Spring Cleaning on TV

New Shows: Smash, Scandal, Missing, Touch

By: - Apr 08, 2012


It’s that time of year when there is spring cleaning by TV networks. The lease has run out on the flops launched in the fall. A handful have traction while the deck is reshuffled to fill gaps. Slots open up for shows in the works. Or production schedules are moved up to flesh out the remainder of the season before summer reruns.

Networks make mistakes by pulling the plug too fast on shows that take time to build and find an audience.

While initially difficult to understand and get into we found ourselves more and more absorbed by the race track based show Luck on HBO. It featured a superb cast including Dustin Hoffman, Nick Nolte and the perennial Jill Henderson. With wonderful character actors fleshing out the minor roles. The sequences featuring races were stunningly photographed. Never having set foot on a track I found myself absorbed by the magnificence of these fragile animals.

In a sequence of three accidents which caused horses to be put down the show finished out the season but was not scheduled to continue next year. Much was made of the issue of cruelty to animals while producers prevailed that it is a part of the sport and that every precaution had been taken.  

They shoot horses don’t they?

Well, having jumped the shark too many times they are finally getting around to sticking a fork in Desperate Housewives and Grey’s Anatomy. Having watched the ladies of Wisteria Lane for so many seasons we are forcing ourselves to tough it out through the final episodes. Will they all go to jail for murder? As to Grey’s Anatomy we have already pulled the plug as Thursday night seems to have all the best shows.

ABC plays a dirty trick for those of us trying to Tivo shows to run later zapping through the ads. In any time slot you are given the option of just two shows. By running just over the hour mark that means that Grey’s Anatomy is one of the two options even though it continues for just a couple of minutes. The network strategy is that you will watch their next show. Dirty pool.

Talking with friends there is a lot of excitement about the launch of season two of Game of Thrones on HBO. Somehow I never connected and much of it is too violent to be followed by a restful sleep.

We prefer courtroom dramas like The Good Wife and Harry’s Law. Both shows have superb female leads. We have come to be intrigued by the sang froid of Julianna Margulies as the wronged politician’s wife. Archie Panjabi as Kalinda Sharma, the foxy and mysterious private investigator, never ceases to amaze. We just love Kathy Bases in Harry’s Law but it seems to be a cliff hanger looking for network stability. Perhaps it is just too sophisticated for a mass audience.

The trick of new shows is that they must post immediate ratings to assure shelf life. A couple of surprises this season were the soapy Revenge, afternoon suds in prime time, and the high concept but intriguing Person of Interest.

Our favorite of the new crop is NBC’s Smash a creation, first for TV, of the brilliant Theresa Rebeck. She wrote the first three episodes and used herself as the model for the charcter Julia Houston (Debra Messing) a songwriter/ lyricist and co writer of a Broadway bound musical based on Marilyn Monroe.

The show is a hit and will return next year but with Rebeck assuming a lesser role. Following the plot lines of back stabbing and deal making involved in writing and casting a Broadway musical this change comes as no surprise. It may well prove to be a plot point next season. Particularly as Messing’s character is suffering a major meltdown with a broken marriage and shattered personal life.

A theme of the show is the relentless pressures on actors, producers, writers and directors. As a theatre critic, for me, this behind the scenes melodrama is positively riveting. Particularly, as the truly gifted Rebeck has brought to the show such insight and realism.

The action focuses on the competition between two contenders for the role of Marilyn. Katharine McPhee as Karen Cartwright is a wholesome, awesomely talented newcomer from Iowa. She has the chops but lacks experience. As a married woman she declines a roll in the hay with Jack Davenport as Derek Wills an arrogant, ruthless director and total shit as a human being.

Megan Hilty as Ivy Lynn has paid her dues in the chorus of a hit musical. A blond bombshell who can dance and belt out a song she looks like a perfect Marilyn. Ivy knows the game and has sex with Derek. This makes for awkward rehearsals particularly when she flops in a studio performance for the potential backers. We find her, just like Marilyn, becoming dependent on pills. Those uppers and downers that have put many a star in an early grave.

In addition to those weekly clashes between Ivy and the newbie Karen we are riveted by behind the scenes moves by Anjelica Huston as producer Eileen Rand. A once beautiful leading lady, now just past middle age, Houston looks positively freaky. Have there been one too many nips and tucks? But she brings to the role swagger and panache.

We are thrilled to learn that Smash will be back for a second season. Particularly now that the wonderful Uma Thurman has been recruited as the star necessary to catapult the musical to Broadway. While Ivy and Karen are terrific it takes a big name on the marquee to sell tickets on Broadway.

