Thursday TV: The Summer Season Begins — Inauspiciously
Duets' Olivia Chisholm and Robin Thicke
You couldn't give us 24 hours to catch our breath from the season that just ended with a frenetic bang Wednesday night: Phillip Phillips' coronation as the new American Idol, the melodramatic shenanigans on Revenge — when a plane explodes off-camera, don't believe what you hear on the local news — and even a surprise twist (SPOILER ALERT) on Modern Family, making that at least two unexpected pregnancies for the night. (I didn't see everything, and I'm assuming Idol vets Ace Young and Diana De Garmo's isn't a shotgun engagement.)
But here we are, one day later, and the summer season is already in full swing. Couldn't even wait until after Memorial Day? What's the rush? (Actually, the summer season got a jump-start with the underwhelming and unwanted early premiere of America's Got Talent last week. Now that I've seen Howard Stern try to stop the tears of a 7-year-old non-talent they mercifully buzzed, I think I've already had my fill of that one.)
As usual, there's good and bad news when things are this busy. Let's start with the bad. Namely, the one show available for preview: TBS' charmless, witless new buddy comedy Men at Work (10/9c), populated by vaguely familiar guys you've seen on better shows — hey, it's the curly-haired guy from That '70s Show, and the comic-book hunk from The O.C., and the creep who killed Tara on Buffy, and the security dude from Las Vegas. Best to remember them that way, because it's just too depressing to watch them try to tickle the laugh track by talking junk about their junk.
Men at Work is junk of the most disposable nature, a sex-obsessed comedy set at a phony-even-by-sitcom-standards magazine, where four guys sit around hardly working as they try to cheer up the mopey buddy who's just been dumped, while they dump on the one guy who's got a steady girlfriend (whose attempts to get him to talk dirty in bed backfire) when they're not busy prowling for the next casual hook-up and, of course, making jokes about their junk. "Look at that — rock bottom has a basement," says one of the guys, apparently having read the script.
Shows like this make me sad — but not as sad as bearing witness to a lost opportunity, such as NBC's riveting and mesmerizing thriller Awake, which airs its final episode (10/9c) outside the regular season. As sorry as I am to see it end so soon, I'm grateful to NBC for airing all 13 episodes, including the last few where things really began to percolate and answer some questions, especially regarding the car accident that broke Detective Michael Britten's world into two opposing realities. Whether they attempt to explain why and how Michael is living this dual existence remains to be seen — but I'm intrigued by the plot description in which Michael's two shrinks (B.D. Wong and Cherry Jones, both excellent) are brought together "in an unlikely debate that forces [Michael] to choose his path." Awake has been a tremendous showcase for Jason Isaacs as the tormented, sympathetic hero, who spends this episode tracking down the conspirators while the police department is busy chasing him. I'm going to miss this one.
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SONG AND DANCE: Even though they probably haven't finished sweeping up the confetti at the Nokia Theater from last night's Idol finale, that isn't stopping ABC from immediately launching yet another singing competition, Duets, into this oversaturated field. Opening with (what else) a two-hour episode (8/7c), this show does at least boast some top talent in its professional ranks: Kelly Clarkson and Sugarland's Jennifer Nettles, plus Robin Thicke and late addition John Legend. Not merely judge/mentors, they'll perform and collaborate with their amateur discoveries, with whom they'll sing duets (duh) to compete for America's vote.
I'm much more excited about the return of my favorite of all reality-competition shows, Fox's eclectic and often electrifying So You Think You Can Dance (8/7c), although a bit nervous about its format change to one episode a week (regular time period, Wednesdays at 8/7c). The decision to crown a male and female winner this season is a more promising twist — but first come the auditions, rarely as insulting, irritating and drawn-out as Idol's. The contestant search begins in Dallas and New York and continues until Las Vegas callback week June 20. The top 20 finalists will be announced on Dance's 200th episode June 27, and then the dazzlement will really begin in July.
Two more programming notes: ABC's Canadian summer import Rookie Blue, a sappier Southland, returns for a new season (10/9c), with guest star William Shatner chewing the scenery with gusto as a drunk driver whose secret helps back-from-suspension rookie Andy (Missy Peregrym) find redemption. ... More edifying for all, National Geographic Channel and Nat Geo WILD will simulcast the final round of the National Geographic Bee (8/7c), moderated by Alex Trebek earlier in the day.
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