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Fallen Angels

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The second season of the nostalgic thriller anthology series Fallen Angels (Showtime, Oct. 29, 10-11 p.m.) offers contrasting takes on the hard-boiled mystery. In ”Good Housekeeping,” Dana Delany stars as Helen, a meek housewife whose life is disrupted by the arrival of a blind gangster (William Petersen) and his moll (Marcia Gay Harden). They believe that Delany’s husband, Ralph, played by Adam Baldwin, is really a hood named Frankie. Petersen is pleasantly over-the-top — he loves bumping into things — and Delany is all too eager to shed her sexy image to become shabbily servile. Director Michael Lehmann (Heathers) puts a tough twist on the climax — doesn’t remain a wimp — but it’s not quite enough to turn ”Good Housekeeping” into the feminist fable it wants to be.

More effective is ”Fly Paper,” in which novelist Donald E. Westlake adapts a short story by the granddaddy of the genre, Dashiell Hammett. Christopher Lloyd (formerly of Taxi and currently the UPN bomb Deadly Games) stars as an operative (”op,” for short) of the Continental Detective Agency in 1927 New York. Wearing a dented fedora and speaking monosyllables through clenched teeth, Lloyd seems more like the cold, hard-bitten professional ops Hammett wrote about than do most of the actors who’ve appeared in countless adaptations of the author’s work.

Here, the nameless op is assigned to track down a vanished socialite (Kristin Minter). Along the way, he encounters a couple of bumblers — Laura San Giacomo and Chicago Hope‘s Peter Berg — trying to extort money from her disappearance, as well as a double-breasted hood (Michael Rooker of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer) who gets in a couple of beautifully staged chases and shoot-outs with Lloyd. All this, plus a few sheets of poison flypaper hidden in the pages of a copy of The Count of Monte Cristo (soak ’em in water and the arsenic leaks out; give ’em to your victim and presto — dead as a doornail). Directed by Tim Hunter (River’s Edge) with a gratifying calmness that offsets the excitement of Hammett’s story, this is one of the best Fallen Angels yet. ”Good Housekeeping”: B ”Fly Paper”: A-