Midseason Swap Out
Television's fall season seemed to have seen more flops than the town pool on a hot summer day. Perhaps it was because broadcast channels were cleverly saving their better shows for winter's midseason slump. Read on as Inside Beat introduces you to some of this season's successful shows that will help you put last year's duds behind you.
Alcatraz | B+
FOX, Mondays at 9 p.m.
By Jamie Miranda
"On March 21,1963, Alcatraz officially closed due to rising costs and decrepit facilities. All the prisoners were transferred off the island ... Only that's not what happened ... Not at all."
Named for the year they went missing, the "63s," as the prisoners of Alcatraz Island are known, mysteriously disappeared on March 21, 1963 according to the brand new FOX show Alcatraz. Now the 256 prisoners and 46 guards have resurfaced to the present-day. Former prison guard turned FBI agent Emerson Houser (Sam Neill, The Tudors) is determined to find out where every last man has been hiding and why they are choosing to return. Each episode is devoted to capturing a former prisoner; however, there is still a lot in the series that has gone unexplained. Viewers and characters alike are unaware of the prisoner's motives; that is, everyone but agent Houser, who seems to know more than he is letting on to his new team members, Detective Rebecca Madsen (Sarah Jones, Sons of Anarchy) and comic book author/Alcatraz mastermind Dr. Diego Soto (Jorge Garcia, Lost).
Alcatraz frequently shifts from the present to past memories of an Alcatraz existing nearly 50 years ago. Viewers can easily follow the present investigation, but the ties between past and the present are foggy enough to keep the show from being too predictable. Because the main focus of Alcatraz is uncovering escaped prisoners' intentions, the show tends to fall back on stereotypical crime scene dialogue and clichés. The cast is well chosen for each role and the air of mystery will keep the audience on the edge of their seats. However, if questions don't begin to get answered, the audience might just give up and fall off their chairs.
What's next? A Look Ahead
Luck, January 29, 10 p.m. on HBO
Acclaimed director Michael Mann (The Aviator) and HBO's Deadwood creator David Milch bring us a tale of a group of degenerate gamblers who get hooked on a new high: horse racing. Starring two-time Academy Award winner Dustin Hoffman as Chester "Ace" Bernstein, Luck gives viewers a provocative insight into the world of horse racing, from the owners and jockeys to the betting men and everything in between.
Smash, February 6, 10 p.m. on NBC
Perhaps the only thing more exciting than a Broadway musical is the hubbub backstage during a show. Starring Debra Messing (Will & Grace), Smash gives viewers a behind-the-curtain look into putting together a musical based on Marilyn Monroe's life, starting from a simple idea. Armed with original music and a knockout production team, Smash will surely be a smash-hit.
The River, February 7, 9 p.m. on ABC
Have you ever wondered what it would be like if Bear Grylls went missing? The River makes that fear terrifyingly real. After fictional wildlife expert and TV personality Dr. Emett Cole (Bruce Greenwood, John from Cincinnati) goes missing in the Amazon, his friends, family and crew set out on a mysterious and deadly quest to find him.
Touch, March 19, 9 p.m. on FOX
As perhaps the most anticipated mid-season show of the year, Touch chronicles Martin Bohm (Keifer Sutherland, 24) a widower who learns that his autistic and mute 11-year-old son is a numerical genius who can see into the future. The pilot will air as a special preview on Jan. 25 at 9 p.m. on FOX.
The Firm | B
NBC, Thursdays at 10 p.m.
Diana M. Cholankeril
In recent years, avid television viewers have gravitated toward cable network television shows rather than shows on primetime networks. Those with cable know these shows are more intense, profane and include more sex scenes than a Jenna Jameson movie. With all of cable's benefits, what could possibly be so compelling about the new NBC show The Firm? Maybe it's "just another court show," but it actually has the makings of a show for which viewers would put aside their precious Thursday nights at 10 p.m., and ironically, it isn't because of its slightly trite storyline.
The pilot opens with one Mr. Arnold McDeere (Josh Lucas, Sweet Home Alabama) frantically running away from "white-collar" men through the National Mall in a business suit, polished loafers, and a briefcase. Not surprisingly, this Good Samaritan attorney has gotten himself entangled in a murder investigation larger than his existence and does not know how to avoid putting both himself and his loved ones at risk. Storyline sound familiar? While the plot isn't exactly original, the cinematography and the acting talent of these seasoned professionals is what will hold the viewer's attention. Think 24 and Law & Order but with the surprises and unexpected turns of Prison Break.
Each episode uses flashbacks, constantly bringing viewers back and forth between different periods crucial to the story. Although this editing technique is slightly dizzying, Director John Grisham knows how to draw in his audience with clear captions and slightly puzzling endings that leave the viewers wanting answers. It also doesn't hurt that The Firm is based off of a novel of the same name written by Grisham himself.
Even the actors make traditional characters come alive with a more modern spin. Abby McDeere (Molly Parker, Deadwood), Arnold's wife, grew up in a privileged home with successful parents, only to choose the less flashy, more rewarding career as a grade school teacher. This type of character has been seen before, but Parker gives Abby some refreshing substance as she makes tough decisions at work and offers words of wisdom to her conflicted husband. Even fresh-faced actress Natasha Calis plays her first primetime role as daughter Claire McDeere so earnestly, it's hard not to believe her when her character displays the intellectual curiosity of a young adult.
For all of those readers out there who have said, ‘I don't really watch TV anymore,' try out The Firm. It may not be the show that stakes its name in television history, but it definitely adds new twists to a traditional storyline. And maybe, just maybe, it might be the show to bring viewers back to primetime television.