Sunday, October 23, 2011

New Network Dramas

The networks continue to struggle to adjust to modern audiences’ viewing habits and seem panicky and bewildered by sagging rating for their dramas.  I would suggest to them that they calm down and let some of these programs find their audiences.  There are some new dramas worth watching. 

PRIME SUSPECT (Thursdays, 9:00pm CST, NBC)

Dick Wolf is not involved in Prime Suspect but this new crime drama certainly has a Law & Order feel to it.  It has an honest grittiness to it that is hard to fake.  Maria Bello is absolutely terrific as the lead, Jane Timoney.  The detective is a tough, crusty, humorless cop who seems always to be trying to prove herself with her male counterparts and earn their respect.  She is a no-nonsense kind of gal and to her detriment, has little time for their boyish shenanigans.  All of this aside, she is a good cop and she works hard at her craft. 

This program has a lot of room for growth but we can see the possibilities.  Timoney’s fellow detectives offer some levity to her dead seriousness and they are willing to give their respect more quickly than she is to recognize it.  Prime Suspect is at its best following Timoney on her investigations and at its worst when she goes home to the recently divorced boyfriend and his young son.  Warm and fuzzies are not her strong suit and these scenes seem forced and awkward.  She is socially awkward enough at work but it is just downright painful at home.  With more episodes though, this area could work itself out.

I read comments and criticisms about Timoney’s signature hat and gum chewing (she’s trying to quit smoking).  Some find these distracting.  I say they add to her character, not distract from it.  Get over it and give this character and program a shot.  It is getting beat down in the ratings but it is better than the other two network shows it shares a timeslot with – CBS’ ever increasingly annoying The Mentalist and ABC’s barely medical soap opera Private Practice.  Do yourself a favor and give Prime Suspect a chance.

PERSON OF INTEREST (Thursdays, 8:00pm CST, CBS)

A convoluted and inadequately explained premise is this show’s weakest attributes.  In a process too complicated for this space, Lost’s Michael Emerson get a name an episode from a Homeland Security super computer that has been flagged by the computer as a risk.  Either this person is going to commit a crime or is going to be a victim of a crime.  Former shadowy, Special Forces operative John Reese, played stoically by Jim Caviazel investigates each person and tries to foil whatever crime is in the works.

If you can not think too hard on the general premise and enjoy the road of investigation, you will enjoy this program.  It seems more a suspense thriller than a crime drama.  There is always more to the person they investigate than meets the eye and the reveals are made slowly, keeping out interest strong.  Twists and turns are certainly a big part of the stories and they keep us on our toes.

I will say there needs to be some humorous relief.  Both Emerson’s Harold Finch and Reese are characters shrouded in mystery and are at their best when we catch brief glimpses of emotion from our leads.  Neither character has any humor whatsoever so the tone is quite dour and could use a character to lighten the mood.  Otherwise, I have little to complain about with this thriller.  It keeps me intrigued each week and that is all I can ask.

UNFORGETTABLE (Tuesdays, 9:00pm CST, CBS)

First of all, hyperthymesia is a real condition.  Only a few people in the world can remember every little detail of their lives.  Carrie Wells, played by former Without a Trace star Poppy Montgomery, is a detective with the ultimate photographic memory.  The show does a great job of showing her remembering by an out-of-body process where she strolls through the scenes she has already lived, focusing on details she didn’t realize were important when she lived them the first time. 

I’ve always been a Montgomery fan.  She underplays her characters with a quiet innocence and humbleness I find charming.  The Aussie shares the lead with Dylan Walsh’s Al Burns, a former partner and lover.  Their chemistry seems unforced and subtle.  There is a little tension but it doesn’t overwhelm the scenes or characters.   A strong and interesting supporting cast does not distract.

The crime storylines so far have been vanilla and barely intriguing.  The writers need to blend in the memory gimmick with more interesting stories.  With a little work, Unforgettable could be a terrific show but its dull plots could relegate it to being absolutely forgettable and that would be a crime.

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