Jonathan Storm: Solid, not super, but lots to watch

Will Arnett and Keri Russell are the odd romantic couple in Fox's comedy "Running Wilde," premiering Tuesday.
Will Arnett and Keri Russell are the odd romantic couple in Fox's comedy "Running Wilde," premiering Tuesday.
Posted: September 21, 2010

The networks dump seven new series onto the schedule Tuesday and Wednesday. That's too much even for professional viewers. You amateurs really have your work cut out for you, as one of the most intensive season premiere weeks in TV history continues to unfold.

The good news is you can set the clicker just about anywhere and not be forced to turn away in disgust. The comedies are affable. The dramas come in various shades of exciting and mysterious.

The other good news is you could simply ignore the whole thing and still be in the loop at the water cooler. It's hard to imagine any of these shows morphing into the Next Big Thing.

Offbeat in a way that might inspire lukewarm loyalty, one of the comedies, Raising Hope, could be one of the next medium things. And, almost shockingly, Jim Belushi delivers an addictive performance as a Las Vegas lawyer in The Defenders.

What else is new? Dark, fast times with Michael Imperioli and the murder police in Detroit. Wacky sitcomerie (maybe a little too wacky) with a great cast from some of the Arrested Development folks. Another great cast in a generic sitcom. Another lawyer show, where we see each case from both prosecution and defense point of view. And a very watchable spy show in which the action heroes are not only beautiful, but caterers.

Raising Hope (Fox29, 9 p.m. Tuesday). Jimmy Chance can't believe his luck. A beauty jumps into his car and then wants to sleep with him, too. And she's smart. She can pronounce Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Alas, she's a serial killer. The cops come after Jimmy's mom whacks her on the head with the TV set, and she winds up on Death Row. Jimmy and his family and the baby who was the product of their coupling watch as she writhes (very briefly) in the electric chair.

Then the show really begins. Jimmy brings his little daughter home, and his mom and dad agree to help bring her up, even though 23-year-old Jimmy, whom they had when they were 15, is living proof that they know zero about such a job.

You can probably tell this is not your average sitcom. What you probably can't sense is a surprising tenderness and gentle humor (along with the crass) in this family, living on the socio-economic fringes in the house of Jimmy's grandma, so dotty she rarely wears enough clothes.

Cloris Leachman is the grandma; Martha Plimpton is the mother; Garret Dillahunt, who has a million credits, most recently as The Terminator in Fox's Sarah Connor Chronicles, is the dad; newcomer Lucas Neff is Jimmy. They bring just the right level of clueless earnestness to the writing of Greg Garcia, who, with My Name Is Earl, has proved he can walk tall in the land of well-intentioned incompetents.

Running Wilde (Fox29, 9:30 p.m. Tuesday). This one reunites Arrested Development's Mitch Hurwitz, Jim Vallely and Will Arnett and stars Arnett as Steven Wilde, the hopelessly spoiled scion of an oil magnate, and Felicity's Keri Russell as the object of his affection.

She is Emma, the hopelessly broke do-gooder who has spent years in the Amazon rain forest trying to save the indigenous people - much to the chagrin of her now 12-year-old daughter, Puddle.

Goofy characters and situations abound as these unlikely opposites do their romantic dance when Emma decides to move into the tree house behind Steven's huge mansion.

The show would be better if it got a little closer to the ground, but Wilde, with unusually beautiful production values (for a sitcom), completes a one-hour, laugh track-free, absurdist block that gives Fox its best chance at comedy success since The Bernie Mac Show and Malcolm in the Middle.

Detroit 1-8-7 (6ABC, 10 p.m. Tuesday). NYPD Blue's James McDaniel joins Imperioli and a fine cast, including the City of Detroit itself, in this show that tries to imbue a Cops-like documentary feel to its action, all shot on location.

"There's nothing like walking up on a crime scene," says McDaniel's character, one of a loose-knit family of misfits who live for, and are pretty good at, solving homicides, but don't have a lot of luck in the rest of their lives.

