Medium Cool 

NBC's "Medium" makes network TV watchable.

Every episode goes pretty much the same way. Allison (Patricia Arquette) has a dream she can't understand. Sometimes she's dressed as Little Red Riding Hood and being chased through an airport by a wolf. Often she rolls over only to find some stiff who wants a chat. And then she wakes up next to her quite-alive husband, Joe (Jake Weber, the cad-in-chief on "The Mind of the Married Man").

And then she gets out of bed and solves a mystery.

Allison was attending law school, but the strange gift she'd successfully drowned in alcohol since childhood has led her to a hush-hush position with the Phoenix, Ariz., district attorney's office. Her boss, Manuel Devalos (Miguel Sandoval), dearly hopes that no defense attorney discovers how he's clearing so many difficult cases all of a sudden.

At home, Allison and Joe struggle with the usual hassles of a two-career couple — shuttling the kids between school and extracurriculars, making dinner and finding time for each other. The last is getting to Joe.

Though Joe's almost unflap-pably supportive, his good nature is starting to flag as Allison spends ever more time finding bodies and interrogating suspects. He claims it's her powers he's not comfortable with, but over the past few episodes, that's started to sound increasingly hollow. You get the feeling he'd be pretty thrilled to come home and have dinner waiting and is just hoping Allison will read his mind.

But she can't do that. In fact, there are a lot of things Allison can't do, like understand exactly what her visions mean. In a recent episode, she kept "seeing" Joe dirty dancing with another woman and drove herself to distraction as he started staying late at work. At the end of the episode, Joe performs the Heimlich maneuver on a stranger — Allison's vision viewed with a wider lens.

Arquette is terrific at conveying Allison's growing sense of pride at finally getting a job after raising their girls for so long and her general discomfort with this whole business. Her boss can't acknowledge her contributions to cases and has started asking her to lie, which she doesn't like, and now her daughter Bridget is starting to join the family business, having made friends with a dead boy at her school.

What's great about "Medium," though, is the pleasure it takes in reliable dramatic rhythms. Allison foresees the case ahead. While untangling her visions, she overcomes setbacks foisted on her by slippery defendants, reluctant witnesses and hardened criminals. There's usually a false first climax, followed by a heart-pounding chase that hearkens back to her original dream. And then a soft goodnight as she and Joe try to get a little alone time.

The writing's believable — well, to the extent that it makes you feel like you'd probably react the same way as Allison and Joe were you in their position. And knowing that there is a real Allison DuBois upon whom the show is based adds another frisson of reality. When it comes to good, solid network fare, "Medium" is very well done. S

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