This week's must list: 'Downton Abbey', 'House of Lies', 'Pearl Jam Twenty'
What do a washed-up former action-movie star, an iconic Seattle rock band, ruthless corporate consultants, stuffy British people in the early 20th century, dysfunctional Irish-Catholic families and demonic possession all have in common? Why, every last one is featured on this week's HitFix Must List!
While the first week of the year is essentially a dead zone for quality new movie releases (hence our single, admittedly dubious, theatrical film pick), it's a pretty good one in terms of small-screen fare (which is why most of our choices this week are taken from the small screen). And while "good" only applies to one of our TV picks if the qualifier "so-bad-it's-" is added as a prefix, hey, it's a new year! Let's all have a little fun.
TUESDAY, JAN. 3:
"Pearl Jam Twenty" DVD/Blu-ray [Columbia]
Must Factor: How you view Cameron Crowe's "Pearl Jam Twenty" - a documentary that chronicles the band's enduring career through the use of both new and archival footage and which earlier screened on PBS as part of their "American Masters" series - probably depends on how you feel about the band in question.
Luckily for Crowe, Eddie Vedder and company, HitFix writers Melinda Newman, Alan Sepinwall and In Contention's Kristopher Tapley all more or less count themselves as fans - and while each of their (official or unofficial) reviews vary in level of praise (while Melinda felt it was lacking in some areas, both Alan and Kristopher gave it mostly-glowing notices) - all of them came away with essentially positive impressions. Oh, and Soundgarden frontman/"PJ20" talking head/grunge superstar Chris Cornell also thought it turned out pretty great. He could be biased though. Maybe.
(Note: The DVD and Blu-ray feature 26 minutes worth of never-before-seen bonus features.)
"Pearl Jam Twenty" TIFF press conference featuring Crowe and the band:
WEDNESDAY, JAN. 4:
"Steven Seagal: Lawman" [A&E, 10 PM]
Must Factor: Chide me for including "Lawman" on this week's list if you must, but hey, we're all allowed a guilty pleasure once in awhile aren't we? While Seagal is actually broadening his horizons in the near future with the scripted ReelzChannel series "True Justice" (which is reportedly slated to launch in the spring), starting tonight you can catch the third-season premiere of the bloated action star's too-good-to-be-true reality show, which has since moved locations from Jefferson County Parish, Louisiana to Arizona.
Of course, in true Steven Seagal form, legal trouble continues to follow him wherever the show sets up shop, with season two's sexual harassment allegations (later dropped) giving way to season three's contention by an Arizona man that Seagal and his crew were responsible for killing an 11-month-old puppy. I admit that's screwed up, but unintentionally-funny reality TV still doesn't get much better than "Lawman".
FRIDAY, JAN. 6:
"The Devil Inside" [Paramount]
Must Factor: While it may look a lot like 2010's "The Last Exorcism" in its faux-doc approach to a story about demonic possession, "The Devil Inside" is actually...well, a blatant "Last Exorcism" coattail-rider directed by the man who brought us the craptastic 2006 video-game horror movie "Stay Alive".
Nevertheless, aren't you tired of all those weepy, "important" awards-baity dramas anywy? It's early January, the time of year when you don't have to feel ashamed to shell out ten bucks for second-rate genre fare. Hey, maybe it'll even turn out to be kinda good! Or not. But maybe!
SUNDAY, JAN. 7:
"Downton Abbey" [PBS, 9 PM]
Must Factor: One of HitFix's most-anticipated 2012 TV premieres is the season-two opener of the ITV period drama series (or, according to the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, miniseries) "Downton Abbey", which debuts on PBS tonight.
In fact, the series has been received pretty well by HitFix staffers overall, making both Dan Fienberg's Top 10 shows of 2011 list as well as Alan Sepinwall's Top 10 new TV shows of 2011 countdown (though his praise was more reserved than Dan's, both in his end-of-year commentary and in his initial review). In any event, fans of "upstairs, downstairs"-type fare will probably find a lot to like here.
"Shameless" [Showtime, 9 PM]
Must Factor: Another of HitFix's most-anticipated 2012 TV premieres is Showtime's drama/black comedy series "Shameless", which is back tonight for its Season 2 debut. Starring William H. Macy as the alcoholic patriarch of a dysfunctional brood, the show made both Dan Fienberg's "second Top 10" of 2011 list as well as Alan Sepinwall's Top 10 new shows of 2011 (though like "Downton Abbey", Alan tempered his inclusion of the show on his list with some fairly strong reservations).
Both critics, however, could agree on one thing - the pitch-perfect performance of Emmy Rossum as eldest daughter Fiona Gallagher. Indeed, was enough to land the actress on our list of the Top 25 Breakout Stars of 2011 back in November.
The Gallagher family wishes you "Happy Holidays":
"House of Lies" [Showtime, 10 PM]
Must Factor: Yet another of our most-anticipated TV premieres of 2012 comes in the form of Showtime's new half-hour comedy series "House of Lies" starring Don Cheadle, in which the versatile silver-screen actor plays Marty, a cutthroat management consultant working for a top-tier firm who will stop at nothing to get the job done.
If the premise sounds a little harsh, hey, it's an original cable series - a less-than-likable protagonist is just part of the package. Kristen Bell stars opposite Cheadle in her first series-regular role since "Veronica Mars" ended back in 2007, joining cast-mates Dawn Olivieri ("True Blood"), Ben Schwartz ("Parks and Recreation") and Aussie thesp Josh Lawson (ABC's short-lived comedy series "Romantically Challenged"). Heck, it's a great cast, and as long as you're watching the "Shameless" premiere you might as well stay tuned for an extra half-hour in order to check it out.