Tuesday, August 5, 2008

What I'll Be Watching This Year: Drama...

Christian Slater has only one facial expression. His eyebrows are permanently arched in a slightly questioning yet slightly sinister gaze; he has a five o’clock shadow that no pancake makeup ever seems to hide; and his eyes are dark and brooding, appearing beady and almost dead without the proper glint from three-point lighting. Yet NBC’s My Own Worst Enemy (Monday nights at 9pm) have him playing two very distinct men: Henry, the slightly dippy family man living in pre-fab suburbia, and Edward, a Jason Bourne-esque operative for a secret society. Edward knows about Henry and can use pre-taped computer messages to warn him of impending danger, but Henry (supposedly) doesn’t know about Edward: is he repressing his dark side or jus schizophrenic? Hedward (let’s call him for ease) consults his best friend (played by Mike O’Malley) and a psychiatrist (Saffron Burrows) to try to sort it all out, but he is racing the demons in his own mind at times, as he seemingly has no waning when the inner wall will come down, allowing one to take over their shared body. My Own Worst Enemy is convoluted and limited, mostly due to Slater’s monotone; it is advised to stick with tried-and-trues on Monday nights-- like CSI Miami-- instead.

For those of you not interested in yet another teenage show aimed at the tween set, Tuesday nights promise more than just the new 90210 when it pits newbies The Mentalist on CBS and Fringe on Fox against each other at 9pm. The Mentalist stars Simon Baker and seems to want to capitalize on the “psychic” fame of Medium or Ghost Whisperer, even though it points out no less than four times in the pilot that the lead character is “not [a psychic; he’s] just paying attention.” Baker is said lead character who works as a private investigator to help the police force solve crimes. Fringe is the newest slightly surreal episodic from J.J. Abrams, centering on an FBI agent who is forced to work with a slightly rogue scientist in order to get a handle on some odd phenomena. Both shows offer the male-female partner dynamic which begs the question of potential romantic hook-ups down the road, but Fringe focuses more on the female’s point of view and therefore might bring in that women demographic that has stayed away from FBI shows since Profiler. Both shows exhibit potential, with Fringe inching out The Mentalist—if you don’t mind the “give a little, take a lot back” reveal of information that Abrams became famous for on Lost-- but both also come up short, feeling like less-developed copycats of already existing television dramas.

Wednesday nights have the new Knight Rider at 8 on NBC, but a flashy, kitschy version of an old campy program can’t match the draw of ABC’s quirky hit Pushing Daisies (especially with Will Arnett being replaced as the voice of K.I.T.T.!). This updated but not really rejuvenated version is like The Fast & The Furious meets Transformers, with K.I.T.T. being the main attraction over pretty people Justin Bruening and Sydney Tamila Poitier. Where Knight Rider tries to rope in the YouTube generation by featuring frenetic energy, sophisticated technology, and high-grades weapons systems and chase sequences, Pushing Daisies is much more a character drama and deals with the intricacies (and often hypocrisies) of interpersonal relationships. It is much more the “thinking” viewer’s show, but it is also of much higher quality. Knight Rider relies on its high-octane to drive (no pun intended) its performance and assumes (or at least hopes) some of the more ridiculous or “out there” moments are glossed over.

With the emergence of Eleventh Hour at 10pm, Jerry Bruckheimer and CBS are planning to keep their hold on Thursday nights for a long, long time. Based on a British miniseries, Bruckheimer’s version stars Rufus Sewell as Dr. Jacob Hood, a biophysicist who gets recruited by the FBI to investigate scientific oddities in the very final moments prior to losing jurisdiction and the chance to save dozens of people from nefarious plans. Marley Shelton is the agent assigned to watch out for Hood, and the two have the will-they-or-won’t-they chemistry made famous by Mulder and Scully (The X-Files) and Benson and Stabler (Law & Order: SVU), which is just tired now after so many variations and copycats. Overall, though, Eleventh Hour feels a bit forced—and faked—as Hood is an even more absolute force than Gil Grissom (CSI), and a lot of what he happens upon just feels too “convenient.” Eleventh Hour is definitely not worth a look over ABC’s Life on Mars (also at 10pm), which sends an NYPD detective (Jason O’Mara) back in time to the pre-digital age of the 1970s and paired up with a rough-around-the-edges old school cop (Michael Imperioli). Life on Mars is a period piece but a cop drama at its heart, and it only uses its gimmicky time period to further the serialized story aspects (for example, back then women on the force had to be a part of a special bureau and could only perform menial, desk tasks). But overall, it is doubtful if either of these shows will stick around too long considering the sheer number of similar programs already successful on-air. Most viewers will probably opt to just stick with what’s established—what’s known and comfortable—instead of giving these new guys a shot because really, how many crime dramas do we need??

We do, however, need a new legal show with only Boston Legal still around and on its last legs, and starting on Labor Day, we will be given just that, as Steven Bochco and Mark Paul Gosselaar team up once again for Raising The Bar. Now, I've already written about this show before, and I think it's worth a look not only because it has the potential to return the law trend to our televisions, but also simply because of said star, who, despite his long, dark hair, is still quite the heartthrob. It will be fun to watch him argue his points in court against some hotshot power attorney and then turn around and (probably... knowing Bochco) have angry hate sex with her in the next scene.

For those that choose to stay home on Friday nights, NBC has Crusoe at 8pm, a spin on the classic tale of Robinson Crusoe that is a fun, fantastical journey for the whole family. Philip Winchester is the title lead, co-starring with Sean Bean and Sam Neill as part of the extended family with whom the isolated adventurer dreams of being reunited. The show is set years after Crusoe is a castaway, but it utilizes flashbacks to incorporate plenty of action and interaction with other cast members. Ultimately, though, this version of Crusoe gets a bit darker and simultaneously duller (quite a difficult feat!) as the season goes on, and with so many tuning in expecting the light-hearted kid’s tale of years past, it may not last long.

Put the kids to bed at 9 and flip over to CBS for The Ex-List. Full of relative unknowns like Elizabeth Reaser, Adam Rothenberg, and Alex Breckenridge, The Ex-List is also a one part fantastical drama, revolving on a single woman in her 30s (Bella Bloom) who visits a psychic only to learn she has already had a relationship with the man she is meant to be with. Though she is a bit skeptical, she is also curious enough to revisit past men in an attempt to make it work—but more often just comes away remembering why they broke up in the first place. In a way, The Ex-List is the female version of How I Met Your Mother, and watching the dating journey program from the comfort of your own living room offers a nice alternative to encountering similar relationships in the the bars and clubs every Friday night.

Though the dramatic options have been a bit disappointing, tomorrow I’ll take a look at what’s new in reality shows—and those results might surprise you— so be sure to come back to find out why!


Amanda said...

Fringe really disappointed me, TBQH. I didn't even make it all the way through The Mentalist, and considerig Simon Baker is the star...that's saying something.

I can't think of a single new show off the top of my head that actually excites me (apart from Dollhouse, but that's a given).

Kate, Dating in LA said...

So, The Mentalist sounds like a dramatic version of Psych and Fringe sounds like X-Files: The Remake. I'm willing to give them a shot, but especially with Fringe, I think I'll spend the entire time yearning for Mulder and Scully.