The opening scene of Scandal, filling a 10 PM slot on ABC, went by in a blur. We struggled to catch up with what initially seems like a blind date and bar pickup. Actually it was a job interview. Well, not really. More like a hire.

Quinn Perkins (Katie Lowes) isn’t particularly interested in the improbable pitch and hard sell. But she is blown away to learn that she has been invited to join Olivia Pope & Associates a firm of lawyers who don’t practice law. They “fix things.” Headed by a former White House insider played by the stunning Kerry Washington.

They work out of a loft like penthouse in D.C. with a grungy look and awesome skylights. Quinn is told not to expect much of a salary and to forget about having a personal life but the chance to do good deeds for humanity.

Or something like that. The patter is so fast paced that we scramble to keep up with the catapulting and implausible action. Not only does Pope have a direct line to the Oval Office it seems that she had an affair with the President (Tony Goldwyn). Pope has been called in to “fix” a West Wing underling and ersatz Monica Lewinski.

Olivia does this brutally. Utterly destroying the life and career of Amanda (Liza Weil) because she believed the President who denied involvement.

It seems that Olivia operates on gut reactions. She can look a person in the eye and with some kind of mystical mojo just knows whether they are guilty or innocent. There is a meltdown when she learns that the President has used a very personal term of endearment with the intern. There is shock and anger on Olivia’s face as it is the very same phrase that the President expressed during their affair.

Having ruined the wronged Amanda now it seems that she will be a client of Olivia’s super duper fixer team. Fortunately, there is a week between episodes to catch your breath.

Scandal will surely be around as filler for the rest of the season. But don’t get hooked anticipating a return next year.

Initially I liked the new ABC show Missing.

The series follows Rebecca "Becca" Winstone (Ashley Judd), a now-retired CIA agent raising her son, Michael (Nick Eversman). Ten years earlier in 2001, Becca's husband Paul Winstone (Sean Bean), who was also working for the CIA, was killed in a car bombing that Michael was able to avoid, allegedly caused by Russian intelligence. Michael, now age 18, informs his mother that he has been accepted to a summer architecture program, in Rome, Italy. Becca, who runs a florist shop, is hesitant to let him go. After not hearing from him for over week and receiving a call informing her that Michael has moved out of his dorm room, Becca travels to Europe to find her son.

When it become apparent that her son has been kidnapped, ten years out of the spy game, Becca jumps back in. The soccer mom and florist appears to be in kick ass shape.

In the crazy world of TV Sean Bean, the superb British actor who was killed off, beheaded actually, from HBO’s series Game of Thrones, has surfaced in Missing. During the fast paced opening episode he was blown to bits as a CIA operative in Vienna.

It seemed odd that such a high profile actor would disappear after the first episode. Well, you guessed it, he didn’t really die. Where have we seen that before. Ten years later Becca, on the trail of her kidnapped son, stumbles on him.

After a few episodes, ten this season, the wheels have come off. We will probably continue to watch but with declining interest as the plot lines becomes every more absurd and implausible. Judd is supposed to be a former agent with a killer instinct but mostly just a frantic middle aged house wife. She is way too old to be plausible as the lead of an action thriller.

Talk about a show that outstayed its welcome we were pretty fed up with Kiefer Sutherland by the time the clock clicked down on the hit show 24.

There is a lot of the flavor and stoical reserve of Jack Baur in his Martin Bohm – a former journalist turned baggage handler, whose wife died in the September 11 attacks. He is struggling as the single dad of David Mazouz as Jacob "Jake" Bohm – a mute boy who is obsessed with numbers and can predict future events.

Bohm is helping his son make sense of the numbers. Jake won't talk but Martin feels like his son is communicating. The characters include a frail pawnshop owner, a lonely flight attendant, a grieving tourist from India, a stadium peanut vendor and a Russian middle school student with a magic act.   

The Fox show has been launched to mostly positive reviews for 13 episodes. For me it is running on vapors and the star power of Sutherland. But I am not among his fans and find little in the premise of this show that sustains interest.

The good news for TV fans is that Game of Thrones, on HBO and Mad Men on ABC are back. The niche networks continue to present edgy dramas. While the major networks serve up the usual predictable reality shows, celebrity-talent vehicles, games, and not very funny comedies.

PBS has been rather soft since the too brief season of Downton Abbey.

Oh well. There’s always Netflix.