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TELEVISION REVIEW

Bochco's blind cop never misses a beat

It's hard to fault ''Blind Justice" for its strained premise. OK, so a blind detective is the shrewdest cop in all of New York City. And he carries a loaded gun. And he points the gun at a desperate perp. And the perp freezes. All before the end of tonight's premiere, at 10 on Channel 5.

Then again, if you can't stretch a little when you watch TV, you'll also have to drop ''House," in which a Vicodin-addicted doctor is pointing needles, and ''24," the show with the preternatural cellphone batteries and the bladders of steel.

However, it's not hard to fault ''Blind Justice" for revolving around a police detective whose heroism is cloying with a capital C. The man might as well be wearing a note pinned to his back reading ''I have courage, integrity, and kids really like me." Despite a likable lead performance by Ron Eldard, and the slick production values of creator Steven Bochco, ABC's new series settles for the sort of nobler than-thou portrayal that marred the final seasons of Bochco's ''NYPD Blue." And even more than Andy Sipowicz, Eldard's Jim Dunbar never fails to transform serious adversity into strength. He's the kind of character whose unrelenting stoicism ends up seeming overly maudlin. Dunbar lost his sight in a shootout, and his case became a New York media event when he refused to retire and sued the city to get his job back. No free rides for this driven protector of the public's safety. When the series opens, he's starting at a new precinct among an office of skeptical detectives who admire him, but who nonetheless don't want to work with a blind partner. His stern new boss, Lieutenant Fisk (Michael Gaston), unsuccessfully begs him to reconsider retirement, then punishes him by sending him out on two-bit cases. In what is probably a sexist swipe, Fisk also partners him up with the department's only woman, Karen Bettancourt (Marisol Nichols).

But don't you fret, for the underdogs will always prevail on this show. ''Blind Justice" is all about Dunbar and Bettancourt's refusal to submit to the condescending attitude of Fisk and the other detectives. In fact, they proceed to solve homicide cases better than any of the smug hacks in the department, including the snarky Detective Russo (Frank Grillo). Dunbar's heightened sense of smell comes in very handy indeed, when he sniffs cordite in a stolen car and proclaims it a crime scene. And his acute hearing also leads him toward some rather subtle clues. Yep, he ''sees" things sighted people can't.

The show tries to give Dunbar a few human flaws, including a past marital infidelity and ongoing jealousy issues with his wife, Christie (Rena Sofer). But he nonetheless remains entirely sympathetic throughout, a man who has changed his wandering ways after having suffered. While Sipowicz's dignity was tempered by many truly unlikable qualities, among them racism and sexism, Dunbar's fearlessness is pretty one-dimensional. He's so unrelentingly brave, it's hard to enjoy the fact that he really is overcoming a great challenge.

It's also easy to knock ''Blind Justice" for its chronically conventional crime plots. Let's just say that the Hollywood Perp and Skel Image Awards won't be handing the show any originality prizes this year. In the episodes sent to critics, the murder suspects are straight out of central casting, from the wigged-out serial killer to the abusive dad. Ultimately, they seem to be there merely to provide our knight in shining armor a few hard-to-miss targets.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at gilbert@globe.com.

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