For many a new show, airing on NBC is its own form of being stranded in Siberia. And so it is with Siberia, a clunky new thriller in the guise of a reality-adventure competition show — take all of the we're-not-here-to-make-friends clichés and add violent mysterious death, shot in a Blair Witch Project-meets-Survivor style. This weird drama/reality hybrid — not as silly as ABC's Whodunnit?, but just as unconvincing — has the terrible luck to arrive on the scene going head to head (Monday, 10/9c) with CBS's Under the Dome, a week after the Stephen King project opened to blockbuster ratings.
There were reports last week that some viewers of ABC's murder-mystery game Whodunnit? actually thought some of the participants were meeting untimely ends — which I'm assuming is a joke — but the same confusion could greet Siberia, in which the international cast of unknowns appear to be using their real names, though playing traditional "reality" parts: the altruistic good guy, the snotty bitch, the clumsy nerd, all taking part in a "real-life social experiment" (as the generic Aussie-sounding host informs us) in which there are "no games, no votes, and above all else, no rules." Except for when there are rules, such as declaring the trek to an abandoned fur-trading settlement in the Siberian wilderness (their home base) as a race, with the last two to arrive being sent immediately home. The grand (fictional) prize: $500,000, to be split among however many can survive a Siberian winter. (None appear to be dressed for the ordeal, and they're denied their luggage, if not their baggage.) Survival being complicated by some unseen menace in the woods that claims a victim before the first hour is over. If it's made of smoke, I'm out of here.
Actually, I've already packed my bags (which in Siberia parlance is known as a "forfeit"). Poorly acted, drearily written, Siberia is just the thing for those who've tuned into a new reality show and, while watching the same old beats play out, muttered to the screen, "I could have written this." Now someone has. But why?
Meanwhile, on Under the Dome (10/9c), the trapped residents of Chester's Mill face a significant challenge when a house catches on fire — reminding everyone that their firefighters are all on the other side of the blasted dome.
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HEEEERE'S JOHNNY! For nostalgia fans, there's no place like Turner Classic Movies for the best of vintage Hollywood. On Mondays through the summer, it's going to feel more like Turner Classic Television, late night variety. Or, more to the point, Carson Classic Television, of which there is no higher variety. Carson on TCM (8/7c), hosted by Carson fan (and too-short-lived Tonight Show host) Conan O'Brien, will repackage many of Johnny Carson's memorable interviews with movie and TV icons from his 30-year tenure — starting with his charming 1982 encounter with then 7-year-old Drew Barrymore (in her E.T. phase) and also including Kirk Douglas (from 1988), Mary Tyler Moore (1978), Neil Simon (1980) and George Burns (1989). If you love show biz, how can you resist?
JUSTICE LEAGUE: The best legal drama you're likely to see all week is HBO's sobering yet inspiring documentary Gideon's Army (9/8c), which profiles several dedicated and overwhelmed young public defenders who work in Southern states including Georgia and Florida. (The title refers to a Supreme Court ruling from 1963 that ensures the right to criminal counsel for all, regardless of income.) The motto of this quietly gripping film could be summed up in the advice given to one of the underpaid, overworked lawyers by her mentor: "If you're trying to rescue people from hell, you do have to go to hell to do it." Hell being the province of these public advocates who juggle hundreds of cases, each one representing a client at risk of being lost in a legal system that's stacked against them. "It's all about lessening the penalty, that's what we do," says a senior public defender.
"I really consider myself a lot more like Matlock than F. Lee Bailey," says one of the "Army's" more dedicated lieutenants, Travis Williams, who as the film begins has been on the job less than a year, and lives next door to the office so as to devote maximum effort to the 120 clients he handles at a time. Gideon's Army focuses much of its attention on two armed robbery cases, one handled by Williams and another tried by Brandy Alexander, who assesses the merits of her case by noting, "Win, lose or draw, tears will fall." This is the legal system as it truly is, not as we tend to see it on TV.
THE MONDAY GUIDE: Taking a soldier's-eye-view of modern warfare, National Geographic Channel premieres Battleground Afghanistan (9/8c) and Eyewitness War (10/9c), the latter including first-person footage from the Afghan and Iraqi conflicts. ... Bravo hits the high (sometimes literally) seas in Below Deck (10/9c), its latest exercise in conspicuous consumption, with a "docu-series" about the exploits of the colorful crew who work aboard a mega-yacht perhaps ironically named "Honor." ... On A&E's summer hit Longmire (10/9c), it's finally time for the stoic sheriff to debate his deputy Branch as the election heats up. ... Catherine Bell guests on TNT's King & Maxwell (10/9c), as a "blast from Sean's past" distracts him from the search for a kidnapped 13-year-old boy.