Playing TV catch-up

Taking stock of some of the March TV that’s premiered the last couple weeks before we head into season finale for about two months:

likeable guy + likable area of america + likable supporting cast and characters = likable show. why is that so hard?

likeable guy + likable area of america + likable supporting cast and characters = likable show. why is that so hard?

JUSTIFIED (FX, Tuesdays at 10 p.m. and likely rebroadcast about a billion times during the week): What a nice little career Timothy Olyphant has carved out. Sure, he’s never going to be the biggest star in the world — which was probably why he didn’t get the part of Tony Stark, a role he was rumored for at one time. But he doesn’t have anything so glaringly bad on his resume that you have to turn your head away from like you were looking at Sloth from Goonies or something. He had the really memorable parts of Go — one of the most underrated movies of the last 15 years — was a critical darling in Deadwood, the only thing even close to redeeming twice (Catch and Release in 2006 and the second season of Damages last year) and even managed to not be the worst Die Hard villain in what was the worst Die Hard movie. All in all, not too shabby. So when a guy with a pretty good reputation takes the lead role in a show on a network with a pretty good reputation for turning out gripping, interesting TV, you take notice out of curiosity at the very least. That’s about how I went into it, almost being compelled to watch under the usual FX promo barrage. There’s nothing really that different about Justified, a frenzied but focused combination of In Plain Sight, Gunsmoke and The Wire — just not all the good parts. It’s fun being transported to a place in America — backwoods Kentucky — where people live in complete ambivalence of law enforcement, even though judges let admitted murders out of jail without bail before their trial (ha!). And it’s fun watching Olyphant amble through his own personal old-school world with his slow, folksy, southern drawl while everybody else is running at full speed and using important sounding acronyms like AG, FBI, NSA, and so on. For the first hour of the pilot, we’re being spoon-fed the idea he’s completely in control of every situation and it would take a Tin Cup-like shot off three different ricochets to knock him off his high horse. But wait, this is FX, it can’t be that easy! Let’s throw in that his ex-wife ran off with his father. Yeah, that should do it. It’s an interesting twist because we’ve never really seen anything like that on TV before, but it reeks of a bunch of writers sitting around going, “OK, people, no one is leaving this room until we figure out something really weird for this guy to be dealing with!” Daddy-ran-away-with-my-wife was the 987th suggestion but everyone was too tired to fight it. Because I find Olyphant very likable, I’ll stick with it, but I’m a bit worried I’ll get bored by week 3, relegate it to OnDemand status and then lose track of it once other shows start coming back in April. GRADE: B-

SONS OF TUCSON (Fox, Sundays at 9:30 p.m.): Two strikes for the very funny Tyler Labine, who still has the stink of the Invasion Curse all over him. So after Invasion and Reaper, Sons of Tucson might be his last chance to stick on TV before he’s relegated to guest-starring roles on ‘Til Death. But as good and funny as Labine always is as he tries to be the Comedic Fat Guy of this generation — adios for good, Horatio Sanz — there aren’t much more than predictable, throw-away one-liners in the kinda-good-but-nowhere-near-great pilot. The good news is Labine handles them flawlessly and flashes the comedic timing skills that prove he deserves the chance to have his own sitcom. Unfortunately, it might not be this one since the kids he’s matched up with bring the show to a screeching halt. The kids are paying him to act as their father while real dad, a banker, is in jail for fraud or money laundering or whatever crime du jour is in vogue. He signs things for school functions, gets them out of trouble whenever the little scamps decide to accidentally set fire to a school barbecue — oh, you crazy kids! — so they don’t have to go into foster care. Labine gets a nice place to stay because he is, of course, homeless. Because that’s what happens to fat funny guys in their early 30s, they end up homeless living in their cars. What, it’s common knowledge! After watching the kids for five minutes, it got stuck in my head that they were trying to turn them into what the kids from Malcolm in the Middle would be doing now — then I noticed that Justin Berfield (Reese from Malcom) is a producer. So that’s what Sons of Tucson is — vastly inferior Malcom in the Middle kids with a funnier, if not less realistic, parent. That’s not nearly enough to make it better than Malcom, though. If Labine stays funny, I’ll stick around. I might not have a choice on that, though. GRADE: C+, because I’m just not buying these kids as funny:

