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Monday, February 27, 2012

Winter TV Review

Remember the old days when TV shows debuted in the fall and ran through the spring?  Well, for better or worse, those days are gone.  These days, cable and premium channels produce shows with short seasons consisting of eight to ten episodes.  They start and stop throughout the year.  And the broadcast networks have no patience for shows that get off to sluggish starts in the ratings.  Those shows are removed from the air and replaced in the winter.  As I did in the fall, I did my best to check out a good number of the new winter offerings.  Here are my thoughts.

Alcatraz.  FOX.  Mondays at 9:00.  The premise of this show is that on the night before the famous prison was scheduled to close in 1963, three hundred prisoners and forty guards vanished into thin air.  Now the inmates and guards are reappearing in modern day San Francisco.  Sam Neil leads a secret task force as they try to locate and track down the 63s before they can wreak havoc on the city.  Each episode stands alone as the characters deal with a particular 63 that has reappeared.  The continuing story line is trying to figure out why the 63s vanished, where they've been and who is behind the mystery.  Unfortunately, we may never get to learn those answers.  I really liked this show and look forward to it every week.  I thought that Sarah Jones was especially engaging in her role as a young SFPD detective with family ties to The Rock in 1963.  But, apparently my tastes are  in the minority.  Alcatraz is almost certainly getting canceled at the end of the season.

Luck.  HBO.  Sundays at 9:00.  This is a very gritty series about thoroughbred horse racing.  The action centers around Santa Anita Park.  Virtually all elements of the sport are represented.  Gamblers, casino owners, trainers, jockeys and even vets.  The cast is what initially drew me in to check out the pilot in December.  Dustin Hoffman headlines a group that includes, John Ortiz, Dennis Farina, Jill Hennessy, Nick Nolte and real-life jockey Gary Stevens.  David Milch, the series creator, considers himself to be an avid horse racing fan and describes the series as a "love letter" to the sport.  But, Luck's portrayal of the industry is anything but romantic.  Luck spends a lot of time focusing on the darker aspects of life at the track.  As you'd expect from a show with an HBO budget and only ten episodes required per season, Luck is beautifully shot.  The main criticism I've heard about the show is that the dialogue and some plot points are difficult to follow.  For me, this show is sort of like a car wreck.  Even if you want to, it's hard to look away.  I will continue watching this show, but I cannot give it a ringing endorsement since it is definitely not edifying to the spirit.  Luck has been renewed for ten more episodes to start in January of 2013.

The River.  ABC.  Tuesdays at 9:00.  This show was advertised heavily before it's premier in early February.  ABC was apparently trying to catch the mysterious magic of Lost while working in some supernatural scares.  The show is about a documentary crew searching for a missing crew member in the Amazon.  As such, it is shot in a first person, Blair Witch type style.  I really wanted to like this show.  But, after three episodes, I cut it out of my DVR rotation.  I think that the nature of network television stripped away the intensity required to be truly frightening, and none of the characters were compelling or likable.  That's not a winning combination.  I'm not the only person who was disenchanted by The River.  It is likely to be canceled at the end of the season.

Touch.  FOX.  Mondays at 9:00.  A one hour series preview aired at the end of January.  That episode can still be watched online at the show's website.  Touch will begin airing regularly on March 19, 2012.  This show brings 24 star Keifer Sutherland back to FOX.  That is reason enough to tune in.  But, if you need to know more, this show has an interesting and unique premise.  Sutherland plays the father of a mute, autistic boy.  The boy somehow senses when disaster or tragedy is about to strike.  The boy then uses numbers and codes to communicate this information to his father.  I watched the premier and will definitely watch the show when it begins showing regularly.

Smash.  NBC.  Mondays at 10:00.  This is an unusual show.  At least unusual for me since I'm not part of the Glee following.  The show is about the writers, producers, director and actors who are trying to put together a new Broadway musical about Marilyn Monroe.  In addition to the singing and dancing that is part of the play itself, there are other musical numbers scattered throughout the show.  NBC clearly wanted this show to be a success.  They advertised it during almost every Super Bowl commercial break.  Critics seem to like the show, but the ratings have been steadily falling since the premier.  Right now, Smash is teetering on the brink of cancelation.  I have not decided what I think abut Smash, yet.  But, I will stick with it for a few more weeks, and I think NBC should, too.

The Firm.  NBC.  Saturdays at 9:00.  True to the Grisham roots, this show is about a Harvard-educated lawyer who passed on a high-dollar salary to open his own firm where he defends the poor and downtrodden.  Mixed in with the weekly fight for justice is an ongoing plot line concerning organized crime and an unsolved murder.  I like this show.  It's interesting, but it's light enough that viewing remains purely a leisure activity.  The Firm is not set to be renewed for another season, but it seems to be structured in a way that can come to a satisfying end this spring.

Missing.  Debuts on ABC on March 15.  It stars Ashely Judd and Sean Bean.  And it involves international spies and a kidnapping.  What else could we ask for?

Awake.  NBC.  Thursdays at 10:00.  The series premier will be broadcast on TV on March 1, but the pilot is available to view in it's entirety at the show's website.  This show has a lot of promise.  In the opening scene, Detective Britten rolls his car with his wife and son inside.  Then his reality splits.  In one reality, his son is dead.  In the other his wife is dead.  All the while, Detective Britten continues to solve crimes in both realities.  The pilot was excellent.  It looked good.  The story was good.  And the acting was good.  Hopefully, the plot won't get too confusing to keep track of on a week to week basis.  This has the possibility of being the best new show of this year ... fall or winter.