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In our house television mostly serves as a movie screen — runs on French new-wave auteurs, old chestnuts from Hollywood’s glory days, the occasional Danish-British mystery series. I’m a devotee of the great Japanese masters or scour to match a movie to a book I’m reading.  To be perfectly honest we also fell for the first season of Homeland, once it was released to the non Showtime crowd, but that’s not something we can take weeks of.  Neither the new Kevin Costner vicious thriller, The Following, nor BBC’s Ripper Street are unlikely to engage us.

So it was a red letter day when we stumbled on the 2001-2004 series titled The Guardian, with Simon Baker. Week after week a tight little combination of two or three mysteries, or problems, are solved — not always cleanly, often without a feel-good charge at the end.  But always, honest.  Always bringing us to know something about American life at a much greater depth than we had before. Always with a good mix of character and plot.

Baker, as the lead, is Nick Fallin, son of the founder of a prestigious Pittsburgh corporate law firm, and convicted cocaine user, who is working off 1,500 hours of community service in a not for profit legal services group. He also keeps up a decently heavy load with his father.  As a result we are immersed in child protection hearings, social services of Pittsburgh, mergers and acquisitions, union negations — all things which if they appear at all in other TV series, or movies, appear seldom and without much attention.

Damn!  Everyone of the 16 or so episodes we’ve seen has been good. Kids in trouble, abusive parents, mothers trying to turn their lives around — what to do with the kids?, adoptions with siblings being separated.  Nick tempted again by cocaine, seduced and seducing opposing council, fighting with his father, mourning his deceased mother.  A plus sized woman with a decent supporting role,  an African American co-worker who comes out of gang-dom, a boss who winds up as Nick’s sponsor at AA.  All fascinating — and guess what?  Not enough blood to slick back Quentin Tarantino’s hair with.  Some homicides found in an alley but no gruesome, over-the-top gore.  We like it!

Do yourself a favor and find The Guardian.  You’ll get hooked too!