March 10, 1999 at 05:00 AM EST

‘Vengeance Unlimited’ may be canceled

There’s a TV series that could use your help, since it’s in danger of being canceled: the action show ”Vengeance Unlimited.”

If you read the print version of Entertainment Weekly regularly, you might be surprised to see me defending ”Vengeance” here. When it premiered in the fall, I thought the show was alternately silly and pretentious. Star Michael Madsen plays Mr. Chapel, a mysterious hulk in a cheap black suit who helps defend ordinary folk in big jams. All he asks in return is $1 million — or a favor, to be called in by Mr. Chapel at any time in the future.

Chapel goes after everyone from corrupt chemical-company executives to crooked judges to a dishonest IRS agent, and he does it with sadistic glee. As conceived by cocreators John McNamara and David Simkins, Chapel antagonizes his foes not by brandishing a gun or using lawyerly tactics, but by scaring the living daylights out of them — unnerving them with mean tricks, haunting their every move, making them suffer the same sort of nagging hell through which they’ve put Mr. Chapel’s clients.

When the show premiered, I thought this was all a bit corny and too unbelievable, but at the urging of a next-door neighbor who loved the show’s quirky humor, I made a point of taping the show (I was still watching, as was all of America, ”V.U.”’s time-period steamroller, the terrific ”Friends”) and watched ”V.U.” become a pleasure. Regular director James Frawley and Madsen gave the series a film-noir grittiness, while costar Kathleen York, as a paralegal hooked on Chapel’s way of getting even, became a smart sidekick who often articulated our own rueful amazement at Chapel’s sneaky methods.

”V.U.” has completed its run of original episodes; it’s awaiting word from ABC for fall renewal. Of course the show is being pummeled by ”Friends,” but it’s doing as well as anything ABC has put up against that show, and given the fact that cocreator McNamara did ”Profit,” a short-lived but often brilliant 1997 Fox series, there’s a good chance that a second season of ”V.U.” would be even stronger than its first.

I’d be curious: Have any of you watched this show? What do you think of it? If you like it, now’s the time to write or e-mail ABC to keep it on the air. It’s time we did Mr. Chapel a favor — after all he’s done for us, unasked.

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