Whatever the male species did to deserve the recent run of lousy comedies that neuter them into a bland, whiny pudding — the trajectory of Man Up through Guys With Kids to CBS's new and painfully bland smarm-com We Are Men (8:30/7:30c) — can I just collectively say on behalf of the entire gender: We're sorry! Haven't we suffered enough?
Apparently not, because Men hits new lows in bromance abuse, cheapening the whole idea of "band of brothers" with its soggy account of male bonding at an apartment complex for jilted and/or unhappily divorced losers. The new kid on the block, Carter (Chris Smith), is left at the altar in a reverse-Graduate gag that's the cleverest part of the pilot. Such a milquetoast he makes How I Met Your Mother mensch Ted Mosby seem as dangerous as Ted Bundy, Carter is adopted by an unappealing threesome that includes middle-aged horndog Frank (Tony Shalhoub, slumming), sad sack Gil (Kal Penn, who's almost as hilarious here as he was as a wet blanket during HIMYM's dark period, which means not at all) and arrogant Stuart, overplayed by Jerry O'Connell, who parades around shirtless in a rainbow of Speedos that flaunt what some might call manhood. But they would be wrong.
These Men of no certain age and character aren't so much bad influences as terribly unfunny company.
With NBC's The Voice coming on so strong (with blind auditions continuing at 8/7c), and even ABC's Dancing with the Stars (also at 8/7) in a resurgent mode thanks to some strong and newsy casting, CBS can ill afford polluting its aging comedy lineup with a show this limp. I wouldn't be surprised if Mike & Molly, curiously and currently benched as a midseason replacement, makes a triumphant return appearance before October is out.
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In happier news, CBS's Mom holds up nicely in its second episode (9:30/8:30c), winning us over the second Allison Janney voices to her TV daughter Anna Faris what many of us were thinking while watching last week's pilot: "When are you gonna stop with the bangs?" Hair jokes aside, this multigenerational comedy about messy lives finds actual substance amid the one-liners, as Christy (Faris) tries to be there for her own daughter Violet (Sadie Calvano) when it appears that yet another teen-age pregnancy may be adding to the family tree. Between Faris's endearing anxiety and Janney's carefree sarcasm as the incorrigible Bonnie, there's a lot of sharp, smart comic timing on display, even when the material veers into groaner territory. You could do far worse than Mom. (Like, say, Fox's Dads.)
In the first week ratings battle at 10/9c, NBC's The Blacklist soundly whipped CBS's Hostages — thanks in part to The Voice as a powerful lead-in, but don't discount the buzz rightfully declaring Blacklist one of the strongest pilots of a weak fall, and James Spader's mysterious Red Reddington one of the season's true breakout characters. We haven't seen the second episode of Blacklist, but it features promising casting: Isabella Rossellini as the target of an assassin known as "The Freelancer," and ER's Parminder Nagra joining the show as part of Red's surveillance and security detail.
CBS did make the next two episodes of Hostages available for preview, and while there are inevitable improbabilities to nitpick and a few too many subplots distracting from the main action, the thriller momentum escalates as Dr. Ellen Sanders (Toni Collette, suffering nobly and fiercely) faces the consequences of her impulsively heroic action to swap the President's meds. It's not just her captors getting in her face — "Did you really think you'd get away with this?" lead tormenter Duncan (Dylan McDermott) pulls from the cliché book while putting Ellen through the psychological wringer — but the Secret Service is also snooping around, making things uncomfortable for the good and bad guys (which aren't always easy to tell apart). And schisms begin to erupt among the black hats, some of whom are just becoming aware of the enormity of their now-complicated mission. More of them, less of Ellen's annoying family, please. (Maybe her son could go on a date with Homeland's Dana Brody and they could elope, making both shows better.)
THE MONDAY GUIDE: Another of Monday's new hits, Fox's Sleepy Hollow (9/8c), introduces a new supernatural nemesis, "The Sandman," who invades people's dreams — including those of Deputy Abbie (Nicole Beharie), who is compelled to seek out her sister (Lyndie Greenwood) at the local loonie bin. ... All of which might not be as scary as Bravo's The Real Housewives of Miami, which moves to a new time period (10/9c) as Adrianna and Joanna try to bury the hatchet (if only!) so as to move on with their dueling weddings. ... Rhetorical question prompted by this week's Castle (ABC, 10:01/9:01c): Gee, do you think new federal agent Beckett (Stana Katic) will find the deadly toxin in time to save her fiancé Castle (Nathan Fillion), who has less than a day to live after being exposed? ... PBS's Independent Lens begins its 12th season with the uplifting documentary Don't Stop Believin': Everyman's Journey (check tvguide.com listings), about Arnel Pineda, a Filipino singer discovered on YouTube who becomes the new front man for the rock band Journey — who presumably welcome him with "Open Arms."