Roush Review

Swingtown: Welcome to That ’70s Sex Show!

Do you know anyone who’s truly nostalgic for the ’70s, with those ugly clothes and even less flattering hair? (I lived through it and have seriously thought about burning my yearbooks.) If Fox’s That ’70s Show played the
decade for laughs, CBS’ smirky, smarmy drama Swingtown plays it for leers.

“They look happy,” says airline pilot Tom (Melrose Place stud Grant Show), who does everything but lick his lips as he peers through his window at the new neighbors innocently moving into their cul-de-sex of an upscale Chicago suburb. Tom and wife Trina (Boomtown’s Lana Parrilla) have just wrapped up a threesome when they lay wolfish eyes on the naive newbies.

Susan and Bruce (Deadwood’s Molly Parker and Jack Davenport), trading their old life of block parties and barbecues for a new world of Quaaludes and open relationships, are fresh meat to these sensuous predators. They’re not even fu read more

USA Declares Marshal Law With a Sight for Sore Eyes

Mary Shannon is my favorite type of TV hero: funny, sexy, smart and smart-mouthed. As played to the sardonic hilt by Mary McCormack (The West Wing), she’s impatient with authority, as scrappy and tough as you’d expect from a U.S. Marshal assigned to the top-secret witness protection program, yet soft when it matters. Jim Rockford would have adored her.

Heart does matter on this job, when dealing with reluctant victims who’ve had their lives upended by encounters with a violent society and an overwhelmed justice system. Mary is part law enforcer, part babysitter. Guess which comes most naturally?

In Plain Sight is a worthy successor to last summer’s USA Network hit Burn Notice. Both are witty and suspenseful and benefit from vividly authentic locations—here, underused Albuquerque—acknowledging its natural beauty and its Native American and Latino populations. Mary is at home on this range, sharing snappy banter with her read more

Recount Adds Up to a Compelling Docudrama

Every vote counts. Maybe in a utopia, but not in the unfortunately real world of dimpled and hanging chad, confusing butterfly ballots and courtroom standoffs over the most hotly challenged and feverishly reported presidential contest in modern times.

HBO’s crisply told, colorfully acted Recount wants to be both legal thriller and nightmare farce as it recounts, with news footage and dramatic re-creation, the cliff-hanger aftermath in Florida of the 2000 “squeaker” election between George W. Bush and Al Gore (both mostly off camera).

It has its moments, but can’t help but pale next to our own vivid memories of what it was actually like to live through those 36 days of volatile uncertainty. While the combatants regard the debacle over voting irregularities as a “street fight for the presidency,” the movie often feels like an inner-circle wonkfest: All the Would-Be President’s Lawyers.

Still, what a cast: Kevin Spac read more

Scary Times for Cult Horror Shows

In the world of supernatural TV, anything’s possible: a sexy vampire, a dapper Devil. Anything, perhaps, except overcoming so-so ratings and a creatively uneven first year. Two purely escapist series, CBS’ vampire mystery Moonlight and the CW’s satanic comedy Reaper, are on the bubble for renewal (their fates are announced the week of May 12 during the networks’ up-front presentations). While neither is likely to become a genre classic of Buffy or X-Files status, both deserve a chance to keep going and growing.

Moonlight in particular enjoys buzz from fans smitten by Mick St. John, a dashing private-eye vampire (Alex O’Loughlin) who bares his chest more often than his fangs. Overcoming a dreary pilot stuffed with noir clichés, Moonlight quickly developed into a sizzling romance between Mick and Beth (Sophia Myles), a reporter who seems to crave the immortality he has come to despise.

An awful lot of read more

My Big Bang Theory: Comic Geniuses at Work

Somewhere in the sitcom cosmos, Felix Unger (Tony Randall version) is smiling, because there's a new odd couple in town, and a frenetically funny fussbudget on the loose who makes Felix seem almost normal.

Equal parts smart and silly, and refreshingly short on smarminess, The Big Bang Theory is the season's one great new classic comedy. As Sheldon Cooper, a prickly mathematical genius who hasn't yet figured out the formula for successful human interaction, Jim Parsons is a marvelous discovery, creating the most hysterical misfit since Monk.

