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October 19, 2002

Saunders: PAX's 'F.B. Eye' worth a look

From: Rocky Mountain News, CO
Oct. 19, 2002

My high school Latin background reminds me that pax means peace.

In a broadcasting context, PAX means "feel good TV" (the network's slogan), which certainly can be translated to peace.

As a result, PAX (KPXC-Channel 59 and Channel 17 on cable) is not considered mainstream television, since the quasi network mostly stays away from the murder and mayhem that are staples on the major networks.

The result is that PAX is regularly ignored by most critics who legitimately contend that while "feel good" programming is a commendable goal, the result is scripts that sound like pulpit sermons or sessions with Dr. Phil rather than legitimate drama.

A graphic example is Doc, the series starring Billy Ray Cyrus as a medical hero.

Actually, hospital administrators could benefit from watching Doc and then save the price of anesthetics before surgery. Watching Doc would put anyone to sleep.

Still, give PAX credit. It's found a niche audience (mostly older viewers) that wants to regularly escape from the pell-mell hell of the real and reel worlds.

Occasionally, PAX comes up with a project that, while keeping the "feel good" formula, moves more into mainstream television.

Such a series is Sue Thomas: F.B. Eye (8 p.m. Sunday), inspired by the true story of a woman, deaf since birth, who overcame significant obstacles to become a valuable employee of the FBI.

This interesting story line is given more impetus since Thomas is portrayed by Deanne Bray, a severely deaf actress, who, like Thomas, was strongly encouraged by her parents to speak and read lips.

Premiering last Sunday as a two-hour movie, Sue Thomas gave indications of being a watchable series if writers and producers can tone down or eliminate saccharine messages which, unfortunately, regularly punctuate PAX series.

While the series is mostly fiction, Bray's performance could be a worthy tribute to Thomas, a proud, dedicated woman.

Through flashback sequences, we learned how Thomas' parents, particularly her mother, constantly provided Thomas with help so that she could diminish her handicap by becoming an accomplished lip reader. Her remarkable determination led to the FBI, starting with a dreary job of analyzing fingerprints and ending with a career of deciphering surveillance tapes and live conversations among criminal suspects who were under observation in public places.

Thomas, 52 ,and battling multiple sclerosis, took time out from her new career as a motivational speaker to help producers search for the actress to portray her.

She enthusiastically endorsed, Bray, a 31-year-old Los Angeles school teacher and part-time actress who recently had a role in CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. After watching Bray's tape, Thomas was taken by her acting ability and her understanding of how it was ''to exist in silence.''

Bray was born deaf but her parents didn't know about her handicap until she was 2- ½-years old. She spent most of her young and teenage years undergoing extensive speech therapy.

"I had to read out loud for 30 minutes every day,'' Bray said during a recent interview. "That really provided progress. Now every deaf person can do this.''

While Thomas is profoundly deaf, Bray can pick up a few sounds with a hearing aid.

Last Sunday's premiere followed Thomas' early career with the FBI, accompanied by her loyal "hearing'' dog, Levi, a lovable golden retriever.

This is an FBI far more compassionate than what other dramatic TV series offer, as Sue found a lot of smiling friends and even a strong hint of romance with an agent named Jack Hudson (Yannick Bisson), who looks and acts more like a freshly-scrubbed bank teller than a knowledgeable G-man.

Unfortunately, Sunday's premiere contained some Wonder Woman-style heroics by Sue which defied credibility.

And at the end Sue, Jack and Levi worked together to catch the bad guys. Unfortunately Levi was shot protecting his mistress.

In unrealistic ER-oriented scenes, the agents rushed Levi to a human hospital in an effort to save the dog's life.

Still, I'll bet there wasn't a dry eye in PAX households containing dogs, as a sobbing Sue kept vigil over her canine friend.

If nothing else, PAX certainly knows how to tug at heartstrings.

Sunday night's hour (not previewed) deals with Sue returning from a training session in Quantico and joining Jack in the investigation about a bomb threat in an oil company.

Don't expect an Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing)-type script. But keep your eye on Bray, an appealing, convincing performer.

2002 © The E.W. Scripps Co.