Comedy is very hot this TV season — thank ABC's best-of-class Wednesday comedies (all in repeats tonight), CBS' Monday blockbusters, NBC's cult faves and Fox's giddy New Girl — but two lousy new sitcom arrivals buck the trend, leaving a sour aftertaste.
Normally I'd celebrate at any circumstance that shrinks The X Factor to 90 minutes, but in this case, it opens the door for Fox's unpleasant I Hate My Teenage Daughter (9:30/8:30c), which traps two gifted comedians — My Name Is Earl's Emmy-winning spitfire Jaime Pressly and two-time Tony-winning scene-stealer Katie Finneran — in no-win roles as shrill moms who used to be ugly ducklings and are now cowed by their bratty offspring (forgettably rendered by Aisha Dee and Kristi Lauren), who are turning out to be the sort of spoiled mean girls who tormented the moms back when they were in high school.
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"Why are they so mean to us?" whines one of the insecure moms, who are mocked for their fashion sense — Pressly's character was raised by strict religious zealots who saw the Gap as the devil's playground — or for their eating habits. "I did not eat my cat!" shrieks the compulsively hysterical Finneran with a mouth full of chocolate. Later, when she's seen neurotically stuffing her face with pie, using her hands — "C'mon, Nikki, use a fork! You're not a bear!" — I found myself hating what Hate was doing to these talented stars.
Even worse, the show is ultimately toothless, because as snotty as the daughters are, they actually love their moms, and vice versa. Awwww... phooey. The writing is so trite that when the teens balk in an upcoming episode at the idea of a Family Night (to which the ever-present ex-husbands are invited), we share their despair. "This is how horror movies start," snaps one of the girls. Horror movies are usually funnier.
More purposefully retro, TV Land conjures up The Exes (10:30/9:30c), which feels like a stale Frankenstein sitcom cobbled together with spare parts — by which we mean veteran actors — who made their names on better shows. Thus we have 3rd Rock From the Sun's Kristen Johnston as a brash divorce lawyer playing landlord/mama bear to three clients who live in one of her apartments across the hall. Look, there's Scrubs' Donald Faison playing to type as a sports-agent womanizer. And hello, Newman! It's Seinfeld's Wayne Knight as a coach potato who does little but shop online. The third wheel is David Alan Basche, a familiar TV face still waiting for a hit, as the newbie roomie, weepy and needy and described by Faison as being "like my ex-wife but without the expensive breasts." It's The Odd Couple plus one — except it's not. It's all just kind of sad. The guys like to think of their bachelor pad as a "sharing-free zone," but I just wish TV Land hadn't felt compelled to share this one with us.
By comparison, the network's cheesy Hot in Cleveland (10/9c) is a modern classic. As it begins its third season, we pick up in the aftermath of Elka's (Betty White) aborted marriage, as she now has to decide whether to go with her fiancé Fred (Buck Henry), her returned-from-the-presumed-dead hubby Bobby (Don Rickles) or her longtime squire Max (Carl Reiner). Why doesn't she just keep all three and form their own version of the Friars Club? That's a heckuva lot of legendary talent in her corner. Meanwhile, Victoria (Wendie Malick) and Joy (Jane Leeves) find there are unexpected consequences to having tied their own knot.
Shifting gears to crime drama, BBC America's twisted Whitechapel (10/9c) reaches the end of its macabre six-episode run, with the police under siege from the "federation of crime" led by the creepy twins who appear to be the reincarnation of the infamous Kray brothers of the '60s. But are they? The pressure in getting to the truth behind the Kray legend really gets to beleaguered DI Chandler (Rupert Penry-Jones), who tries to temper his OCD demons with liquor: "I'm self-medicating," he tells a concerned colleague. But is he drunk, or crazy like a fox, when he challenges one of the Krays to a boxing match? Chandler's fussy, fragile integrity makes him one of the more endearing crime-fighters you'll meet this season.
He's much better company than Duncan "Hatch" Hatcher, the glum, humorless Savannah detective played by a miscast John Corbett in TNT's insipid mystery movie based on Sandra Brown's Ricochet (9/8c). Trying for hard-boiled, Corbett can only achieve half-baked in this flimsy twist on a femme fatale caper, where the worst crime is the damage perpetrated on the Southern accent. The belle of this deflated ball is Dexter's Julie Benz as Elise, the seductive wife of a possibly corrupt judge (Gary Cole as the improbably named Cato Laird). She falls into Hatch's lap, literally, as he and his sarcastic partner Deedee (the monotonal Kelly Overton) investigate Elise's shooting of an intruder in her house. He can't trust Elise (especially when more dead bodies pile up at her feet), but he also can't resist her. The plot manages to be somehow both complicated and simplistic, yet is rarely credible or compelling.
A double treat for the Star Trek fandom tonight: On USA Network's Psych (10/9c), William Shatner guests as Juliet's con-man dad, torn between making things right with his law-abiding daughter and pursuing yet one more dream scam. ... We are all part of Trek Nation, or so the Science channel suggests in a two-hour special (8/7c) marking the landmark space opera's 45th anniversary. Series creator Gene Roddenberry's son Rod leads this tribute, revealing rare home movies from the family archive (including the first Trek fan convention) and interviewing famous fans including George Lucas, J.J. Abrams and Seth MacFarlane as he gets to the roots of this global phenom.
Looking for live music? NBC's annual Christmas in Rockefeller Center special (8/9c; some NBC affiliates will begin airing the festivities at 7/6c) features the legendary likes of Neil Diamond, Tony Bennett, Carole King and the Radio City Rockettes gathering for the lighting of the 74-foot Norway Spruce tree. Contemporary acts include The Voice winner Javier Colon and judge Cee Lo Green, upcoming Smash star Katharine McPhee, crooner Michael Bublé and the inevitable Justin Bieber, showing off his music video with Mariah Carey on "All I Want for Christmas Is You."
Another all-star gathering on the opposite coast takes place at L.A.'s Nokia Theatre, the staging ground for CBS' The Grammy Nominations Concert Live! — Countdown to Music's Biggest Night (10/9c), during which key nominations for the Feb. 12 awards show are announced in between musical performances from Lady Gaga, Usher, Rihanna, Ludacris, Jason Aldean, The Band Perry and others. A centerpiece of the special is a rap superstar collaboration on Grammy Hall of Fame-honored rap recording "The Message," featuring the show's host LL Cool J, Grandmaster Flash, Lupe Fiasco, Melle Mel, Rick Ross and Scorpio. Take that, The X Factor's Astro.