Quentin, Quentin, Quentin. Le Tarantino deserves a solid nod -- some would say a slug -- for continuing to cast his cool over crime TV. Not only did the director-writer-actor-stooge pave the way for the nonchalant bloodiness of ''CSI," he turned tough-guy banter into a pop quiz. Both cops and crooks are now obliged to prove they can get their geek on mid-crime, musing about the likes of Sid Vicious and Mother Teresa while alarms and sirens wail.
Tonight at 10, two new crime series go Tarantino on the masses. NBC's ''Heist" and ABC's ''The Evidence" have ''Pulp Fiction" and ''Reservoir Dogs" in their DNA. In the heavily promoted ''Heist," on Channel 7, those influences add a lightness and giddy amorality that makes thievery a game. The show is a caper movie about a single robbery that's spread across 13 episodes. In ''The Evidence," on Channel 5, the Tarantino touches are more slavish, as ABC tries to contrive a ''Law & Order" that will draw younger viewers. Alas, ''The Evidence" has the hip flair of Sam Waterston in bell-bottoms.
Interestingly, both series put interracial buddies at the fore, just as Tarantino did in ''Pulp Fiction," with John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson chatting about
''Heist" is the better of the dramas. Directed by Doug Liman, who displayed Tarantino leanings in ''Go" and action-suspense vitality in ''The Bourne Identity," the show has some blackly comic sensibility. That means its criminals, who also include a slick veteran (Seymour Cassel) and a horny goofball (David Walton), are funny and loyal despite their corruption. They fit right into the trendlet of the TV midseason, ''honor among thieves," where we root for the bad guys who live up to their own codes. AMC's sparkling ''Hustle" also turns cons into impressive professionals, while FX's brooding ''Thief," due next week with Andre Braugher, makes its sneaky hero a family man.
Before the ''Heist" gang puts the moves on Rodeo Drive, which will be swimming in jewels as celebrities plan their Oscar fashions, they perform warm-ups. Tonight, they gather for the first time, with James insisting everyone call him James: ''Never Jim, never Jimmy, and never ever Jimbo." Then they decide to knock off a bank to fund their big project. Also, Mickey begins to flirt up a cop, Amy (Michele Hicks), to keep an eye on her.
Indeed, ''Heist" keeps a steady eye on the cops, using their ethical shortcomings as a counterpoint to the crooks. Amy is driven to catch criminals, but then we see her shoplifting from a market. The moral compass is also undependable when it comes to the other cops, including a black man (Reno Wilson) and his racist white partner (Billy Gardell), who says, ''This is just like 'Lethal Weapon,' except I actually do hate you."
The problem: It's not clear how the show is going to spend the 13 episodes leading up to its big theft, which could net the thieves nearly half a billion dollars. ''Heist" promises to have the ongoing narrative of ''Prison Break" or ''24," but tonight's hour is self-standing and not particularly well plotted. Still, it's worth keeping an eye on the show, in case it finds somewhere to go that's both intricate and unusual.
''The Evidence," which replaces ''Invasion" in ABC's 10 p.m. slot until April 19, when that show returns, goes somewhere all too predictable. This is a formulaic procedural drama in which the victim dies and the writers spring a few red herrings on us and on the cops before the resolution. The gimmick here is that we see the evidence from the murder case at the beginning of the episode, then watch as the items -- tonight they include a bloody cellphone and a locket -- appear in the course of the investigation.
''The Evidence" also delves into Sean's background, as we learn that his wife was murdered and that he's still obsessed with her. Estes is slightly more effective when he's goofing around with Jones than when he's grieving, but it all feels inessential. This is painting by numbers, even if it's on the same network that has invigorated TV with ''Lost" and ''Grey's Anatomy."