A hapless Einstein in comic-book T's, Sheldon is geek as freak: a bit like a hostile alien puzzled by social niceties yet as vulnerable as a child, having sacrificed his youth to academia. He is a constant embarrassment to his roomie, Leonard (the charming Johnny Galecki), who's every bit as nerdy but tragically knows it. Since misery loves company, the boys are often joined by their winningly weird pals Howard (Simon Helberg), a c read more

Naval Gazing: Carrier's a See-worthy Documentary

As sprawling as the 24-story-high vessel it follows for a six-month Persian Gulf deployment in 2005, the 10-hour, five-night docu-miniseries Carrier immerses the armchair traveler in the daily life and routines of the USS Nimitz. "This boat is drama," says one of the scores of participants interviewed along the way.

Drama in this case means bursts of high-flying adrenaline leavened by long periods of grinding boredom and endless drudgery, as well as the wrenching ongoing soap opera of relationships tested by distance while forbidden liaisons erupt below decks or on shore leave.

With its scenic photography, slick editing and relentless pop-rock soundtrack, Carrier has the feel of a movie, or maybe the world's longest recruitment video. It's also an engrossing, rewarding and addictive study of personal endurance and sacrifice.

The war is something of an off-camera abstraction to much of the crew. For some, who enlisted to escape dead-end lives of po read more

Of Kings and Cons: A Second Look

When a show gets to its sophomore year, it gives you a chance to reassess your first impressions. So it is with two high-profile cable dramas midway through their second seasons. I find I’m even more enthralled by Showtime’s costume melodrama The Tudors than I was a year ago, while FX’s bizarre family saga The Riches leaves me colder than it did initially.

It helps that The Tudors has such rich source material, even if this frat-boy take on 16th-century royal romance and intrigue sometimes goes so far in its graphic bodice-ripping that it might as well be called Masterpiece-of-Tail Theatre.

But sex isn’t all that’s on the menu. Religion and politics swirl murderously in the wake of the Henry VIII-Anne Boleyn love/lust match, brought to smoldering life by buff Jonathan Rhys Meyers and coquettish Natalie Dormer. As Henry gains supremacy over both church and state, his most intimate advisers—including the pious Sir read more

Lifetime Delivers a Memorable Daughter

In classic page-turner fashion, The Memory Keeper's Daughter opens on a dark and snowy night, with a fateful childbirth, the implications of which resonate over the next 20 years of secrets and lies, joys and sorrows.

Lifetime chose well in adapting Kim Edwards' best-seller, which tells the best kind of what-would-you-do yarn. If the TV-movie is more labored and less affecting than the emotionally taut novel, it's ultimately satisfying and is just the sort of high-end tearjerker Lifetime should continue making.

The story's irresistible hook comes early, as Dr. David Henry (Dermot Mulroney) is forced by weather and fate to deliver his own wife's baby, a "perfect" son. But there's a surprise twin: a girl with Down syndrome — this being 1964, he calls her a "mongoloid" — and he's so appalled he orders his adoring nurse, Caroline (Emily Watson), to whisk her to an asylum, telling wife Norah (Gretchen Mol) that Baby Phoebe died.

This lie haunts and threa read more

Blast Off with Battlestar for a Shocking Thrill Ride

As the emotional roller-coaster that is Battlestar Galactica launches its fourth and eventually final season, I find myself marveling again at its psychological depth, its relentless intensity, and its provocative mix of political, spiritual and military intrigue.

This series has TV legend written all over it. Equally concerned with inner and outer space, Battlestar is that rare show worthy of being mentioned alongside The X Files, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Lost for its ability to use dark fantasy to explore the nature of humanity so deeply and honestly it often hurts to watch.

And yet, it's also too enjoyable not to. The combat is thrilling, the twists always surprising — in the opener, I must have shouted, "Oh, no, he (or she) didn't!" a half-dozen times.

But oh, yes, they do go there, repeatedly, to the most unexpected and disturbing places. In Battlestar, the ultimate battleground is for the soul.

Last seas read more

Uncommonly Good Sense (and Sensibility)

At first blush — and I do mean blush — you may wonder about the sensibility of PBS' latest Jane Austen movie. It opens like a literal bodice-ripper on a scene of bare flesh and fiery passions: Bizarro-World Jane?

Not to worry. This overheated prologue, which is explained much later, is intended as a sharp contrast to the more genteel but emotionally charged romance that follows. Master adapter Andrew Davies' two-part Sense and Sensibility provides a flavorful, spirited finale to Masterpiece's "The Complete Jane Austen" series.

It lacks the star power (Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet) of Ang Lee's 1995 Oscar winner. But Austen's characters are so enduring and endearing in their virtues, vanities and passionate follies that they don't require movie stars to bring them to life.

Hattie Morahan and Charity Wakefield are agreeably understated and instantly sympathetic as sisters Elinor (the quietly suffering pragmatist) and Marianne (the re read more

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