HERE WE have two additional reasons to give up on Melrose Place. Why
keep watching that increasingly sorry mess when you now have these new
super-fab Fox soaps to add to your already decadent viewing schedule?
PROFIT (Fox, Mondays, 9-10 p.m.) and KINDRED: THE EMBRACED (Fox,
Wednesdays, 9-10 p.m.) could not be more different from each other. Lean
and gratifyingly mean, Profit is about Jim Profit (Adrian Pasdar), a
ruthless businessman snaking his way up the corporate ladder; the
wonderfully complicated Kindred: The Embraced features five clans of
vampires, snarling and sucking in contemporary San Francisco.
Mind you, I didn't want to be drawn into either of these series.
Big-business hugger-mugger bores me stiff. And as far as classy vampires
go, let me put it this way: Anne Rice novels have always struck me as
literature for people who don't know who Angela Carter or Jonathan Carroll
are. But Profit and Kindred are uncommonly sharp shows.
Jim Profit tells us his story via voiceovers delivered in a rattlesnake
murmur. He's the new junior vice president of acquisitions for the very
powerful Gracen & Gracen, and as Jim very bluntly tells us, "I want to
be president of acquisitions." To accomplish this, he brownnoses and
backstabs his way across the corporation, tapping into confidential
computer files with the wicked ambition of a cyber-Sammy Glick. All this,
plus sex: In the series premiere, we haven't even arrived at the first
commercial before Profit is being fondled by a bombshell. Moans Jim: "Hi,
Turns out "Mom" is Profit's stepmother, played to a perfect blowsy turn
by Lisa Blount. She's giving Profit a taste of his own medicine,
blackmailing him for lovin' and money because she knows that he tried to
kill his abusive father. This is the wittily nasty subtext in Profit: When
Jim was a child, his father kept the boy in a cardboard moving box; young
Jim's only contact with the world was a hole through which he watched a
flickering TV day after day. This, we're supposed to believe, is why
Profit is the soulless sociopath he is. In addition to being terrifically
addictive television, Profit also contains the strongest anti-TV message
anyone has sneaked onto the medium.
Just as the structure of Profit is as sleekly simple as its title, so
Kindred: The Embraced is knottily mystifying. This much can be
ascertained. San Francisco harbors a quintet of vampire tribes: The
Ventrue (savvy aristos), The Brujah (thuggish mobsters), The Gangrels
(model-handsome punks), The Nosferatu (the oldest and most traditionally
vampire-like), and The Torreadors (arty types). Together, they form The
Kindred, and for a human to have blood withdrawn by any of them is to be
Kindred is The Godfather soaked in blood. The vampires' chief opponents
are one another (war between the clans breaks out) and a human cop played
by C. Thomas Howell (see box on page 66). As a protagonist, Howell is
hopelessly lightweight; he's the biggest name in the cast, yet you want
someone to sink fangs into his neck ASAP. Far more appealing is the
elegant, intelligent prince of the Ventrue, Julian Luna (Mark Frankel).
This "boss of all bosses" tries to keep the peace among The Kindred even
as he's being drawn romantically to a human reporter (Kelly Rutherford)
whom he knows he should not, um, embrace.
Both Kindred's Frankel and Profit's Pasdar are stage-trained actors who
bring two distinctive brands of menace to the small screen. They're
playing heavies, but sympathetically. If Profit has the edge right now,
it's because its antihero is such an instant gas. But I wouldn't be
surprised if the dense allure of Kindred, notwithstanding Howell, proves
equally habit-forming. Profit: A Kindred: A-