SOUTHLAND (TNT, Tuesdays at 10 p.m.): Cheating here since it’s not a new show. But it sure seems like one, doesn’t it? New channel, new curses they can say, more violent — this is a whole new Southland we’re seeing after its move from NBC to TNT. It’s a good thing, I guess. Maybe we were all expecting more with a Nip/Tuck or Rescue Me-type risque-ness, but that’s not this show. What they all of a sudden did infuse is a Damages-esque flash forward to start every show — not a fan — and a couple “s” words. That’s just about it. What they’ve kept is more important — the gritty, harsh world of a cop, even if it’s being done to death a little bit. I have no idea what’s it like to be a cop, but Southland and Homicide are the ones that I realistically believe are as close as you can get from having cop friends and associates. That fix-up dinner-date Ben had a couple weeks ago, where his friends were being jokey and callous about a triple murder he discovered that morning? I’ve been in that spot from being a reporter. You’re still recovering from seeing what you’ve seen, but you still have to deal with friends laughing and asking probing questions you have no desire to answer. And they did that scene absolutely perfectly. But cops can have good days, you know. They’re probably few and far between, but they don’t always have to end with a dead potential girlfriend or the arrest of a father for hiring a low-life to kill his wife. Maybe we need a good day in Southland sometime soon. GRADE: B

PARENTHOOD (NBC, Tuesdays at 10 p.m.): When you turn a book into a film, people don’t want to see a page-by-page, word-by-word dictation of the literary work. You want to see it adapted truthfully and thematically, but you don’t just want to see a movie without imagination or creativity that breathes no life into the original. Anyone can do that with a hand-held camera some actors reading from the book. If that is what happens — like about 90 percent of Watchmen — at least you haven’t seen it before on the big screen or on TV, so you get to see the characters come to life. When you’re adapting a TV show from a movie — especially a movie that’s still relevant and can pretty easily be found on Encore or HBO on a Saturday afternoon — the worst thing you can do is just remake the movie with new actors. So that’s why I only lasted through the pilot of Parenthood, and wanted to check out even earlier than that. Peter Krause does everything but get his minivan delight like Steve Martin in the original movie, every kid is exactly the same as the ones from the original. It almost seems like if anyone asked a question of the director about their performance, he looked at them weirdly and said, “Didn’t you see the movie?” Whether it’s gotten better or not, I’m not sure, and frankly just don’t care. I see where this is going, and it’s headed right into Brothers and Sisters territory. I already have one of those in my life I’m trying to kick. I don’t want to be sitting around three years from now watching Parenthood going, “I wish I had something better to do so that I don’t have to watch this show.” Then I would feel terrible about my life because I really didn’t have anything better to do. GRADE: C-, because we’ve seen this before:

UGLY AMERICANS (Comedy Central, Wednesdays at 10:30 p.m.): Poor Comedy Central. For 17 years and counting, it’s tried to find a companion piece to South Park, something that would keep audiences laughing right into Daily Show and, now, Colbert Report. That would give it quite the powerful late-night comedy block on Wednesdays. I’m racking my brain trying to think of some of the shows that have come and gone, and I’m empty, except for Reno 911!, the only true success. There was that crap show last year about the friends and the strip club, Sarah Silverman was a modest success, but for the most part, it’s been a bad failure. Get ready to throw another attempt on the scrap heap, because there just isn’t much going on with Ugly Americans. It’s a show that has an interesting premise — just about every one in New York City is some kind of demon, alien, demigod, etc. Insert your own “wink, wink” here. But it just ain’t that funny, and certainly not enough to sustain a half-hour show. I think I laughed once and smiled twice. How does an original show with an original idea like this seem so tired? Just seems like we’ve vaguely seen it all before. GRADE: C

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