Hour-long mythology set within the real world needs to increase its bounty by stakes. Without something truly lost, nothing can be gained but its intensity can’t be fake. While some of the following shows continue to show a penchant in the writer’s room in their willingness to take chances, a wrong step can mean cancellation. The grand progression allows that the following four shows exist on cable where their fate is a little more plausible. Overall though, “Burn Notice” jolts most with a necessary ploy that lifts its possibility yet again.
Burn Notice Nothing hits home as much as family so in order for the series to graduate, the stakes must become higher without losing a sense of tension. Beginning the season with Fi’s imminent degragation at the hands of authority focuses Michael’s penchant away from professional importance to personal survival. In working through this texture and maintaining the status quo, the show maintained its execution. However, with the death of a family member, a whole new psychological angle surfaces that completely changes the tone. This single act is what heightens Michael’s resolve and the fact that he is guilty and to blame is not lost on him. The requisite end game plays that betrayal, whether intended or not, carries a large price tag, even if its true importance does not become specific until later. For this reason, the viciousness in Michael begins to cloud his judgment which is what the show needs because thereby a character starts making mistakes.
Royal Pains The evolution of this show requires a decided amount of intrigue while still keeping the stakes progressing. While this is not as life threatening as the aforementioned “Burn Notice”, the conflict to some degree should be there (even if it is more domestic). Oddly enough with this season, the progression becomes more the ascension of Evan and the conflict of brotherhood. Hank seems to have a higher calling but is held back by both his moral center and his lack of ambition per se. Evan, because he has a girlfriend who is both highly placed and accessible (a very rare commodity), finds traversing the line a bit easier. Hank’s love life, by contradiction, seems to become a bit of a noose around his neck. Though Mark Fuerstein plays it with a little abandon, it tends to feel forced as does Henry Winkler’s inclusion (despite its obvious comedic value). The balance to Evan’s element comes in the form of Divya, the physician’s associate, simply because she is suffering the same crisis of class that Evan is but moving in the reverse. The intrigue of the series wants to center around Boris (played with aplomb by Campbell Scott who understands the necessity of gravitas) but unlike previous seasons, its stakes don’t carry as much weight.
The Glades Using the aspect of a long distance relationship as a distraction for Matt Passmore’s uber-focused Jim creates an interesting dynamic that points to his survival in more ways than one. For something to truly affect him, something needs to be undeniably lost. In his relationship with Callie (who has moved to Atlanta at his motivation for a job), there doesn’t seem to be anything chemical to attach them. There is a stronger connection between him and a visiting bureau chief: Jennifer Stark. She is there to evaluate him but her tantalizing and alluring beauty tempts him though he doesn’t act on it. However, her approach seems too obvious to be realistic. The actual act would need to be more clandestine. The team, including Carlos and their intrepid intern, have a nice balance going but the investigation of Jim’s effectiveness, especially his inablity to be on the witness stand because of his methods, mirrors a similar problem “The Finder” faced on FOX before it was cancelled.
Covert Affairs Watching Annie Walker traverse what she believes the CIA is and knowing the balance between using an asset and being conned has always been the angle of the show. What continues to be interesting about watching her and Auggie (played by Christopher Gorham) is how their human failings affect their true CIA effectivenss. Like any other job, it is all about how one reacts or doesn’t react under pressure. Annie is a lonely soul who wants connection but her skill set and her ambition drive her into situations that she more and more can’t control. Her arc with Russian would-be spy/mercenary Simon carries risk because you can tell there are feelings on both ends that can only end badly. Her actions will continue to harden her and will either get her sister or Auggie killed in the process (most likely by the CIA) which might bring up a whole new can of worms, for her, as a mercenary. Auggie’s psychological development (especially with him going into the field as well as his turning point when he is captured by pirates with his would-be fiancee) points to a larger ghost hanging below the surface. His mandatory counseling and inability to directly connect with Annie (especially with her going off-book with another division) creates tension but her loyalty to her is unwavering.
The personification of what constitutes good and evil, and where the crossover lies, has bewildered psychologists who search for that kernel of betrayal that can either seduce or hold fast against temptation. With four new series, the idea stretches across different forms of law enforcement outside of the norm where bending the rules or even breaking them can be rewarded.
