is depressed, we're told, because he's just returned from a six-month leave, which he took after the death of his former partner and girlfriend. It couldn't have anything to do with a life spent going after organ thieves, could it? Chi McBride is on hand as Jack's nice-guy boss, the show's only obvious warm spot, although even he seems kind of haunted.

Chin up, guys. You probably won't be on this beat very long.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at

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