It's not easy being a cop in Detroit. You ask somebody to describe the guy who ran into his car and he says, "White and crazy," before mugging for the camera.

This is the kind of unit, like the ones in Homicide: Life on the Street or CSI or even NCIS, that may slowly lure viewers into the sticky web of its idiosyncrasies and personal lives, as the detectives solve their weekly cases.

Undercovers (NBC10, 8 p.m. Wednesday). No-nonsense CIA factotum Carlton Shaw, played by Gerald McRaney who always brightens up the proceedings, lures Steven and Samantha Bloom back into the spy business, after a five-year hiatus in which they married and started a catering company.

While in the exotic and glamorous field (stops in Wednesday's pilot include Madrid, Paris, and Moscow), they field calls from her sister, trying to the keep the pot, or the scads of pots and pans in their glorious kitchen, boiling back in L.A.

They have an overeager assistant and every gadget and techno-bauble you can imagine. ("We need a whole bunch of stuff, really fast," Samantha says in a phone call back to headquarters.)

But mostly they rely on their, well-trained, kick-butt gorgeous selves (Samantha's an expert in "sexpionage") to force the bad guys into submission. Absent the bizarre, centuries-old conspiracy plot, this show looks a lot like Alias, and it should, since that show's daddy, savvy J.J. Abrams, works behind the scenes.

Boris Kodjoe and Gugu Mbatha-Raw become the first black lead-character couple in an American TV action drama. But it's no breakthrough for African Americans. Both of them are from Europe.

Better With You (6ABC, 8:30 p.m. Wednesday). Unmarried Maddie and Ben have been together nine years. Her younger sister, Mia, decides to marry her boyfriend after nine weeks. Family fun ensues.

Jennifer Finnigan (The Bold and the Beautiful, Close to Home) plays Maddie. Philadelphia's Josh Cooke plays Ben. JoAnna Garcia (Privileged, How I Met Your Mother) plays Mia. Debra Jo Rupp (That '70s Show) and the well-traveled Kurt Fuller are their parents. The whole thing perks along like a Honda Civic and is just about as exciting.

The Whole Truth (6ABC, 10 p.m. Wednesday). Back after battling cancer, Maura Tierney brings her always provocative presence to this legal show as the prosecutor, while Rob Morrow plays the defense attorney. Their back-and-forth is reminiscent of the interplay between Morrow and Janine Turner long ago on Northern Exposure.

There's some minor Rashomon-style point-of-view switching as the attorneys prepare their opposing cases each week, and never know who's going to win, which makes this a bit different, and a bit more intriguing, than many standard lawyer shows.

The Defenders (CBS3, 10 p.m. Wednesday). Belushi, as the family-man half of an unorthodox legal team, brings some humorous energy to the practice of law. Jerry O'Connell, as the single partner with the huge vintage Plymouth and a girl in every casino, brings the good looks.

The plots feature lots of creative legal give-and-take to keep the audience amused and guessing.

In the pilot, Belushi's legal eagle gets a brain wave watching a game in which Phillie Cole Hamels nails Marlin Dan Uggla with a fastball.

A far cry from the serious and superb CBS show of the same name from the early '60s, this Defenders plays the Vegas card frequently. Their new associate is an ex-stripper ("No lap dances for the jurors," warns the prosecutor), and wait till you see who the boys are dying to catch at the once-legendary Sahara Congo Room.


Jonathan Storm:

Television

Raising Hope

9 p.m. Tuesday on Fox29

Running Wilde

9:30 p.m. Tuesday on Fox29

Detroit 1-8-7

10 p.m. Tuesday on 6ABC

Undercovers

8 p.m. Wednesday on NBC10

Better Without You

8:30 p.m. Wednesday on 6ABC

The Whole Truth

10 p.m. Wednesday on 6ABC

The Defenders

10 p.m. Wednesday on CBS3


Contact television critic Jonathan Storm at 215-854-5618 or jstorm@phillynews.com.

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