Last week's pre-empted episode is sweet but not overwhelmingly funny
Boring cases, boring supporting characters and no real separation from regular law shows
Early in the pilot of the new USA series "Fairly Legal" (which debuts tonight at 10), a judge (played by the estimable Gerald McRaney) explains what it is that the show's heroine, Kate Reed (Sarah Shahi) does for a living.
"A mediator is kind of a referee in a game with no rules - except those agreed to by the parties involved," he says, at the start of a monologue listing the sorts of disputes that Kate has mediated over the years.
As I watched the speech, it seemed quite helpful - not to learn what a mediator does (I already knew), but to get an idea of how the "Fairly Legal" creative team were attempting to separate their show, and heroine, from the average legal drama. (Also, if you need someone to deliver bald exposition, might as well have it be Major Dad.)
But as it turned out over the three episodes USA sent out for review (the pilot, a mid-season episode, and the first season finale), what Kate does only occasionally matches up with the judge's speech, and none of her cases are interesting enough to distinguish "Fairly Legal" from the abundance of law shows on TV.
TV's best comedy is on its game in episodes shot last spring
The belated third season premiere of TV's best comedy, "Parks and Recreation" (Thursday at 9:30 p.m. on NBC) opens with Amy Poehler's Leslie Knope facing a huge challenge. The government of Pawnee, Indiana has been shut down for months due to a budget crisis, and when she's finally allowed to return to work, it's without enough money to do anything. So Leslie, who never met a "no" she couldn't turn into at least an "I'll think about it," brings the parks department together and suggests a "go big or go home" project: one that will either save the department or cost everyone their job. And under ridiculous pressure and tight deadlines, Leslie and company begin doing some of their most impressive work ever.
That storyline plays out as a metaphor for how the early part of this season was made. When Poehler became pregnant again last winter - and when everyone assumed "Parks and Rec" would be back on the air in the fall - the cast and crew agreed to stay in production after the second season had wrapped, making enough episodes to air during the period when Poehler would be on maternity leave. (Click here for my interview with Poehler, which is worth it just for her explanation of how she knows Adam Scott.)
The writers bust on the actors, and the actors bust on each other
Of all the delights of ABC's "Cougar Town," the most surprising one may be Josh Hopkins as Grayson, the emotionally closed-off boyfriend of Courteney Cox's Jules. I'd seen everyone else on the show be funny at one point or another, and the big eureka moment of the show's first season was when creators Bill Lawrence and Kevin Biegel realized that they should just provide opportunities for them all to be funny together.
Hopkins, though, I mainly knew from straight dramatic roles on shows like "New York Undercover" and "Swingtown." (His IMDb lists some comedic shows, but I either never saw them, like "Pepper Dennis," or had stopped watching by the time he turned up, like on "Ally McBeal.") But he's been a ton of fun, whether playing goofy songs on his acoustic guitar, dancing to Enya in acid-washed jeans or squirming as other characters make fun of his "tiny eyes."
So when the TV critics made a field trip to the "Cougar Town" set last week, I made sure to chat with Hopkins for a few minutes about the agony and ecstasy of having your personal traits turned into jokes on the show, and about getting typecast based on the last thing you do in this business.
Is the show investing too much time in the Haddie/Alex storyline?
On the long hiatus, Adam Scott and Rob Lowe, and Ron Effing Swanson
Amy Poehler couldn't be more excited to reintroduce America to Leslie Knope.
Leslie, the optimistic, super-competent civil servant heroine of NBC's "Parks and Recreation," has been in limbo since May, after NBC execs decided to hold the show for mid-season. (And this was after the cast and crew stayed in production after last season was finished so they would have episodes to air in the fall while Poehler was on maternity leave.) But the show is coming back on Thursday night at 9:30, in the best timeslot NBC has (after "The Office"), and Poehler is pumped for viewers to see these new episodes - not just because they're among the best stretches the show has had, but because so few people saw the show last season when (after a shaky first season) it established itself as TV's best comedy.
I'll post my review later today (UPDATE: here it is), but here's a transcript of my recent interview with Poehler, who spoke about her joy at having the show back on the air, about new co-stars Rob Lowe and Adam Scott (who appeared in the last two episodes of last season), about the joy of working alongside Nick Offerman as Ron Effing Swanson, and more.
Lights has a mess to clean up, with help from a shady new friend
The judges, the singers, or preferably both, need to be much better this season
There are two separate, not necessarily equal, groups of on-air talent for "American Idol" - there are the contestants, and then there are the judges and host Ryan Seacrest.
It's been hard to gauge their relative value to the franchise in years past. At times, the caustic remarks of Simon Cowell, or the loopiness of Paula Abdul, seemed to be the main entertainment. At others, it was clearly the kids on stage.
Last year, both halves of the show went in the tank at the same time. Paula was gone, Simon had one foot out the door - and acted like it - Kara Dio Guardi was still overly defensive, Ellen DeGeneres was terrified and Randy Jackson was Randy Jackson, and therefore useless. And the finalists made up one of the more underwhelming groups of contestants the show has ever had.
Because of the lackluster on-air product, and because "Idol" was nearly a decade old, cracks finally started to appear in the show's armor. Ratings slipped (though not enough to take it out of the number one ranking among the 18-49 year-old viewers advertisers care about), audience enthusiasm seemed to wane (Seacrest rarely boasted about vote totals the way he had in previous years), and even FOX execs who usually had nothing but high praise for the franchise admitted that it needed a change.
And change - on both the judging and performing side of things - has indeed come in ways big and small as the 10th season is about to begin Wednesday night at 8 p.m.
What did everybody think of the new David E. Kelley drama?
Chuck tries to pop the question as the spy dramedy returns with a very strong episode