Note: Plot spoilers for first episode (already aired).

QUOI’ve been shooting off my mouth for two years that Americans are ready for a detective procedural that’s fun.TE
Eyes creator John McNamara, AP (29 March 2005)

Trusting Dave the way I did, maybe… maybe I deserve to lose everything.
— Client Bob Kagan (Graham Beckel), Pilot

ABC’s sudden claim to two must-see nights of television (Sundays and Wednesdays), makes you wonder what marvelous drug was in the execs’ water cooler during last pilot season. How did the down-on-its-luck network manage to discern and give viewers just what they wanted with Desperate Housewives and Lost?

As the 30 March debut of Eyes — a tale of high-tech PIs with loose morals — makes clear, the alphabet net didn’t reinvent the wheel this season. Instead, its recent success represents one damn good haul at the annual TV swap meet. Everything old can be new again, if you tweak it just enough, and so, picking and choosing from the ghosts of television past, the network greenlit soaps in a rainbow of hues, among them fantasy (Lost), satire (Desperate Housewives), exaggerated interpersonal realism (life as we know it), quirky spinoff (Boston Legal), and hospital angst (Grey’s Anatomy.

The brainchild of John McNamara, who created Profit (a short-lived critics’ darling back in 1996) and Fastlane, Eyes also offers something to fit this list: hyper-cool crime-solving. Here McNamara again explores a moral grey area, filling his canvas with outsider investigators, treacherous acts and pages of banter.

Tim Daly stars as Harlan Judd, a guy who’s good in the room — any room, actually — because he’s never without a smartass quip. Even Leslie Town (Laura Leighton), his frustrated attorney, is momentarily entertained: “I can already tell you’re that rarity, a fun client.” Harlan owns Judd Risk Management: He and his team recover large sums of money by any means necessary (disguises, surveillance, the old-school bluff). At the moment, however, the business is in trouble. Harlan’s being sued for $2 million, and he’s too broke to settle.

Incredulous, Leslie points out that his company had billings of $17 million last year. But startup costs wiped him out, he says. “We’re hemorrhaging six-figure salaries. Hardware’s obsolete every other Tuesday.” And does she know how much bottled water costs? One employee insists on a special brand. “It’s like $1.70 a bottle. Five a day. That’s just him. Do the math.” Though Harlan seems constitutionally incapable of taking anything seriously, the strain is starting to show. The office is buzzing with rumors that they’re going under, or that Harlan is selling the firm, and when new client Bob Kagan (Graham Beckel) turns up, Harlan lowballs JRM’s bid in his desperation to get the job. “You need this job bad, don’t you?” Kagan says.

The firm is full of old pros — including gorgeous, chameleon-like Nora Gage (Garcelle Beauvais-Nilon) and best pal Chris Didion (Rick Worthy) — but to cut costs they also bring in college kids for some clever grunt work (mounting shredded documents so a computer program can scan and reassemble them) and reassign Meg Bardo (A.J. Langer) from alphabetizing the photo library to accompanying Harlan on surveillance. Military-trained, Meg can’t stop calling Harlan “sir” — he says he’s not sure if he likes it, but his grin shows otherwise.

In addition to introducing the principals, Eyes’ pilot seamlessly reveals and ends an intra-office extramarital affair (in a steamy sex scene telegraphed by two bare feet squeaking down a car’s fogged back windshield) and introduces and resolves two investigations (including the Kagan case) while setting several other mysteries in motion. Chief among these is Harlan’s certainty that there’s a mole in his office, planted by his former boss, Clay Burgess (Gregg Henry), who also engineered the suit against Harlan. As he tells Leslie, “There’s always a story under the story.” Treachery is the norm, not the exception here — a fact underscored when Nora is (seemingly) revealed to viewers as the mole.

Will Harlan find out? Does he already know? Viewers can’t be sure, which is part of the fun. “Trust no one” is a familiar TV refrain, but Eyes makes betrayal feel fresh all over again.