The Wednesday Playlist: ABC's Got Family Game, Broadchurch Finale, SVU
ABC's innocuous new sitcom about likable underdogs, Back in the Game, could just as easily be called "Luck of the Draw." This Bad News Bears-lite gets a major assist right out of the gate with an enviable time period (Wednesday, 8:30/7:30c) sandwiched between TV's best family comedies, The Middle and Modern Family. Which could always backfire, of course, if the show doesn't live up to ratings expectations, and while this Little League comedy doesn't quite measure up to the big leagues, we shouldn't be surprised if family audiences rally around the team, turning a solid base hit into something potentially worthy of extra innings.
The charm offensive starts with Maggie Lawson (Psych), who's adorable as ever as Terry Jr., a divorced mom and former softball All-American who reluctantly moves back in with her grizzled boor of a widowed dad, the elder Teddy, known not-always-affectionately as "the Cannon" from his days in the Majors and played with gruff bravado by a somewhat typecast James Caan. The Cannon isn't afraid to boom forth his dismay when he sees what a klutz his 10-year-old grandson Danny (Griffin Gluck) is on the baseball field. And the kid's hardly alone. When a gaggle of clumsy tykes goes unsponsored, Terry Jr. steps up and offers to coach the "Angles" (cue the misspelled-jersey gag), with the financial backing of bubbly socialite Lulu (Being Human's Lenora Crichlow) so long as her own flamboyantly effeminate son gets to play.
These misfit moppets score with their sandlot slapstick, which enlivens the domestic schmaltz and the time-honored battle of the sexes between Terry Jr. and a chauvinist rival coach helpfully named Dick (Ben Koldyke, a survivor of ABC's Work It), whose son naturally is a bully. Familiarity isn't always a bad thing for this sort of show, and should all else fail, it could join the Friday night farm team of Neighbors (which aired in this time period last fall) and Last Man Standing.
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Meanwhile, The Middle kicks off its fifth season (8/7c) with another situation many families will be able to relate to: the road trip taking the oldest child (Axl) to college to set him up in his freshman dorm room. With Poor Sue and Weird Brick along for the ride, it's bound to be bumpy. ... With a fourth Best Comedy Emmy under its belt, Modern Family opens with back-to-back episodes (9/8c), the first set during the summer and the second taking us to fall, with Luke and Manny entering high school (with Cam a new substitute teacher), Lily starting pre-school and Claire going to work for Jay. What could go wrong with any of those scenarios?
CRIME STORIES: There's quite a bit of harrowing police drama competing for our attention, but nothing has the shattering impact of BBC America's Broadchurch (10/9c), which might make you feel bad for ever wanting to know who's responsible for little Danny's murder. David Tennant and Olivia Colman are brilliant as the lead detectives on whom this case has taken such an emotional toll.
Although Mariska Hargitay is no slouch when it comes to being put through the wringer, and the season premiere of NBC's Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (9/8c) gives her one of her most grueling ordeals in the show's 15-year run. When her squad discovers she's missing, Munch (Richard Belzer) assures Benson's cop beau Cassidy (Dean Winters) that "She's a survivor" — and she had better be, because the "uh oh" feeling we got when she was ambushed at home by her pure-evil nemesis (Pablo Schreiber) in last season's cliffhanger turns into an "oh s---" as the intent of this psychopathic sadist becomes clear. Theirs is a degrading and sordid dance, deeply unpleasant to watch, yet Hargitay is riveting in her defiant resolve. And while it may seem like overkill, a second (unpreviewed) hour of SVU follows, in which the squad follows an abandoned boy from Times Square to his home, where the contents of a locked basement shed light on decades worth of cold cases.
CBS's equally durable CSI also has a violent cliffhanger to resolve in its 14th-season premiere (10/9c), in which a killer seemingly obsessed with Dante's Inferno puts Capt. Brass (Paul Guilfoyle) and CSI Ecklie (Marc Vann) through several circles of hell after kidnapping both of their daughters: the troubled Ellie (Brittany Redmann) and the spunky CSI Morgan Brody (Elisabeth Harnois). When the mystery villain tries to force Brass to make a Solomon's choice regarding which victim to save, it leads to an unexpected tragedy (the funeral which opens the episode is a giveaway that something bad will happen). The starry guest cast includes Annabella Sciorra as Brass's ex-wife, and Eric Roberts, Tim Matheson and James Callis as possible suspects.
POWER OUTAGE: The wandering heroes of NBC's Revolution are in the dark again as the second season begins (8/7c), and without that powerful Voice lead-in on Mondays, the future is looking pretty dim indeed. The story picks up six months after last season's nuke-strike cliffhanger, and the characters are scattered to the winds again — hopefully free of any toxic fallout — which jumbles the narrative (again with the flashbacks) more than is necessary, but the action is tougher and faster-paced with a decidedly Western vibe. And Charlie (Tracy Spiridakos) in particular is showing a lustier side as she traverses the Plains Nation in search of TV's least memorable villain, the former President Monroe (David Lyons). Pay special attention during her quest to the sideshow attraction being hawked in the New Vegas settlement, revealing how far the fortunes of a former TV Friend has fallen. (The show has a more developed sense of humor as well this year.)
With Uncle Ninja Miles (Billy Burke) tending to a despondent Rachel (Elizabeth Mitchell) in a Texas town under siege, and the father-son team of Neville (the great Giancarlo Esposito) and Jason (JD Pardo) seeking survivors from the Atlanta blast in a Savannah refugee camp, Revolution is too convoluted for its own good. Streamlining would have been a better option for a show being thrown to the Wednesday wolves.
THE WEDNESDAY GUIDE: See how it started for one of the most remarkable TV series and characters of our time, as AMC marathons the entire run of Breaking Bad starting at 8/7c, with the first four seasons running continuously through late night Friday. (Season 5 will air from late Saturday up to the finale on Sunday.) I hear the evolution of Bryan Cranston's Walter White from mensch to mastermind is even more astonishing watched in an extended binge. ... CBS's Survivor (8/7c) stages its first Redemption Island battle of the season, while Colton reminds us there's no redemption for some people, as he takes a break from sniveling to once again becoming the most annoying person on the island, or perhaps the planet. ... And that includes Cartman, as Comedy Central's long-running South Park returns for a 17th season (10/9c) in typically topical form, with Cartman infiltrating the NSA to see just how much and what of his personal info they've been monitoring.
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