Twice the laughs of sitcoms that do twice as well in the ratings.
As a Mother's Day present, ABC's Trophy Wife offers a holiday-themed episode involving the sitcom's multiple moms (Tuesday, 8:30 p.m.). While Pete (Bradley Whitford) deals with a disaster at work, his former wives (Marcia Gay Harden, Michaela Watkins) extend a surprising offer to current wife Kate (Malin Akerman), whom they despise. They will generously bow out of Mother's Day and let her spend it with Pete and their biological children. To Kate, the gesture seems too good to be true. And, of course, it is.
I don't understand why Trophy Wife hasn't caught on with viewers. The cast members are comic pros, right down to the child actors. The writing is sharp and the direction is snappy. This week's episode has twice the laughs of many sitcoms (2 Broke Girls, About a Boy) that do twice as well in the ratings.
I hope ABC gives me a gift this nice on Father's Day.
Sunday, 8:30 pm (Showtime)
The Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning series is in its eighth and final season, chronicling the misadventures of sex-obsessed novelist Hank Moody (David Duchovny). It's hard to keep any series going for that long, much less one that tries to push the envelope in terms of explicit content. In this week's episode, Hank hires a prostitute for a young virgin, spurring another half-hour's discussion of incest, necrophilia and the pimping lifestyle.
At its best, Californication comments on icky sexuality, but this episode just wallows in it. For his part, Hank seems bored by another heaping helping of perversion. "Is this wrong?" he asks. "I can't tell anymore."
I'd say that's a pretty good sign it's time to wrap up Californication.
Sunday, 9 pm (Showtime)
In Victorian England, a "penny dreadful" was a piece of sensational fiction costing one penny. Showtime's new series of the same name, set in turn-of-the-century London, aims for a penny dreadful's lurid quality. In the pilot, Sir Malcolm (Timothy Dalton) contends with vampires to discover the whereabouts of his kidnapped daughter. He's accompanied by a mysterious spiritualist (Eva Green) and an American frontier type (Josh Hartnett). Along the way they run into Dr. Victor Frankenstein at (where else?) a morgue.
On paper it sounds right up my alley, as I love classic monsters and cheesy supernatural tales. But somebody forgot to add "pleasure" to this production. It renders the corpses and killers too grotesque, trying to make us sick rather than making us smile.
Maybe episode two will have more fun with the macabre material. I'd happily pay a penny for that.
Coming Back with Wes Moore
Tuesday, 7 pm (PBS)
Wes Moore begins his series by pointing out that 2-1/2 million Americans have fought in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001. "We thank these veterans for their service," says Moore, a veteran himself, "but few of us know how hard it is to return to normal life after facing danger, suffering and death."
Coming Back will remedy that problem. Moore, with his shaved head and reassuring smile, involves us in veterans' lives so that we can feel their pain and understand their struggles. He doesn't shy away from tragedy, as in the case of a friend who took his own life. But he does accentuate the positive. "This series is not about suicide," he says. "It's about rebirth."
In an unforgettable scene, a woman named Letrice works at a veterans' crisis line, offering supportive words to the panicked wife of a troubled soldier. "You're dealing with a stressful situation," Letrice says. "So if you cry, that's okay."
That made me feel better about crying myself.
Tuesday, 8 pm (Fox)
Writers, take a hike. Who needs to pay for your services when a network can fill up an hour of prime time with improvisational comedy?
In the pilot of Riot, guest stars Steve Carell and Andy Buckley join four others for a series of silly games. They play charades; they act out a goofy bit in pitch darkness; and, in the show's signature stunt, they try to keep straight faces while doing scenes on a tilted stage.
The comedians crack up each other, but not us. There's precious little wit on display as they scream half-baked lines, screw around with props, and slide down the tilted stage over and over again. And host Rove McManus lets every improvised sketch go on way past the point when viewers would still be amused.
Writers, all is forgiven.