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TELEVISION REVIEW

This town gives you the creeps

David Morrissey is one in a neighborhood of recovering criminals and informants in Showtime's "Meadowlands." (ecosse films/showtime)

When "The Sopranos" ended -- or should I say stopped? -- those rooting for Soprano redemption-by-Witness-Protection were left cold. But "Meadowlands" and Showtime are there for those disappointed souls beginning Sunday at 10 p.m., giving a whole town of recovering criminals and informants a second chance at sunny suburban bliss.

This invitingly bizarre new series, a co production between Showtime and the U K 's Channel 4, asks whether a community of black sheep can follow a new path and improve its karma. Can cold-blooded killers and mob rats learn to keep their subdivision lawns edged and green? Or, like gay Vito on "The Sopranos" trying to make it after all in pastoral New Hampshire, are they driven to repeat the past?

The answer to the question looks something like "Twin Peaks," "Oz," "Lost," and "Weeds," another Showtime series that subverts normalcy in homes shaped like little boxes. Meadowlands is the tarnished utopia where people in government custody are kept separate from the real world and monitored, reality-TV-like, on hidden cameras. It's the only place these relocated wrongdoers are safe, thus the peaceful name; and yet the confinement gnaws and pries at them. Despite their new names and invented histories, and despite Big Brother's unblinking eye, dirty old secrets emerge. "Fiction, not fact, eh?" Danny Brogan strongly urges his wife, Evelyn, upon their arrival at their new life. "It's a good habit to get into."

We don't know exactly what has brought Danny (David Morrissey), Evelyn (Lucy Cohu), and their 17-year-old twins Mark (Harry Treadaway) and Zoe (Felicity Jones) to Meadowlands, but Danny's paranoia and flashbacks to a house fire make it clear the Brogans will be murdered if they leave. As Danny and Evelyn struggle to focus ahead, and consider having another child, Zoe is prepared to act out her frustration sexually and the alienated Mark refuses to speak. Indeed, a Brogan family change-up will not be easy. Looking like a mix of Edward Scissorhands and Jack White of the White Stripes, Mark wears women's clothing and begins a silent game of sexual peekaboo with middle-age neighbor Brenda (Melanie Hill).

Into the Brogan tinderbox comes Caliban in the form of Jack Donnelly (Tom Hardy), a fix-it man who despoils women with his leering eyes. He sets the Brogan home on fire figuratively, as he and Zoe flirt and Danny puts a stop to it. Jack is brimming with overt creepiness, panting like an animal; the family doctor, David (Tristan Gemmill), is more subtly and effectively creepy, as he tries to seduce Evelyn with pretty words and the occasional inappropriate comment. David looks like a centered romantic hero, but like everyone in Meadowlands, he is probably a big fat fraud.

Despite all the promise of its premise about the changeability of self, "Meadowlands" never quite rises to excellence. Showtime has built a roster of memorable series with "Dexter," "Weeds," "Brotherhood," and "Sleeper Cell," but I don't think "Meadowlands" will join them, as its tone falters after the first episode. The show begins with the enticing conspiracy-mystery intrigue of "Lost," as the Brogans are greeted by neighbors with too much familiarity. Questions of behavioral experimentation loom. And that vibe twists beautifully into camp by the end of the hour, in a party sequence that recalls the divine comedy of John Waters.

But instead of keeping this kind of culty material in play, the writers dive into a conventional murder plot that emerges in episode 2 and the potential for humor fades. As the uneasy and distinctive social comedy gives way to torturous interrogation scenes and plot illogic, "Meadowlands" loses important points on the specialness meter. Alas, it becomes another cable also-ran.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at gilbert@globe.com. For more on TV, visit boston.com/ae/tv/blog/.

'Related'

Meadowlands

Starring: David Morrissey, Lucy Cohu, Harry Treadaway, Felicity Jones, Ralph Brown, Tom Hardy, Nina Sosanya

On: Showtime

Time: Sunday night, 10-11

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