They take from bank vaults mostly, working undetected, until one day they are spotted stealing from the Chinese mafia, one of their own gets greedy and deviates from the objective and Nick\'s home life with his new wife (Dina Myer) and her daughter Tammi (Mae Whitman, \"Arrested Development\") is tragically turned upside down. All of this threatens their biggest score yet: stealing 40 million government dollars from the belly of a passenger plane 30,000 feet in the air.
After finding success with over-the-top dramas \"Nip/Tuck\", \"The Shield\" and \"Rescue Me\", the patented FX absurdity gets dialed down in \"Thief\". My first instinct is to rate the show lower than it probably deserves. I\'m so used to FX jumping in my face that it requires us to plug \"Thief\" back in with the rest of the network dramas to see how good it really is. A more methodical character-driven drama taking us inside a criminal organization than a white-knuckle crime thriller, \"Thief\" is the most like HBO\'s \"The Sopranos\" than anything else on the line-up. There is even a gruesomely clever torture sequence involving Linda Hamilton and a long thread of firecracker cable in here.
In the thief crime sub-genre that also includes this year\'s profoundly lame NBC/Doug Liman project \"Heist\", \"Thief\" does it as well as I\'ve seen, but at the same time it doesn\'t break out of the genre. It doesn\'t have its own unique voice. The show plays it surprisingly safe, unfolding its story crisply and more than competently, but also without any big surprises, twists or turns. It goes where it needs to go, using characters that it needs to get there, but little more.
Ironically, what we all came here to see, the big heist, fails to generate as much excitement as the show\'s apparent B-story - which involves the impossibly trying relationship between Nick and stepdaughter Tammi. This family dynamic is usually a tack-on story networks use to bring in a larger demographic and yet here it is played out with electrifying results. Braugher we already know as one of TV\'s most talented actors who can\'t get a break (more on him later), but Whitman is a real discovery. She plays this with a heart-breaking emotional realism well beyond her years. You\'d imagine it would be tough to steal the show from Andre Braugher, but Whitman does it. The scenes between the two of them are emotional fireworks.
It is Tammi\'s story that moved me the most and that is the one where we actually feel the most is at stake even though it has nothing to do with Chinese assassins and mid-air heists. Fortunately, the show knows what it has and Witman\'s story is folded nicely into the main story without a missed beat.
The other thing that keeps \"Thief\" compelling is the simple brilliance of Andre Braugher in the lead. The man doesn\'t know the meaning of the word obvious. Nothing is big, nothing is overplayed. It is a quiet, sophisticated, even hypnotic, performance where on the page there could just as easily have been nothing. Braugher has once again created a character that keeps the audience guessing about where his loyalty actually lies: the money, the team, his own code of ethics, his new stepdaughter or his wife. In contrast to Braugher is Michael Rooker as an over-the-top brutal caricature of a cop who screams like he\'d rather be in a broad Stephen Bochco series than in a character drama like this.
Where \"Rescue Me\" and \"Nip/Tuck\" are on fire, \"Thief\" is lukewarm. Even Bochco\'s \"Over There\" was a riskier and more inventive series, before it collapsed on itself. As every storyline races to the end, the show\'s focus gets smaller. There are a lot of irons in the fire, maybe too many, and not a balanced payoff. It would have helped if \"Thief\" fleshed out the rest of the team members a little more, but hopefully that will be something to settle in future seasons. It isn\'t as fully realized and clever as \"The Sopranos\" and doesn\'t have the silently simmering tension of Showtime\'s \"Sleeper Cell\", but \"Thief\" becomes a careful, well-made, visually gorgeous heist series with two spectacular lead performances to keep it moving.