It started with the swearing, a not-so-subtle indication that USA Network's "blue skies" credo was welcoming some adult turbulence into its programming. Its shows of recent vintage, including the sleek, sexy and casually profane Suits and the gritty undercover drama Graceland, have started to move USA into edgier, bolder territory. Two new Thursday dramas, Rush(9/8c) and Satisfaction (10/9c), are furthering that evolution, threatening to go over the top with their shock-value content in what looks like a bad case of FX/AMC envy. The results are decidedly mixed.
The ludicrous medical melodrama Rush is a reminder that, if you push the envelope too hard without the compensating virtues of wit or even an iota of humanity and realism, the impulse is to push back. "What we do is complicated," tall, dark and sleazy Dr. William P. Rush (Tom Ellis) tells his assistant, Eve (Sarah Habel). "[It's] not about feelings. Cannot care." That works both ways, doc.
Like House without heart, Rush wallows in the shallow antiheroics of its title character, a predictable train wreck of a gifted doctor (first in his Harvard class) whose self-destructively addictive tendencies — drugs, booze, sex — have forced him off the grid in Los Angeles, where he tends to debauched big-money clients for whom discretion is a must. It's an all-pain Royal Pains. Dr. Rush's strict judgment-free policy toward his outrageous and sometimes criminally liable patients is exceeded only by his cash-in-advance demands. The price we pay to watch such cynical swill is much too high.
More promising, rewarding and unpredictable, Satisfaction is also rare in the USA canon for not being set in a legal, medical, spy or crime arena. It's not about what people do; it's about who they are, how they live and why seeming to have it all may not be enough.
"I need to feel more right now, not less," muses Neil Truman (The Glades' appealing Matt Passmore), a successful, emotionally adrift investment broker whom we encounter on the cusp of a midlife meltdown. He despises his soulless job, which has distanced him from a family that includes a supportive yet equally unfulfilled wife, Grace (Stephanie Szostak, a find). In his quest for personal enlightenment, Neil soon discovers that Zen isn't his thing, but sin just might be. And in a parallel narrative, we learn that Grace has had a similar, dangerously illicit epiphany.
Provocative and sexily surprising, reminiscent at times of HBO's Hung, only more entertaining than depressing, the Trumans' story plays out with a funny-sad poignancy that rings true even when some of the details feel off. (Are we expected to believe that Neil's breaking point aboard a stalled airliner wouldn't have made the local, let alone national, news?) Unlike the clichéd wretch at the center of Rush, the flawed but endearing couple in Satisfaction will likely have you rooting for them to find their bliss. Maybe even together. But not too soon. Their journey may not yet be entirely or credibly satisfying, but it's one of the most intriguing rides I've experienced all summer.
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WORSE AND WORSER: In an ABC presentation earlier this week at the TCA press tour, Black-ish star Tracee Ellis Ross said she was encouraged by her new show, and relationship with on-camera husband Anthony Anderson, because "the comedy between this couple does not come from them hating each other, which is so often what happens on television." I wanted to applaud, because I'd just sat through several episodes of FX's abysmal new comedy Married (10/9c), a grisly wallow in domestic dysfunction that reaches for indie-film cred but collapses under a toxic barrage of bleak vignettes of gamy misery.
Russ (Nat Faxon, the snaggle-toothed manchild from Fox's Ben and Kate) constantly begs and whines for sex from snappish wife Lina (the gifted but ill-used Judy Greer) as an escape from the daily parental grind of raising three daughters. If they ever had chemistry, there's no sign of it in this endlessly unpleasant chronicle of ennui — which only gets worse when they hang with their buds: for him, a sad-sack divorced lump (Go On's Brett Gelman); for her, a shrill trophy wife (Jenny Slate) of a much-older sugar daddy.
FX follows this disaster with another attempt to upend the rom-com: You're the Worst (10:30/9:30), a savage snark-fest in which two exhibitionistic misanthropes decide to hook up for a bit, because as mean-girl publicist Gretchen (Aya Cash) explains it: "If we both know that it can't work, then there's not any harm." Heart be still! Both she and British bad-boy/failed novelist Jimmy (a strident Chris Geere) distrust romance and thus are confused by their continuing interest in each other. New rule of engagement: If opposites attract, then so must like-minded repellants.
Sexually explicit — and like Married, exhibiting an almost fetishistic fascination for masturbation scenes — Worst is at its best when forcing the couple to interact with actual society. In the second episode, an awkward date at a pretentiously trendy restaurant with communal eating tables forces them to attempt polite small talk, which is kind of amusing. It doesn't last. Staying in obnoxious character, they end up at a revival movie house, where their loud and crude behavior sends people fleeing. This is probably the last I'll ever see of Gretchen and Jimmy, too, but they're not the worst. That distinction belongs to Married.