THE SERIES "Agent X"

WHEN | WHERE Premieres Sunday, Nov. 8, at 9 p.m. on TNT

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Newly elected Vice President Natalie Maccabee (Sharon Stone) is handed a mysterious key by President Eckhart (John Shea). But what does it open? Surely not the liquor cabinet in the veep's official residence. Then she learns its dark, thrilling secret: It opens a door to a veritable Bat Cave, wherein is stored the original copy of the Constitution, which includes a little-known amendment. Her trusted chief steward, Malcolm Millar (Gerald McRaney), says this gives the veep special use of the greatest secret agent ever, simply referred to as Agent X (Jeff Hephner). Chief Justice Caleb Thorne (James Earl Jones) counsels her on how to use X: "In times of crisis, we take our hatchets and bury them into the backs of our real enemies!"

MY SAY Even with 35 years in show business -- her first on-screen role in "Stardust Memories" was simply credited as "Pretty Girl on Train" -- Sharon Stone has never been a lead in a prime-time series until now. Instead, it's mostly been big screen all the way, and a legendary run along the way, too: "Casino," "Total Recall" and, of course, "Basic Instinct," yielding one of the iconic naughty images in screen history. But the siren song of TV is loud and persuasive: Come hither, big star! Lots of great roles, potentially great series!

What could possibly have been the song of "Agent X" -- actually more a squalling cat in the night than a "song?" It is breathtakingly inept.

Either that or subversively brilliant: A send-up of every mawkish cliche, idiotic plot twist or ludicrous splatter of dialogue that's propped up every preposterous secret agent thriller since "Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever" (and beyond). This could be what's going on, by the way -- a comedy, or satire, or modern day "Get Smart" or "Police Academy" so subtle, so incisive that it defies the cloddish sensibilities of TV critics.  

advertisement | advertise on newsday

If not that, then what?  

What went wrong? Let's take the high road: What's actually right here? Well, Stone looks fabulous, as always -- while speaking every line, making every entrance, doing every double-take as if the fate of the Free World were on the line. The casting director deserves kudos too, by not only luring solid pros like Hephner and Shea, but certifiable legends like McRaney and Jones as well.

My hunch is that they all may be having second thoughts by this point, or having that long talk with their agent -- their new one.

BOTTOM LINE Awful...or genius. Still not sure which but my hunch is the former as oppposed to the latter. 

GRADE D