Usually only one sitcom works for every couple dozen that premiere, and Breaking In (Wednesday, 8:30 p.m., Fox) is that one. It finds the perfect blend of acting, writing and directing to achieve a craziness all its own.
Cameron (Bret Harrison) is a college nerd who uses his amazing hacking skills for such trivial benefits as finding himself a faculty parking spot. But a sleazy hipster named Oz (Christian Slater) imagines Cameron in a more glamorous role: an in-house hacker for his security firm, which attacks corporate firewalls to find breaches. Cameron has his doubts, especially when he meets his nutty new coworkers. One of them becomes his sworn enemy, and another victimizes him with absurdly elaborate pranks. Then there's the resident beauty, a safecracker named Melanie (Odette Yustman) who's oh so appealing yet oh so dangerous. "Trust me," Oz tells Cameron, "that is one roller coaster you do not want to ride."
The cast has chemistry to burn, and Harrison is the perfect dweeb-who-must-rise-to-the-occasion-in-extraordinary-circumstances, just as he was in Reaper. Trust me, Breaking In is one roller coaster you do want to ride.
Tori & Dean: sTORIbook Weddings
Wednesday, 9 pm (Oxygen)
Hollywood couple Tori Spelling and Dean McDermott are determined to keep playing out their relationship on television. Perhaps sensing that viewers were tiring of their own marriage (thank you for noticing), Tori has come up with a new gimmick: planning other couples' weddings. But don't get the impression that she's ceded an inch of the spotlight. She stays front and center while creating over-the-top spectacles for brides-to-be who, for some reason, are willing to turn their ceremonies into televised laughingstocks.
Dean, on the other hand, has receded in this new iteration of Tori & Dean. He doesn't say or do a whole lot, and you get the impression that he'd rather be anywhere else. While the rest of us can simply tune out, this poor guy has to stick around for the entire eight-episode run, pretending to care.
I foresee many couples-counseling sessions in the series' next season.
Colin Quinn Long Story Short
Saturday, 9 pm (HBO)
The deadpan jokes start with the title. The "long story" is nothing less than the history of humanity, which Colin Quinn concisely summarizes in this brilliant one-man show, taped on Broadway. Quinn takes us from the cavemen to the Greeks to the Renaissance and beyond, in each case making canny connections between then and now. "We haven't changed since time began," he says, proving his thesis by comparing Caesar to a modern-day mob boss and Antigone to Snooki from Jersey Shore.
The transitions are seamless in this tour de force. Every nuance is obviously worked out to the microsecond, and yet Quinn still seems to be making it all up on the spot, as if he's tellin' ya a story in a bar in his earthy Brooklyn accent. The guy knows a ton about philosophy, religion, science and the arts, and it's all fodder for his expertly crafted jokes.
As far as I'm concerned, anybody who can make history this funny has earned his place in it.
Sunday, 7 pm (Discovery)
The producers of the epic nature documentaries Planet Earth and Life take on another grand subject, people. The six-hour Human Planet recalls those earlier efforts in its length, stateliness and beauty, but it's lacking the essential element of organization.
In a six-hour show about humans - a subject many of us know a good deal about - you would hope for an interesting topic sentence and bullet points, or at least some sense of purpose in the progression from one vignette to another. But, no, the series begins with Indonesians hunting a whale (why?), then moves to Kenyans hunting wildebeests (why?), then to Mongolians cultivating eagles (why?). For each transition, the deep-voiced narrator throws out some arbitrary connecting sentence: "Benjamin makes his living from the sea, but on the grasslands of Africa, getting something to eat calls for a different approach."
Sadly, Human Planet neglects one of humankind's greatest creations: the outline.
Sunday, 8 pm (PBS)
Masterpiece updates one of its most storied properties: Upstairs Downstairs, the 1970s PBS sensation about English aristocrats and their servants. In 1936, a new couple move into 165 Eaton Place, now falling apart. The new mistress contracts with Rose to hire servants yes, that Rose, still played by Emmy-winning Jean Marsh of the original production.
Masterpiece has lavished great care on this sequel. The new Upstairs Downstairs is as charming as you'd hope, full of colorful characters played by a British all-star team. Our subject is class, and who has more droll insight into class than the Brits? When a budding aristocrat plops in the front seat of a Rolls Royce, the driver bluntly orders her into the back. "There are rules, and you have to stick to 'em just as much as we do," he says.
I can't wait to stick to the rules over the next three weeks.