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'Close' skillfully probes suburbia's dark side

With the Scott Peterson case, some saw a dapper psychopath murder his pregnant wife. Some saw the hidden discontent behind the suburban dream. Some saw marital psychodynamics taken to an awful extreme -- wishes and fears bursting to the surface in acts of adultery and violence.

And some, including alpha TV producer Jerry Bruckheimer, saw a new crime series called ''Close to Home" and the potential for boffo ratings. America is so easily transfixed by real-life domestic murder cases, watching them unfold on 24-hour news channels as loyally as it follows ''General Hospital."

''Close to Home" hopes to nab those viewers on a weekly basis, beginning tonight at 10 on Channel 4. It wants to milk the tabloid tragedies of the Charles Stuarts and Susan Smiths of this world, to reach a certain type of American viewer -- often white and middle class -- who takes these homicides quite personally.

Indeed, there's something more audience-specific than usual about ''Close to Home," which is replacing ''Judging Amy" on the CBS lineup. The series is a little too obviously geared to grab suburban moms by the throat, to hook them with frightening images of abusive and two-timing husbands and brutal Little League melees. No one in your safe little neighborhood, it seems to say, can truly be trusted. Tonight, for example, a woman in suburban Indiana tries to burn her house down, with her two children inside. Is she a monster, or is there an explanation? Coming soon: a suburban prostitution ring. And the show's lead character, Indianapolis prosecutor Annabeth Chase (Jennifer Finnigan), is also designed to attract soccer moms. She's just returning to work after having had her first child, trying to solve crimes while storing her breast milk in the office fridge. The iconic mommy-tracker also lost a promotion to her co-worker, Maureen (Kimberly Elise), while she was on maternity leave. The tension between the two, now that Maureen is Annabeth's boss, is loud and clear. They have power struggles that could use some of the dash and humor that TV's other procedurals tend to cultivate among their colleagues.

That said, ''Close to Home" works well enough as yet another bit of TV criminology. It's a contrived product, but the storytelling reveals the cases and their solutions nicely, if straightforwardly. And Finnigan makes an appealing lead. Her character is modeled after Patricia Arquette in ''Medium," as Finnigan balances her home life with her police work; but she's tougher and more articulate. Finnigan, who was hard to take last season as the bimbo-esque lead on the romantic sitcom ''Committed," makes a smooth switch to drama here.

This time around, she's committed to distrusting husbands, and not just finding one for herself.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at

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