The Good Wife
And you thought premiere week was over. There are still a few new arrivals to sort through — check in Wednesday for some last-minute thoughts on NBC's Law & Order: Los Angeles (which only this week became available for preview) — so let's start with one of the more promising underdogs.
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Here's now I welcomed ABC's No Ordinary Family (8/7c) in TV Guide's Fall Preview issue: "There's plenty to like in this muddled hybrid of family drama, supernatural adventure and slapstick comedy. It's certainly unusual, but has a ways to go to become truly incredible. Or even exciting."
To elaborate: No Ordinary Family is a show I really want to embrace, and to root for. Those who find it are likely to feel the same. In a season with so much sameness, this one is trying something different, although its look and tone are conventional enough not to shake the TV fan from their comfort zone. (Unlike Lone Star, the season's only other risk-taker, which goes the anti-hero route. Family is all-hero all the way.) This one will need all the superpowers it can muster to take on juggernauts like Glee (this week packing extra heat with its Britney Spears tribute episoe) and NCIS. Will Family be, so to speak, the biggest loser? (Also in the same time period.) Let's hope not.
This fantasy-laced feel-good family show introduces us to the Powells, who have grown up and grown apart, much to the dismay of Jim (a very appealing Michael Chiklis), who feels underappreciated at home and undervalued at work where he's a police sketch artist. He gathers his brood for a forced family vacation: research scientist wife Stephanie (Julie Benz, a stretch), precocious daughter Daphne (Kay Panabaker, the show's most annoying liability) and unassuming son JJ (Jimmy Bennett). When their tourist plane crashes into a magical body of water in the Brazilian rain forest, they emerge with new powers that could bond them together: super-strength for Jim, super-speed for multi-tasking Stephanie, Sookie-like telepathy for Daphne and, eventually, brain power for JJ. Much of the pilot dwells on Jim's enthusiastic embrace of his new gifts, which he wants to apply to helping his police buddies solve crimes. He'll try anything to flex his new muscles, but he can't always stick the landing. (Meanwhile, his irritating daughter whines: "It's not fair. I can't be a virgin and a freak!") Stealing the show is Jim's buddy/confidante, a D.A. played winningly by Romany Malco, who embodies the sort of wonder there should be more of here. "You two are freaky!" he declares upon learning of the parents' new abilities.
The mix of family angst, action and comedy doesn't come naturally to the show just yet, and a device in the pilot of the adults talking to the camera is way too heavy-handed (and I hope is retired in future weeks), but I'm willing to give Family some time to figure it out. Let's hope ABC will as well. And if the competition turns out to be too steep, maybe they'd consider flipping time periods with Dancing With the Stars' results show? Even a superhero can use a helping hand once in a while.
Also of note tonight: the return of The Good Wife on CBS (10/9c). Last season's most entertaining breakthrough network drama, it raises its emotional game almost instantly, as Alicia (the enigmatic and compellingly subtle Julianna Margulies) makes a fateful choice between her disgraced husband Peter (Chris Noth) and amorous boss Will (Josh Charles), though the decision is clouded by another character's manipulative deceit. Things are hopping on the work front as well, as Michael Ealy (yet another head-turning alpha male) joins the firm in a merger, combining his D.C. staff with the Chicago team in an uneasy partnership of clashing corporate styles.
When Alicia is assigned by a capricious judge (Chris Sarandon in a strong guest appearance) to babysit a murder defendant who opts to try his own case, she finds herself facing off against Cary (Matt Czuchry), the young-and-hungry shark she beat out for the associate's job last season. Lots of juicy conflict at work and at home, where another political sex scandal has put the Florrick mess back in the media eye. Noth is terrific as the cad of a spouse who's desperate to regain his political clout while trying to woo back his ambivalent wife, sometimes in surprisingly steamy (for CBS) fashion. Added bonus this season: Scott Porter (Friday Night Lights) as a new character who clashes memorably with the feisty investigator Kalinda (Emmy-winning scene stealer Archie Panjabi). All in all, a great hour of grown-up TV, my top pick in a fairly competitive time slot.
Adding to the distractions on this very busy Tuesday, PBS throws out a major programming event. From TV Guide Magazine, here's my review of Baseball: The Tenth Inning (Tuesday-Wednesday, 8/7c, check local schedules).
"There's always a surprise in baseball," says one of the game's biggest fans, Boston scribe Mike Barnicle. His lifelong emotional roller-coaster as a Red Sox loyalist — years of disappointment turned to rapture by the team's 2004 World Series victory — is one of the most enjoyable narrative threads in the glorious four hours of Baseball: The Tenth Inning.
Moments like this convinced Ken Burns and Lynn Novick to revisit a project — PBS' most-watched series ever — for the first time in their remarkable documentary career. They see the story of baseball's story as a continuum of living cultural history, with statistics illuminated by vignettes of legendary achievement and epic failure.
As they examine the highs and lows of the game's last 20 years, glory and scandal frequently collide. Fans find their faith shaken by a devastating strike (which ironically coincided with the 1994 airing of the original Baseball series) and revelations of widespread steroid abuse that tarnish a wave of celebrated home-run records.
And yet, we can't help but be taken back to the ball game. "As its flaws become apparent, it actually gains depth and humanity, even as it loses its fairy-tale mythic qualities," says columnist Thomas Boswell, one of the series' many eloquent advocates for baseball's enduring fascination.
The Tenth Inning never shirks from the harsh realities — "Baseball has an ugly face, and it's the business part," says fabled pitcher Pedro Martinez — but also relishes uplifting moments like Cal Ripken, Jr.'s record-breaking run of consecutive games. And it's impossible not to be moved when the Yankees (whose rebirth is well documented) resume play after 9/11.
"Our baseball was there to distract the people from thinking about the horrors," says former manager Joe Torre. Our baseball. Now and forever, if Ken Burns has his way.
So what are you most excited to watch this Tuesday?
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