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TELEVISION REVIEW

In 'Saved,' he rescues others but not himself

Ready to pick up yet another medical series, after a long season of ``Grey's Anatomy," ``House," and, for the diehards, ``ER"? Put on your rubber gloves and sample TNT's ``Saved," which premieres tonight at 10 after ``The Closer." Tom Everett Scott and his character, a gonzo paramedic addicted to high-risk situations, make it worth taking one more heart-defibrillating, chest-pounding ride.

Scott is best known as the Tom Hanks - y kid from ``That Thing You Do," and then from his stint as Abby's damaged brother on ``ER." His vital, star-making turn in ``Saved" comes as a surprise, as it makes his earlier work seem muted by comparison. He's a force to reckon with as Wyatt Cole, a paramedic and gambler who's $10,000 in debt and wouldn't have it any other way. Wyatt's on a mission to foil the straight expectations of his surgeon father, played with judgmental irritation by David Clennon (yep, Miles Drentell of ``thirtysomething" with a scalpel). Dad scorns his son's paramedic career and pressures him to become an MD, but that sounds like a safe hell to Wyatt.

And so Wyatt savors every blow of his unmoored life -- including a bloody beating ordered by a loan shark -- if only because it lowers him in his father's esteem.

``Saved" bears one great similarity to ``The Closer," which airs before it at 9. ``The Closer" isn't special because it's such an extraordinary crime drama, although it does have its wily moments. It's a kick because of Kyra Sedgwick and her character, neurotic Southern belle Brenda Johnson.

Likewise, ``Saved" depends on Scott and his broken hero for its distinction as a medical drama. Scott makes Wyatt into an overgrown high school kid who usually has a crazed grin on his face and an ironic comment at the ready. He's most fully alive in a state of emergency, when he's saving an overdosing crack addict or saving himself from more rejection by his former girlfriend (Elizabeth Reaser). One look into his wide-open eyes and you immediately know who he is, and that he'll always have a spiky comeback at the ready.

In ``Saved," Scott approaches Denis Leary's similarly razor-edged turn in ``Rescue Me"; he has never seemed so present.

Wyatt's partner, Sack (Omari Hardwick), also loves a fast ride, but he's less turned on by its destructive impact on his family life, which is a post-divorce shambles. As Sack and Wyatt rush around Portland, Ore., they have a believable buddy connection -- they bust each other as a form of caring, and they know when to quit. The black-white buddy thing has become a TV and movie cliche, with its predictable racial jabbing, but it works here because of the naturalism of the actors. After a DUI crash victim dies, Wyatt voices the despair that bonds them: ``We're not paramedics, we're garbage men."

What works less well in ``Saved" are the medical crises that Sack and Wyatt respond to. They bring a woman through labor (singing ``Every Breath You Take" along with her husband), they try to save the nephew of crack addicts from a burning building. It's pretty conventional ``stat!" stuff.

But on the plus side, ``Saved" doesn't strain to invent newfangled injuries, like too many medical and crime dramas, including ``ER," which is never afraid to stick an antenna through an ear to make us sit up and pay attention. Also, when the medics arrive at a call, ``Saved" gives us seconds-long montages of each victim's relevant history -- the pregnant woman, for instance, whom we see in a blur of fertility-issue scenarios. The life-flashes are an arty touch, but they're effective.

I don't want to oversell ``Saved," especially since later episodes may not fulfill the pilot's promise. There's so much that could go wrong with this show, particularly if the scripts try to make us like Wyatt too much, or if they overdo his gambling problem. If this hero loses his crazy cool, the show could easily flatline, just like all the poor wretches who meet their end in the back of his ambulance.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at gilbert@globe.com.

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