The Good Guys The texture of the old “buddy cop” formula had been overdone to bust before the procedural took over but there was a certain distinctness of the abandon to conventional political correctness and wisdom that made some of those shows fun to watch. With this new inlay starring Bradley Whitford and Colin Hanks, the key is to make the pairing fun to watch without making the stakes too high from the outset. Created by Matt Nix, who figured the lead structure with his other hit series “Burn Notice”, the key here is comedy and making it feel natural and not overdone. While Whitford understands his character, he is definitely playing a camp version of it. When mixed with a great amount of licensed 80s music which plays exceptionally well (especially during a getaway driver sequence set to ELO’s “Don’t Bring Me Down”), the show can hit his stride. Originally called “Code 168” after the element of property and low rent crimes, our boys always stumble upon some big heist or case which needs their less than accurate skills. The series, also with a sense of structure, shows the paying of dues. Over the years, one of the stories told to me by Michael Douglas puts the angle in perspective since he too had a famous father in Kirk like Colin has with Tom. Michael made the point that the key to him learning was working with Karl Malden on “Streets Of San Francisco” early in his career which gave him a basis for the work ethic and the craft needed. Colin, in playing this role has a similar situation with Bradley, which tends to work to great effect. The storylines balance with distinctness and the writing is sharp despite the persistent fact that it seems apparent that they will always get out of trouble.
Memphis Beat The back step ideology works in an odd congruence here with distinct but limited results. Last time we saw Jason Lee, he was approaching the basis of Earl using common sense as a form of new zen. With “Memphis Beat” which was developed by George Clooney and his company. the background and its music figure incessantly important into the aspect of the lead character. The idea swirls in the fact that the music brings the detective back to his truism. However seeing the ideal within this structure, one cannot help revert back to a mixture of down home philosophy mixing with the Elvis showmanship. Unlike “Justified” which takes its Kentucky heritage as a badge of honor, the invention of this character comes off disingenuous because it doesn’t feel true to its roots. Lee, as a comparison created an iconic perception in “Earl” which was distinctly different from his perception as a Kevin Smith player. Working in resolution also with less humor motivates the viewer to see subtleties that simply might not be there. Misdirects however unintentional tend to impact the plot in unforseen ways which, at times, is not all together good.
The Glades Using a similar locale as “Burn Notice” but with a lead that is charming in non-serial killer way the way Dexter is not, the darker tone of this series in keeping track with both A&E’s previous series “The Beast” and “The Cleaner” shows the tendency of the cabler to play more towards the tracking elements of premium cable. Matt Passmore as the relocated cop who was run out of Chicago (after he supposedly had an affair with The Chief’s wife in the Windy City) sets the stakes. As a viewer you are not sure whether to believe him in terms of honesty (or at times vulnerability) or if he, in all reality, is serving another agenda. The first couple episodes show an innate ability of the characrer to both piss off superiors but also lack a sense of fear when it comes ultimately to dangerous gangster types, almost approaching a form of nihilism. While it is played lighthearted at times, there seems to be an undercurrent of dread permeating throughout the series which seems inherently apparent in the hurricane episode when they stumble upon a man shot in the forehead inside a car. The nonchalance of the Passmore’s Jim and the tone of the series seems to point to a tonal structure that will be further developed as time goes along.
Covert Affairs USA has a lot of ideas moving through the structure with some working exceptionally well (“Burn Notice”, “Royal Pains”) while others, to this reviewer at least, not quite catching as much (“In Plain Sight”). With more on the way, the making of another humor/drama balanced series that can still be made for a price is key. Trading in NY and Miami to shoot in Toronto which can double for European cities as well (which it does for the also locally shot “Warehouse 13”), “Covert Affairs” know its balance but the series really cruxes on the aspect of Piper Perabo (a newly promoted officer in the CIA) and Christopher Gorham (who plays her blind, in-control yet humorous handler). Perabo, best known for her turn on “Coyote Ugly” uses her cavalier attitude that has served her character work well to great effect in the past to likely inventiveness here. Unlike “Mr. & Mrs. Smith”, which executive producer Doug Liman also directed, the idea of the series is identification beyond all thoughts. Annie (Perabo’s character) second guesses herself in the first couple episodes which adds to the structure of how human she can be. She is a low level operative which, as the series seems to move on, is being used for her connection to another high level operative whom she isn’t even aware is a spy or is ultimately protecting her. This is an overarching structure of mythology that will either work very well or might fall short in decisive order since most of the series at least at this point seems to be teetering on this mystery. Another point of contention is keeping Annie to a point naive and innocent of her plight before she is ultimately betrayed. The problem with this progression is that ultimately a degree of cynicism will cause the audience to lose touch with her emotionally because you have to respect the intelligence of the character while still rooting for him or her. That is a situation which is befalling Michael Weston in “Burn Notice” because there is just so many times you can say “I have to do this for the greater good”.
