In Harry's Law (Monday, 9 p.m., NBC), Harriet Korn (Kathy Bates) is a hotshot patent lawyer who can't face another boring day on the job. "I'd sooner look into the mirror and watch my teeth rot," she says.
Then a man (Aml Ameen) jumps off a building to commit suicide and happens to fall on her. Next, a fellow lawyer (Nate Corddry) happens to run into her with his car. Wouldn't you know it: The lawyer comes to work for her at the criminal law firm she opens to stave off boredom; and the would-be suicide becomes her first client. If that's not silly enough for you, Harriet's law office doubles as a shoe store, run by a sexy secretary (Brittany Snow).
We're in writer-producer David E. Kelley's cutesy-kooky world, which can be amusing if all the stars align (see the early years of Ally McBeal). Unfortunately, they don't align in Harry's Law. Bates makes for a grumpy heroine, and the cutesy-kooky fantasy gets bogged down with way too much sentimentality and self-righteousness. By the time Harriet makes a climactic speech in court, accompanied by tears and hugs and corny music, watching your teeth rot starts to seem like an attractive alternative to watching Harry's Law.
Saturday, 7 pm (ABC)
With the conservative sweep in the November elections, traditional values are back in vogue. As part of the trend, the Miss America pageant returns to broadcast TV for the first time since 2004, after several years of bouncing around in the extended-basic-cable wasteland. Apparently, ABC thinks the time is right to put women back on a pedestal - all the better to get a good look at their butts in the swimsuit competition.
Just how traditional will traditional values be in this new era for Miss America? Can we expect bouffant hairdos? Girdles? Variations on "a woman's place is in the home"? People like me, who are under 60, will want to tune in just out of curiosity. This is as close to 1952 as we're ever going to get.
Golden Globe Awards
Sunday, 7 pm (NBC)
The Golden Globes have nothing to do with good TV series, good movies or good acting. They're all about attracting glamorous stars to the event so the very undistinguished Hollywood Foreign Press Association can feel important. How else to explain the nominations for Angelina Jolie in The Tourist and Halle Berry in Frankie and Alice? This awards show is so shameless that any movie lover with a drop of integrity would steer clear of it.
Then again, it's very hard to pass up a chance to see Angelina Jolie and Halle Berry on the red carpet. Hey, I never said I had a drop of integrity, did I?
Tuesday, 9:30 pm (Comedy Central)
The Onion adapts its newspaper-parody format to TV sports news. Against a backdrop of insanely busy graphics, two actors portray blow-dried blowhards who bark out absurd sports stories with a straight face.
In The Onion's newspaper and website, you can enjoy the funny headlines and easily skip over the lame ones, plus all the filler copy that drives the jokes into the ground. You can't do that with Onion SportsDome. You've got to listen to every lazy one-liner: "The winningest owner in horseracing history is going to share the secret of owning lots of horses!" And you've got to sit through long, badly executed, one-joke segments like a report on Bill Belichick throwing acid in Tom Brady's face.
It's not like TV lacks for news satires. Saturday Night Live's Weekend Update has been around for decades, and it's kicking ass this season with Seth Meyers at the helm. Then there's Comedy Central's own Daily Show and Colbert Report. If The Onion can't compete in the same universe as those masterpieces, it might as well stick with the written word.
Wednesday, 7 pm (Fox)
The producers seem to think that American Idol is nothing more than a format: A few judges pick a few amateur singers out of the crowd. But it's much more specific than that. American Idol is Randy Jackson, Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul joking, bickering and finding stars like Kelly Clarkson and Fantasia Barrino. As we learned last season, it has nothing to do with Ellen DeGeneres and Kara DioGuardi. And it has nothing to do with this season's new judges, Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez, who will preside over the series' further decline. Advance clips suggest that the current judging panel has none of the original's chemistry.
The recast American Idol reminds me of other recasting catastrophes throughout TV history, such as the new Darrin on Bewitched. The producers were the only ones who didn't realize that the party had ended.