April 29, 2002 12:00 PM

CBS (Sun. and Tues., April 28 and 30, 9 p.m. ET)

When I heard Ted Danson would be playing medium James Van Praagh in this miniseries, I had a disturbing vision of Becker Sees Dead People. “Leave me alone, ya stupid stiff,” the irascible doctor snaps to a friendly specter. Oooh, scary.

In truth, the actor ranges far from his sitcom image in Living with the Dead, which CBS describes as “inspired” by the real-life story of psychic and bestselling author Van Praagh. Danson is highly effective in Part 1 as an outwardly ordinary man confused and frightened by unwanted visions of his late mother (Diane Ladd) and numerous deceased strangers. The drama’s first half is spooky, to be sure, but it has an air of wonder that induces even the skeptical viewer to consider supernatural possibilities.

Unfortunately, the script increasingly turns its attention to a fictional murder investigation in which Danson’s Van Praagh aids a police detective portrayed by the star’s wife, Mary Steenburgen. Part 2 starts to resemble a pilot for a psychicsleuth show, and the ghosts of the serial killer’s victims hound Van Praagh so relentlessly that you wouldn’t blame him for giving them a Becker-style brush-off.

Though Steenburgen walks through her role, Danson gets stronger support from Jack Palance as Van Praagh’s hard-headed father and Queen Latifah as a simpatico friend.

Bottom Line: Medium quality

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