Ellen Gray: 'Ben and Kate,' 'The Mindy Project,' 'Vegas' debut on Tuesday

Mindy Kaling created and stars in a sitcom for Fox.
Mindy Kaling created and stars in a sitcom for Fox.
Posted: September 26, 2012

* BEN AND KATE. 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Fox 29.

* THE MINDY PROJECT. 9:30 p.m. Tuesday, Fox 29.

* VEGAS. 10 p.m. Tuesday, CBS 3.

FOX GOES on a charm offensive Tuesday, rolling out two new episodes of its sophomore "New Girl" to welcome two new comedies to its lineup.

You don't need me (or Siri) to tell you that Zooey Deschanel can sell anything - she's the fabric of our lives. But even someone who's mildly Zooey-challenged (hey, we exist) might cotton to "Ben and Kate" and "The Mindy Project," which together with "Raising Hope," returning next week, add another strong comedy block to a season not exactly short on them.

Meanwhile, drama takes another trip back to the 1960s as CBS baby-steps out of its comfort zone with "Vegas," a show from Nicholas Pileggi ("Goodfellas") that's inspired by the story of former Las Vegas sheriff Ralph Lamb. Dennis Quaid plays Lamb opposite Michael Chiklis as a fictional mobster named Vincent Savino who has big plans for Lamb's once-small town.

I'm already sold on "The Mindy Project," which was one of my favorite comedy pilots this fall.

After eight seasons as a cast member and writer on NBC's "The Office" and a best-selling memoir, Mindy Kaling has taken her smart, funny self over to Fox, where, on a show she created, she's playing an ob-gyn who's a little too fond of glitter.

Kaling's Mindy Lahiri isn't just a doctor, though. She's a diligent student of romantic comedy and like most of the heroines she's fixated on, she's flunking Romance 101, embarrassing herself and others in cringe-worthy ways, "Bridget Jones"-style.

It doesn't hurt that Ed Helms and Bill Hader guest-star in the premiere, but Kaling's surrounded herself with a solid cast of regulars, including Chris Messina ("The Newsroom," "Damages") as an antagonistic colleague, British actor/writer Ed Weeks as Mindy's Hugh Grant-equivalent, Stephen Tobolowsky ("Glee") as her boss and Anna Camp ("The Good Wife") as a college best friend who's already achieved the happily-ever-after Mindy thinks she wants.

None of which would matter without the writing. So far, Kaling's is pitch-perfect.

I have hopes, too, for "Ben and Kate," a sweet if not yet laugh-a-minute sitcom starring Dakota Johnson (daughter of Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith) as an anxious single mom named Kate Fox and Nat Faxon (who shared a writing Oscar for "The Descendants") as her whimsically irresponsible brother Ben.

Created by Dana Fox, who wrote "The Wedding Date" and was a producer on "New Girl" - and who really does have a brother named Ben Fox - "Ben and Kate" has great sibling chemistry, a cute kid (Maggie Elizabeth Jones as Kate's daughter, Maggie) and an appealing premise.

With any luck, I'll be laughing soon.

It would be lucky, too, at least for CBS, if Quaid, whose trademark grin has helped fuel a successful movie career, gets the opportunity to laugh, or at least smile a bit more, in "Vegas."

Because while Ralph Lamb has plenty to grimace about in "Vegas" - he's a widower, his way of life's threatened by the growth of the casino industry and he's been dragged off his ranch to solve a case involving the murder of the governor's niece - a sullen Quaid is like a sullen Simon Baker (whose smile has helped make "The Mentalist" a much bigger hit for CBS than "The Guardian" ever was).

Let's just say Quaid's lawman makes Chiklis' gangster look positively affable.

Jason O'Mara ("Life on Mars," "Terra Nova") plays Ralph Lamb's brother Jack and Taylor Handley his playboy son Dixon, both of whom will be functioning as Lamb's deputies as he makes a reluctant transition from rancher to lawman. Carrie-Anne Moss plays an assistant district attorney - which no one in 1960 seems to find odd - who grew up on the ranch next to Lamb's. And who's so far one of the few characters able to get the sheriff's face to move on a regular basis.

People who like their procedurals with punch - there's plenty of punching, not to mention kicking, in the pilot - might like CBS' period cop show just the way it is.

But if I'm going to stay with "Vegas," I'm going to need to be wooed a little.

Our readers on 'Vegas'

"Vegas" got mixed reviews from this year's Everybody's a Critic panel, 20 Daily News and philly.com readers ranging in age from 26 to 60 who gave the pilot an average score of 6.75 on a scale of one to 10.

"I thought that they picked a great time and location," wrote Ed Steinberg, of Wynnewood, who'd like to see "some fun" for Quaid's and Moss' characters. "Great old views of Vegas - love it! Cool cars."

"What I enjoyed the most about this show was the time period," wrote George Schreuder, of South Philadelphia. "In all of our minds, this was an innocent time, but in this TV show, it's a time for fisticuffs, gunfire, murder and mob control."

It reminded Olney's Deborah Ervin of Dennis Weaver's old show, "McCloud." She would watch, she wrote, "to see where it goes."

"Definitely worth watching," wrote Howard White, of North Philadelphia. "Love the '60s background. Dennis Quaid is the best."

"The whole cowboy/gangster thing does not work for me," wrote Overbrook's Lisa Y. Andrews, who nevertheless liked "Dennis and Michael."

"Vegas" "has a cool concept, but [the] execution didn't blow me away," wrote Mark Myers, of Pennsport. "Quaid seems to be trying too hard to be a tough cowboy. Early on, the mix of genres is not working. If they don't find a good balance between Western, cop and mob show, it will just be a complete mess."

Contact Ellen Gray at graye@phillynews.com or 215-854-5950. Follow her on Twitter @elgray. Read her blog at EllenGray.tv.

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