By Terry Kelleher
December 24, 2001 12:00 PM

CBS (Tuesdays, 8 p.m. ET)

With the United States at war and patriotism on the rise, it’s only natural that this durable military drama would be going great guns. That’s the easy explanation for JAG’s decisive leadership in its Tuesday time period. I’d prefer to argue that creative excellence is the real reason for the six-year-old series’ ratings momentum, but it’s probably the snappy salutes and cool jargon. (Fans know not only that the show’s title stands for Judge Advocate General but that the Secretary of the Navy is the “Secnav” and a “gunny” is a gunnery sergeant, not a sack.)

For those joining JAG in progress, Cmdr. “Harm” Rabb (David James Elliott) is a cocky Navy lawyer and a crack pilot. Harm and a fellow lawyer, Marine Lt. Col. “Mac” MacKenzie (Catherine Bell), have yet to resolve their just-short-of-romantic relationship. “I’m so sick of this dance,” Mac said in October after Harm couldn’t quite declare his love. We hear you loud and clear, Colonel.

JAG is most entertaining when Harm and Mac oppose each other in the courtroom, although Cmdr. Sturgis Turner (Scott Lawrence) is a new advocate who can give Harm a good legal battle without the sexual tension. The writers have had only mixed success at incorporating post-Sept. 11 reality into the story lines. A late-November episode suggested that sexist jerks are indispensable to the Marine Corps because their toughness is needed to defeat terrorism. Would it be unpatriotic to enter a mild dissent?

Bottom Line: Passes muster but hold the medals