Stuck in the middle

It’s a sorry state of affairs in TV Land.

It’s a sorry state of affairs in TV Land.

The broadcast landscape, now riddled with so-called reality shows and moronic game/competition programs, the scripted drama (or comedy) is a slowly dying relic of a time when audiences craved something (marginally) more substantial than tone-deaf prima donnas arguing their unrealistic musical ambitions to a trio of arbiters whose contributions to modern pop music are about as memorable and influential as my dog’s morning bowel movements.

That’s why it should come as no surprise that this midseason’s ratings push features plenty of programming in the ilk of America’s Next Top Emaciated Jailbait Hooker.

But to compliment the absurd game/competition shows such as Superstars of Dance, 13: Fear is Real and Homeland Security USA are an unusually high number of hidden camera fueled programs, two of which were masterminded by (no surprises here) Ashton Kutcher (Game Show In My Head and True Beauty).

Granted, it is amusing to watch a poorly disguised Howie Mandel sloppily wait tables, slipping his fingers into food and drinks he delivers to confused and disgusted customers. But Howie Do It‘s premise (Howie Mandel dressed in a shaggy wig and boxy glasses fucking with unsuspecting suckers) is going to get real tired, real fast. Not to mention the irritating pun in the show’s title.

Now it’s always been my policy to largely ignore reality/game shows, particularly when it comes to advising the viewing public on what they should be watching. And I fully intend to continue doing so. So, what’s new in the narrative department of the mid-season?

Well, in addition to the return of all the current TV faves (be advised Scrubs fans, the show is moving to ABC) the big networks are tearing into the New Year with a pathetic offering of interesting new shows. I break down your best bets in the broadcast television department. Let’s take a look.
Show: Lie To Me, FOX
Premise: Dr. Cal Lightman (played by the exemplary Tim Roth) is the world’s leading deception expert. A man so adept at reading the subtle body language and facial ticks that accompany a lie, he is sought out by federal investigators to assist in the interrogation of criminal suspects.
The good: Tim Roth. It’s about time the exceptionally talented British actor got picked up as a leading man. He’s got the range, now let’s see if he can carry a show.
The bad: The Dr. House Effect. Lightman appears to be of the Dr. House variety, the brilliant, antisocial genius that the audience loves to hate (or hates to love). Let’s hope the show runners can keep Dr. Lightman and Dr. House apart.
The bottom line: This show has got potential. Based on the real-life work of Paul Ekman, a psychologist who has pioneered the study of facial expressions, Lie To Me could be the smart, engaging crime show that FOX needs. Of course smart isn’t an attribute often assigned to FOX programming. (A side note: it would be interesting to see Ekman assess Roth, given that actors are essentially professional liars.)
Show: Dollhouse, FOX
Premise: The show follows Echo (played by Eliza Dushku), a “doll” or “active” who is essentially a classy sci-fi escort. The dolls are a group of personality-free individuals who can be hired to complete a variety of tasks. They can have memories, skills and languages imprinted on the blank slates that are their minds, allowing them to complete any of the activities that they are hired to do, before having their minds wiped clean again.
The good: The premise of Dollhouse is interesting, but the show’s creator, fan fave Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly), will have to walk a fine line in order for this show not to turn into some bizarre, modern-day Matrix. Given the main character’s Keanu-esque lack of personality and a group of individuals who can be programmed to know kung-fu, the ingredients are definitely there.
The bad: Joss Whedon and Eliza Dushku. Before I get a bunch of furious Whedon-devotees angrily threatening me via email I should make it clear that I’m just not a Whedon fan. Buffy? Never got into it, and Firefly? Look, the crew of the Serenity just can’t pull off the fake swears like the crew of the Galactica can. It was sort of lame. As for Dushku? Tru Calling. ‘Nuff said.  
Show: Kings, NBC
Premise: A modern day take on the classic David vs. Goliath story set in the fictional metropolis of Shiloh in the Royal Kingdom of Gilboa. It seems the city of Shiloh has seen some rough times, primarily the ongoing conflict with the so far ambiguous Gath (is it a country, militant group, singularity networking the minds of thousands, what?). So when a young soldier, conveniently named David (played by Christopher Egan) saves the king’s son from enemy territory, young David is promoted to captain, and he becomes a symbol for hope and peace. As David reluctantly assumes the role as spokesman for peace, garnering a major following, there are those inside the kingdom who wish to see him fall.
The good: Politics. Arguably, some of the biggest television successes in years have been borne of a healthy dose of politics, and more specifically the obscene power plays and manipulations that go into the game of government, especially when the military gets involved. Ian McShane, Deadwood‘s manipulative saloon proprietor, returns to the small screen as the King of Gilboa.
The bad: The previews so far have not been promising. Given that the show is not out ’til March, there’s not a lot to go on, but the overall production and look of the show seems a little half-assed.