Jonathan Storm: 2 fun new summer series

ABC's "Scoundrels" stars Virginia Madsen (fourth from left) as Cheryl West, David James Elliott (fifth from left) as Wolfgang "Wolf" West, and Leven Rambin (sixth from left) as Heather West.
ABC's "Scoundrels" stars Virginia Madsen (fourth from left) as Cheryl West, David James Elliott (fifth from left) as Wolfgang "Wolf" West, and Leven Rambin (sixth from left) as Heather West.

"The Gates" and "Scoundrels" are watchable, if not top-flight.

Posted: June 20, 2010

Vampires and werewolves and witches, oh my! And who knows what else is locked behind those, 12-foot, 11-ton steel gates, hand-forged in England, where, I suppose, they really know how to forge?

Such is the premise of The Gates, one of two new series premiering on ABC Sunday. The other, Scoundrels, is more down-to-earth, as the guy from JAG gets sent off to jail, and his family of con artists and airheads, with two kids from the soaps, tries to make it on the straight and narrow.

Scoundrels, at 9 p.m., and The Gates, at 10, may not be exactly the stuff you can't wait another week for, but both are watchable and fun, part of a big ABC effort to put something new, if not original, on the air most nights this summer.

You get the usual phony romance (The Bachelorette) and fun and games: people battering themselves on giant obstacle courses (Wipeout), or trying to answer questions, in a show called Downfall, on top of a skyscraper before their prizes (and maybe a friend or relative) hurtle off the edge. The goods smash to smithereens on the street below. The people are protected by bungee cords.

But you also get three new series with scripts and actors - Scoundrels, The Gates, and Rookie Blue, a cop show that premieres Thursday. All three have been produced with international partners. Rookie is a Canadian coproduction; Scoundrels is based on a New Zealand series; Fox Television Studios secured foreign financing to produce The Gates, which, with all its sexy hocus-pocus, should play pretty well almost anywhere.

The shows have a little bit of a low-budget look, but they're not distractingly cheap, and certainly several steps above the reruns and reality shows you're used to on the broadcast networks in the summertime. Everything can't be Lost or True Blood.

The Gates arrives with a bit of the vibe of True Blood, with humans who seem to run up against all manner of unsavory supernatural creatures. It's tough to tell in Sunday's premiere exactly who's what, even if a handsome contractor does get drained by a gorgeous housewife with unusual cravings and a teen boy goes canine when his girlfriend falls for the new kid.

He's the son of the Chicago cop with a bit of a history who's been hired to be chief of police at The Gates. Bill Gates doesn't live there, but The Gates is still the ultimately secure gated community, with, among other things, more than 200 infrared-sensitive, motion-detecting cameras and 15 kilometers of interlocking, pressure-circuit ground sensors, not to mention those imposing gates at the entrance of The Gates.

The need for a police chief is open to question, especially when it turns out that neither the town council nor the man who built The Gates is much interested in having the cops, or anybody else, snooping around in the affairs of the citizens.

People buy homes in The Gates to protect themselves from the outside world, but what if the world within is even more dangerous? For instance, what if Mrs. Vampire gets the hots - "My husband is out of town." "How long?" "Long enough."- not for the plumber's buff bod, but for his blood, which she bottles and sticks in the wine cellar?

The cop and his family have no idea this sort of thing goes on in The Gates, or that the competing "herbalists" in town may be giving them things that the FDA wouldn't OK, but the cop knows something's fishy. His wife would like him just to stay home and be a father and dad and not go sticking his nose where nobody wants it, but, thank goodness, that's not gonna stop him.

Scoundrels has a much sunnier air, partly because it's set in Palm Springs and partly because it has a sense of humor, not the least of which comes from the relationship between the two soap opera veterans who play very different sisters.

All My Children's Leven Rambin, 19, is the bodacious blond who might not be quite as dumb as she seems, even if her sister decides that there is no way she can possibly make her living with her clothes on. Nighttime viewers may know Rambin as Sloan Riley, Dr. McSteamy's pregnant daughter on Grey's Anatomy, or as just plain Riley, John Connor's girlfriend on Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. She has left the Rileys behind and is now named Heather.

Vanessa Marano, 17, from The Young and the Restless, plays Hope, a super-smart schemer who skips school chronically so she can pursue her dream. "I want to be a filmmaker. You don't need an education for that," she tells her mother. Prime-time viewers may know Marano as one of Jack Malone's daughters in Without a Trace or as Luke's lost daughter, April, on Gilmore Girls.

David James Elliott, who played lawyer/fighter pilot Harm Rabb on JAG, took over the role of Wolf West (don't let the name confuse you; he's only a small-time criminal, not some hairy-handed gent who ran amok in Kent) when Neil McDonough objected to doing "sex scenes," though most of the stuff here could play on Nickelodeon.

The object of Wolf's affections is his wife, Cheryl, played by the Oscar-nominated (Sideways) Virginia Madsen, who decides, after hubby gets sent away, to get the family on the up and up. This could be especially difficult in the case of slack-jawed Cal, who's the opposite of his twin brother, Logan the lawyer. One actor, Patrick John Flueger, plays both roles, and there's a way to save a little money in the summer.

It's an attractive, talented ensemble, and you wish them luck (though so much that it spoils the laughs) as they try to turn their lives around Sundays this summer, before the gates of Hell creak open on The Gates and all the scary stuff starts.

Jonathan Storm:



9 p.m. Sunday on 6ABC

The Gates

10 p.m. Sunday on 6ABC

Contact television critic Jonathan Storm at 215-854-5618 or Read his recent work at

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