Parents bemoaning their out-of-control kids should tune in to FX’s Thief, where the ultimate example of teen leverage is on display. A curious amalgam of crime drama and family drama, Thief features the much-appreciated TV return of Andre Braugher as Nick Atwater, who (as you may have already guessed) is a thief. Nick has a pretty wife (Dina Meyer) who thinks he’s a car dealer, and a bratty 14-year-old stepdaughter, Tammi (Mae Whitman), who thinks he’s a jerk. Typical blended-family stuff. On a bank job in Frisco, Nick and his crew enrage the Chinese Mafia, who begin tracking them to their New Orleans base — where Nick is planning the ultimate job. Typical heist stuff. Heck, typical Big Easy stuff, too: Thief is thick with Spanish moss and gothic graveyards, generic images that may be explained by the fact that Hurricane Katrina forced production to Shreveport.
Thief gets interesting when Nick’s wife is suddenly removed from the picture. Already alienated, teen Tammi is stuck depending on a guy she can’t stand — who quickly becomes a guy she can’t trust when she catches Nick shooting a man. The murder is a cross between self-defense and a business decision, and it’s a lovely insight into Nick, who is so many shades of gray a paint shop couldn’t name them all: sage-yet-impulsive silver, rule-loving-outlaw slate, cold-but-kind off-black. Braugher, who’s never been better (no, not even on Homicide), avoids playing Nick as ”conflicted,” or ”complicated” — or any of those words used to describe today’s TV antiheroes, who, let’s face it, are often simply ambiguous. Braugher plays Nick like Nick?rarely has a character hopped onto the screen feeling so completely real.
The star is fortunate to have Whitman (who played George Michael’s memorably forgettable girlfriend Ann on Fox’s Arrested Development) as his stepdaughter — lonesome and confused, but also entitled and angsty. Like ABC’s Invasion, Thief uses its unusual setting to comment on the mainstream dynamic of busy, blended families. (It even features Invasion‘s Michael Mitchell, playing another cocky, troublemaking boyfriend.) Nick’s parental authority is continually undermined: by his own awkwardness, by the secret cell calls that interrupt his talks with Tammi (right after he’s sternly instructed her not to take calls at dinner), and by that little shooting that she now dangles over him, partly triumphant, partly morose.
As far as the ”thief” part of Thief goes, the series looks to be building to an Ocean’s Eleven-style masterwork, but early episodes will disappoint anyone hankering for ingenious machinations. Nick breaks one code simply by recalling the vault owner’s birthday. (Can a list of victims’ pets’ names be far behind?) But the mini-heists are the least of Thief ‘s attractions, which include a den of pissy criminals (whose fence is guest star Linda Hamilton), pensive hitmen, and a potential $40 million score on a plane in midair. Still, the true drama, the one really worth watching, is within the quiet walls of Nick’s tense home.