Always a hothouse of imitation, television has begun to resemble a Frankenstein laboratory where elements of one series get grafted onto another and another with occasionally monstrous results. Take the mother-as-psychic story from “Medium” and add a few dashes of “Real Housewives of New Jersey,” cut with a few whiffs of “Crossing Over with John Edward” and you have “Mary Knows Best” (8 p.m., Syfy), an unscripted series about a Long Island woman who is a clairvoyant, radio host and the loud, meddling matriarch of a colorful Italian-American brood. No stereotypes are left untouched as she goes through her day. Note: “Mary” debuted last Thursday, before press materials were made available for review.
The cable dial is now awash with New York-area extroverts of Italian extraction. Apparently, viewers enjoy their ability to express themselves with no-holds-barred audacity. If only some of these folks had something reasonably original and interesting to say.
In addition to reducing Italian-Americans to “Mama-Mia” cliches, Mary also engages in banal psychic speak. Sitting behind the wheel of a dead man’s 1952 Plymouth, she goes out on a limb and declares, “The car has great energy.”
Did Mary’s psychic abilities allow her to foretell how much critics would dislike her show?
“Mary” represents a backward move for Syfy, a network that has been quite successful with scripted fare (“Warehouse 13”) and more straight-ahead supernatural documentary material like “Ghost Hunters.” “Mary Knows Best” has the feel of a fake sitcom, closer to TLC’s “Cake Boss” than most Syfy fans probably want to travel.
Syfy’s cable cousin USA has done a better job of defining itself with dramadies every bit as good or better than network series. The glib spy comedy “Burn Notice” (8 p.m., USA) was last Thursday’s most-watched show on cable with more than 5.5 million total viewers. “Royal Pains” (9 p.m., USA) also attracted in excess of 5 million. To put that in some perspective, fewer than 3 million people tuned into the repeat of “The Office” on NBC.
Given USA and Syfy’s ability to attract serious audiences, it seems silly to waste our time with budget knockoffs like “Mary Knows Best.”
Tonight’s other highlights
• The repeat 2007 documentary “The UCLA Dynasty” (6:30 p.m., HBO) recalls the coaching era of John Wooden, when the team won 10 national titles in 12 seasons.
• The pecking order gets shaken up on “Glee” (7 p.m., Fox).
• Bernie Mac stars in the 2005 comedy “Guess Who” (7 p.m., TBS), offering a reversal of racial roles from the 1967 classic “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.” Ashton Kutcher co-stars.
• A member of the top six departs on “So You Think You Can Dance” (8 p.m., Fox).
• A home-invasion case proves perilous, and two officers try to keep their extracurricular affairs to themselves on “Rookie Blue” (8 p.m., ABC).
• A child heart-attack victim needs urgent care on “Boston Med” (9 p.m., ABC).
• Capt. Phil does not pull through on “Deadliest Catch” (9 p.m., Discovery).
Roddy McDowall and Tuesday Weld star in the 1966 satire of teenage culture “Lord Love a Duck” (12:30 a.m., TCM).