There’s pleasure to be had in the exploits of the naughty, in watching amoral people do bad things without remorse or hesitation. Some of the great joys of television are to be found in seeing bad behavior go unpunished, in seeing acts that would be considered intolerably wicked in real life played out and satisfyingly gotten away with. When a TV program gets it right, watching these venal, petty people play their games within the safe space of fiction can help us to work out our anxieties about the kind of things these people do, often by making the whole affair seem so silly that we laugh off our concerns.

The Formula:
Inconceivable = Nip/Tuck + LA Law

The problem with NBC’s Inconceivable is that it can’t quite commit to going all the way. On the one hand, Malcolm (Jonathan Cake) is a classic love-to-hate-him character: a smarmy, oversexed glad-hander who’s concerned above all else with his own ego. His business partner Rachel (Ming-Na), however, takes the fertility clinic that they run very seriously, constantly fretting about the childless couples (and occasional single) that they’ve dedicated themselves to helping.

If the two lead characters had an Odd Couple-y, joker/straight man dynamic going, that would be one thing, but they seem to pull the center of the show back and forth between camp and drama, and it suffers as a result. When a surrogate mother has the wrong baby, we’re not sure if we should be amused by the staff’s attempts to put a positive spin on the situation or be upset that neither the surrogate nor the donors want the child. It’s not the kind of thing that you can go both ways on, but the show tries, and ultimately fails.