I hope The Factory (Sunday, 9 p.m., Spike) doesn't get overlooked in the middle of the cable dial. It's a working-class answer to The Office, featuring four regular Joes who run the machines in a dreary factory. They banter in the break room, hash out their marital problems and attend the occasional wake for a coworker ground up in the gears.
These guys aren't the brightest bulbs, but The Factory doesn't make the mistake of looking down on them. Like The Office, it finds the perfect tone of deadpan absurdity, so that our heroes are ridiculous without being objects of contempt. The cast is attuned to the script's eccentric comic rhythms, which get you smiling without the aid of a laugh track.
I plan to clock in at The Factory at 9 p.m. sharp every week.
Friday, 7 pm (ABC)
This new reality series pits unlikely amateur dancers against one another. A granny, for example, will have a dance-off with a young gravedigger on Michael Jackson's "Thriller."
Yes, it's another chance to snicker at regular people. Hey, how about a reality series in which grannies and gravediggers wallop cynical TV executives with canes and shovels? Now there's a winning concept.
The Tenth Circle
Saturday, 8 pm (Lifetime)
This adaptation of Jodi Picoult's melodramatic novel is saved by strong performances. Laura (Kelly Preston) teaches her students about Dante's ninth circle of hell at a local college, but she's about to descend into the 10th circle with her own family. Her perfect daughter, Trixie (Britt Robertson), is raped by her ex-boyfriend (Jamie Johnston). Her perfect husband, Daniel (Ron Eldard), springs into action, micromanaging the investigation with two detectives.
But things aren't what they seem. Trixie harbors a dark secret. Laura does too. Daniel turns out to have a suspicious past himself. Heck, even one of the detectives is sitting on a startling revelation about his own life. The Tenth Circle made me scared to look too closely at my own past for fear of what I'd find.
Monday, 8 pm (HBO)
This documentary tells the story of Schapelle Corby, a young Australian woman who was jailed in Bali after 10 pounds of marijuana were found in one of her unlocked bags.
Corby proclaimed her innocence, insisting that anyone could have put the marijuana in her luggage. Indeed, there was nothing in her background to suggest involvement with drugs, and no way to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the marijuana was hers. But that didn't stop Indonesia from tossing her into a squalid prison, then hauling her in front of a kangaroo court with a judge eager to sentence her to death by firing squad. Meanwhile, throngs of Indonesians gathered outside the courtroom waving signs that read "Drug Dealers Must Die!"
Note to self: Bring only carry-on bags during next trip to Indonesia.
The Secret Life of an American Teenager
Tuesday, 7 pm (ABC Family)
This family series from the creator of 7th Heaven is set in a high school obsessed with sex. Good girl Amy has shocked her friends by getting pregnant at band camp. Meanwhile, the football star lusts after his cheerleader girlfriend, but both are Christians committed to abstinence...for now. The new nerdy kid has his eye on Amy, and so does the cad who knocked her up. The adult characters can only stand around and wring their hands, including onetime teen-sex-movie star Molly Ringwald as Amy's mom. (The fact that Ringwald is now tormented by her own screen daughter can only be called poetic justice.)
I'd welcome a series that offered insight into adolescent sexual activity, but this isn't the one. Oddly, none of the teenage actors comes across like a real teenager. Blame a script that makes the nerd too nerdy, the slut too slutty, the jerk too jerky, etc. Nothing rings true, and the tone veers awkwardly from earnest to satirical.
The only line delivered with real passion comes from a friend of Amy's, speaking to another friend: "You'd better not be suggesting she get an abortion!" This is clearly something the filmmakers feel strongly about, since an abortion would spoil their trumped-up scenario.
Wednesday, 9 pm (truTV)
This reality series takes us somewhere new. We're plopped in the middle of three clanking, roaring oil rigs that punch holes in the West Texas dirt. We meet the sweaty "roughnecks" racing to beat the competition in one of the most dangerous jobs on earth. They've got to work fast, but not so fast that they make mistakes. Because mistakes - as the driller without a thumb will tell you - aren't pretty.
Black Gold chronicles the many ways that oil workers can get mutilated or killed. It's terrifyingly easy to be slammed by the 500-pound oil tongs, whipped by the steel chains, or crushed by the 10-ton blocks. My left hand got mangled just reviewing the damn show.