Archive for Wednesday, September 22, 2010

New series offer eye candy, mental floss

September 22, 2010

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A thrill ride of a show, “Undercovers” (7 p.m., NBC) demands that we accept several outlandish givens. First, we’ve got to swallow the impossibly good-looking couple of Steven (Boris Kodjoe) and Samantha (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) as a bored married couple running a catering outfit, too overworked to get too worked up in the boudoir. Then we must accept the idea that they are retired spies and considered the best CIA agents, ever.

Once you get beyond those two whoppers, “Undercovers” is a breezy, fast-paced comedy/thriller expensively produced by J.J. Abrams (“Lost”) and Josh Reims (“Brothers and Sisters”). Steven and Samantha share an easy chemistry, and their dialogue crackles with marital bickering even as they pursue bad guys and suspected double agents from Paris to Moscow. Try to keep up with the shifts in language, location and costumes. In fact, the lavish production almost becomes a distraction. Look for Gerald McRaney as a beleaguered spymaster, who always knows more than he lets on.

• “The Whole Truth” (9 p.m., ABC) offers a cerebral take on criminal justice. Every episode presents viewers with both sides of a criminal trial as defense lawyer Jimmy Brogan (Rob Morrow) and district attorney Kathryn Peale (Maura Tierney) investigate, assemble, and present their cases.

For a Jerry Bruckheimer-produced show, “Truth” offers a dearth of special effects, explosions and violence, and puts a premium on facts, logic and consistency. Good things all. Viewers may feel a bit overburdened by so much conflicting evidence. And that seems to be the point. Sitting in judgment at the end of the show, I came to the exact opposite conclusion as the jury and I found that pleasant and intriguing response. It was almost as if my intelligence had been respected and challenged.

• Even more than the new “Hawaii Five-O,” “The Defenders” (9 p.m., CBS) owes almost nothing to the popular 1960s franchise whose name it borrows. Nick (Jim Belushi) and Pete (Jerry O’Connell) run a Las Vegas law firm that, like the city, represents more sizzle than steak. Nick’s rumpled and miserably separated from his wife. Pete’s still got the ring-a-ding-ding and takes meetings with opposing counsel in casino hotel rooms, if you get my drift.

“Defenders” would be so much more interesting if the roles had been reversed. Both men seem hopelessly typecast here, but it’s hard not to believe Belushi as a wounded soul and a passionate advocate for his clients. But is that enough to sit through another courtroom procedural and cliched clips of craps games? I think not.

• What if they dispensed with the documentary style and loosely scripted format of “Modern Family” and shot and wrote it like a traditional sitcom? It would look much like “Better with You” (7:30 p.m., ABC). And better, it’s not.

Tonight’s season premieres

• “Hell’s Kitchen” (7 p.m., Fox) enters its eighth season.

• Brick’s teacher complains on “The Middle” (7 p.m., ABC).

• Another serial killer moves to Los Angeles on “Criminal Minds” (8 p.m., CBS).

• A suspect harbors a young runaway on a two-hour episode of “Law & Order: Special Victim’s Unit” (8 p.m., NBC).

• Station-wagon nostalgia on “Modern Family” (8 p.m., ABC).

• Jules likes her analyst (Jennifer Aniston) on “Cougar Town” (8:30 p.m., ABC).

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