The aspect of cop elements from a more gritty point of view highlight the last new shows of the spring. One gets really down and dirty while the other one just scratches the surface. On the other end, a cartoon series with pedigree falls flat and a miniseries with decent producing credentials flounders without a sense of direction. Such is the journey of the last of the new of the gentle springtime.
Southland This new series from John Wells of “ER” fame is one of the more gritty television shows to come out recently. The opening credit sequence sets a tone that works quite well. The new rookie kid is pretty good since you see the life through his eyes. The locations are mostly actual so you get to see a part of LA not usually shot. The stories are fairly engaging and it doesn’t use any overarching mythology so you can jump straight in. The comparison I make is to “Backdraft” because you get the feeling on the street while still having the cinematic angle. The scripts aren’t changed from their original state so the language is there and is just bleeped out. It makes the series more authentic but doesn’t overdo it. Granted the series is a procedural but angled in a slightly different way. This will have legs for sure as long as it doesn’t over-inundate the cast or take too many side plots away from the job.
Sit Down Shut Up Having heard about this at FOX’s luncheon back in January, it sounded like a mix/fusion of live action and animation. The problem is that it doesn’t seem to move at all. It has some humor but it requires a little more a delayed reaction. The voice talent (mostly “Arrested Development” alum) doesn’t fly off the screen. The science teacher played by Kristin Cronenweth is a small beacon of hope but it cannot buoy the entire series. You are just hoping for something with a little more bite but right now the first few episodes feel distant and disenfranchised. Maybe it will be allowed to grow but without an upturn in energy and creative, it might not have long.
The Beast This new series uses Patrick Swayze’s “Roadhouse” persona and ups it to a paranoid state. The only downside is that the humor, which he can be very good at, is gone. Despite any personal elements that might be intruding on his work, this is Swayze’s best acting in years because he is allowed to move and rivet. Granted the actual structure of the story borders on too procedural but that is done so the different episodes can act as a stand alones. His new partner, a younger chap, keeps up with him at times but this is Swayze’s series. He allows his protege to shine without seemingly overtaking the scene. Kevin O’Connor, best known from “The Mummy”, plays their handler. His delivery again is monotone despite his great propensity for humor. Again, this is different turf for both Swayze and O’Connor which is probably what they were drawn to. And the good thing about A&E, like AMC, is that they seem to get behind a pilot when they order it and see how it does unlike the networks in the current climate. This show will be allowed to breathe. The eventual revealing of the conspiracy sometimes points too many fingers to make it cohesive but the slip is forgiveable…for now. The Spy Vs. Spy elements can only work so long but the story also does not bog itself too much down at times with an excess of domestic elements. It sticks to the story. That is good.
Knights Of Bloodsteel Robert Halmi takes on another one of his sprawling epics but this one is less cohesive. This time it is predicated on “Lord Of The Rings” but lacks a true soul (or script). It involves a search for the Oracle and a disappearing resource called Bloodsteel. Structured within a dragon-filled world, the dialogue is too slang based involving heavy use of unknown treasures, various warlords and unpronouncable creatures. However there is never any real emotional connection to the story. The only single relationship that is even slight memorable is between an Elfin warrior girl and her grandfather wizard (played by Christopher Lloyd). Everyone seems to wearing ample prosthetics which don’t really seem to play well. They just seem to get in the way. Granted this is a cable miniseries so attention to certain balances must be maintained but the story never really gels. It simply goes between battles that never truly amount to a point. The ending psychological standoff between a would-be Highlander and a Voldemort clone seems a little static with the ultimate revelation and resolution being more formula ridden than archetype.
And such is the whim of man.