Virgina Madsen (<i>Scoundrels</i>) and Rhona Mitra (<i>The Gates</i>) Virgina Madsen (Scoundrels) and Rhona Mitra (The Gates)

It's no longer news that summer is among TV's busiest seasons — but this year, cable is getting more competition than usual with scripted fare from the networks. The difference being that cable channels (USA, FX, TNT, Syfy, ABC Family and the pay giants, to name a few) tend to put their best foot forward with critically championed signature shows. The networks? Not so much.

Still, ABC is going unusually gung-ho, launching three new dramas of varying quality and distinction within a single week. Its Sunday combo of the whimsical Scoundrels and the sinister The Gates at least aims for something a bit different, while Thursday's Rookie Blue misfires with a tired arsenal of generic cop-show clichés.

Rookie doesn't try hard enough to stand out, while the Sunday shows may be guilty of trying a bit too hard. Scoundrels, in particular, strains to be madcap. Based on a series from New Zealand, this family saga is the anti-Sopranos, about a small-time clan of Palm Springs grifters whose code of conduct abhors violence.

Virginia Madsen is the best reason to watch. As Cheryl West, an all bark and little bite Ma Barker, she wearily tries to keep her annoyingly wacky kids in line — including twin sons (Patrick Flueger), one a straight-arrow lawyer and the other a doltish thug — as she watches her man (David James Elliott in a sheepish change of pace) go off to prison. The premise of Scoundrels finds Cheryl trying to get the family to go straight, but for this group, acting normal appears to a crime against nature.

The problem is that Scoundrels is never as funny as it thinks it is. And its companion piece The Gates, which is like Dark Shadows in a ritzy gated community, is rarely as scary as it wants to be.

Think Desperate Houseghouls, as a new police chief moves in and instantly becomes suspicious of his neighbors, including the literally bloodthirsty Rhona Mitra. On the adolescent front, the chief's brainy son runs afoul of a jealous football jock with werewolfish anger issues. Is this intended as suburban Stepford satire, True Blood-style? Unclear and, at first glance, very uneven, but it's still a lot more inviting than ABC's DOA Happy Town.

Whereas Rookie Blue, a Canadian import starring the likable Missy Peregrym and Everwood's Gregory Smith as part of a group of wide-eyed police newbies, is insufferably earnest in its familiar training-day routines, down to its Grey's Anatomy-style voice-overs. It's not just by-the-books procedural, it's like every book or show you've ever encountered on the subject.

Hard to imagine giving up cable's summer winners for any of this.

Scoundrels premieres Sunday, 9/8, on ABC
The Gates premieres Sunday, 10/9c, on ABC
Rookie Blue premieres Thursday, June 24, on ABC

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