In Royal Pains (Thursday, 9 p.m., USA), a brilliant Manhattan ER doctor named Hank (Mark Feuerstein) cares so much about saving lives that he takes on too many patients one day, leading to tragedy. He loses his job, his fiancée and his money, then sinks into lethargy. Enter his horndog brother (Paulo Costanzo) with a plan to crash the beautiful-people scene in the Hamptons. Hank reluctantly tags along to an elite party, where he stumbles on a woman having a seizure. He springs into action, impresses the filthy-rich guests, and suddenly finds himself in demand as a "concierge doctor," at the beck and call of the Hamptons' jet set.
It's easy to see why they like Hank. He's capable of doing heart surgery at the drop of a hat, even without medical equipment. At one impromptu mansion procedure, he successfully operates using only a Bic pen and a Baggie.
USA shines at comic dramas featuring memorably eccentric characters - see Monk, Psych, Burn Notice and In Plain Sight. Royal Pains isn't as good as these, and Feuerstein doesn't exactly leap off the screen as Hank. On the other hand, the series is packed with eye candy, from fancy cars to gorgeous extras to glitzy parties. And maybe that's all we need from a summer TV show.
Bring on the Bic pens and Baggies.
Saturday, 9:45 pm (WHA)
Wisconsin Public Television makes an admirable commitment to state film with this four-part series, featuring interviews with filmmakers followed by a screening of their work. The premiere spotlights Seth Hedrington and Nick Holle, who discuss their compulsively jokey Illegal Use of Joe Zopp.
Sunday, 9 pm (Lifetime)
Battles rage in this military soap opera - domestic battles, that is. In the absorbing season premiere, Claudia Joy's (Kim Delaney) 16-year-old daughter tries to run off with a young private so she won't have to accompany her officer-father to an assignment in Brussels. Denise (Catherine Bell) is fired from her nursing job for consorting with a patient while her estranged husband fights the enemy overseas. "I find your behavior while he's risking his life for this country despicable," her supervisor snarls.
When Barack Obama was elected president, many of us hoped he'd bring relief to our beleaguered armed forces. But it's looking less and less likely that a new administration will help the strained relationships on Army Wives.
Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List
Monday, 9 pm (Bravo)
Comedian Kathy Griffin has an original critique of celebrity. She savages self-indulgent stars while posing as a D-List personality who longs to be on the A-List herself.
I disliked the first couple years of Griffin's reality series because she let this comic mask drop. Behind the mock grandiosity, we realized, was real grandiosity, and it wasn't at all entertaining.
I'm happy to report that Griffin's new strategy for My Life on the D-List is to keep the comic mask firmly in place. She stays in character even during supposedly "candid" scenes at home or backstage with her assistants. That makes each episode a treasure trove of comic shtick.
For example, Griffin crashes the Grammy headquarters in L.A., hoping to browbeat the organization into nominating her comedy album for an award. She disobeys an executive's order by sneaking a Grammy award out of a trophy case and proudly posing with it. "Where you gonna take me, Grammy jail?" she asks defiantly.
In another vignette, Griffin puts on a hoodie and sunglasses for a night at the Holiday Inn Express, insisting that fans will mob her if she's not in disguise. She hides behind a potted plant, even though there's apparently no danger of anyone recognizing her. Later she takes advantage of the hotel's complimentary breakfast, acknowledging that D-List stars don't have money to burn.
The A-List surely has its advantages, but Griffin makes the D-List look a lot more fun.
Monday, 9:30 pm (Showtime)
How does Edie Falco follow up her unforgettable role in The Sopranos? With a role I'm already trying to forget. Nurse Jackie is a "comedy" about a foulmouthed Manhattan ER nurse who indulges in painkillers and vigilante justice. She forges an organ-donor card for a bike messenger who died due to medical incompetence; then she flushes a jerky patient's severed ear down the toilet. Are you laughing yet?
Believe me, you won't be during the grotesque scenes in the operating room. The series is, literally, a bloody mess. One minute it tries to be hyper-realistic; the next, broadly farcical. Jackie is alternately sickening and saintly, and ultimately incoherent.
I'm going to need a dose of painkillers myself to get through episode 2.
Wednesdays, 8 pm (WHA)
In a compelling profile, Neil Young emerges as the very spirit of rock. He's a man driven to chase his next musical vision, expectations be damned. Former mates in Buffalo Springfield and Crosby Stills Nash & Young describe the restlessness that caused him to leave a band on a moment's notice, or strike out in puzzling new directions rather than milk a successful formula. "It's like having the wind in your band," says David Crosby.
The filmmakers do justice to Neil's esthetic with a grainy look, shaky images and a slightly spacey tone. Still scraggly and intense in his 60s, the singer-guitarist fixes the interviewer with his severe eyes and says, "My first job is to follow the musical course. It's to the detriment of everything - relationships, projects. They get derailed. There's gonna be a lot of collateral damage."
In other words, it's much wiser to be Neil's fan than his friend.