It’s amazing what a lack of decent television will to do a person. With most of my favorite shows on hiatus for what seemed like forever, my standards were sliding fast: I mean, I was actually watching Bones. What’s worse, it was actually starting to grow on me. Not a good sign. Clearly, the networks saw that I was weak, and pressed their advantage by rolling out their mid-season replacements before I could come to my senses.

Thankfully, I’ve been rescued. Like a cheap deus ex machina that saves the day and ruins the plot, Quality Television has come returned in the nick of time, riding in on a white horse to rescue me from being forced to give Season Passes to mediocre shows. Veronica Mars and Lost are churning out new episodes with even more intricate plotting than ever, while Everybody Hates Chris and My Name is Earl have moved into better time slots where I can actually see their good-humored, um, humor.

While the return of watchable television means I can spare myself the pain of Skating With Celebrities or Get This Party Started, it comes too late to save me from most of the new shows the networks have inflicted on their viewers this winter. So here are some notes on the shows I did force myself to sit through, sorted in order from most to least interesting — or in this case, from least to most uninteresting. You know what I mean.

In Justice

The Formula: In Justice = Law & Order + Perry Mason

The Setup: The Justice Project seeks to free the wrongly convicted.

The Good: Kyle MacLachlan seems to be having a ton of fun as a lawyer who loves truth and justice almost as much as he enjoys grandstanding and hyperbole.

The Bad: It may be a different procedure than your typical investigate and prosecute drama, but it’s still a procedural, and there aren’t that many different plots to play with.

The Verdict: The Justice Project’s standard procedure for freeing innocent convicts is not so much to focus on proving the convict’s innocence as it is to discover the actual perpetrator of the crime, which makes the show much more similar to a typical procedural than it really needs to be. It’s a pity, because there was some potential for something really interesting here. Watching MacLachlan goof around and ham it up is amusing, though.

The Book of Daniel

The Formula: The Book of Daniel = Seventh Heaven + Desperate Housewives

The Setup: Episcopalian minister Daniel Webster has a flinty wife, a bratty oversexed son, a brattier drug-dealing daughter, a nice son who’s gay, and a congregation of backstabbing, gossipy jerks. And Jesus keeps popping up to chat with him, which might be comforting if The Lord had anything more than sarcasm to offer.

The Good: Jesus comes off looking and sounding like a stoned surfer.

The Bad: Jesus comes off looking and sounding like a stoned surfer.

The Verdict: The “God Talks To Me — Literally” premise made me think the show might be a successor to Joan of Arcadia, but the over-the-top plots and broad characters actually put it in the “Naughty For Naughty’s Sake” bucket with Desperate Housewives and its ilk. The net result isn’t so much transgressive as it is tacky.


The Formula: Six Feet Under + Will and Grace

The Setup: Jane Curtain gets released from a mental institution; Fred Savage comes home from Hollywood to take care of her, but not to come out to her. He also contends with his flaky and resentful brother, as well as his father’s delayed mid-life crisis.

The Good: Tries very hard to walk the fine line between the comic and the tragic.

The Bad: It would work better if the comic parts were funnier.

The Verdict: The advance press for this program quoted Carol Burnett in setting up the show’s hook: “Comedy is tragedy plus time.” Peter Chelsom’s 1995 film Funny Bones is one of the best illustrations of this principle, but that film works because the comic and dramatic bits play off of and intensify each other, driving the audience to laugh out of sheer desperation. Crumbs is just a family sitcom stacked on top of a family drama, and doesn’t do either one especially well, never mind making them work in tandem.

Love Monkey

The Formula: Love Monkey = Jerry Maguire + High Fidelity

The Setup: Tom gets fired from his job as an A & R rep at a major record label and then gets dumped by his girlfriend. That’s OK, though, because now he’s free to work at an indie label and find a woman who really understands him.

The Good: It’s not about cops, lawyers, doctors, or aliens.

The Bad: In the pilot, characters spend multiple scenes extolling the virtues of a Bob Dylan boxed set. Which happens to be distributed by Sony. Which also produces Love Monkey. See how this works?

The Verdict: This show might be worth taking a chance on if it weren’t a blatant infomercial hypocritically wrapped in an indie-rock wrapper. And if its future plot lines (will Tom and his best friend Brandy play the “When Harry Met Sally” game? Will his closeted gay ex-athlete friend be outed in the most awkward way possible?) weren’t telegraphed way in advance.

Courting Alex

The Formula: Courting Alex = (Dharma and Greg ÷ 1) + You’ve Got Mail

The Setup: Alex (Jenna Elfman) is a high-powered real estate attorney. Naturally, the bar she needs to tear down is owned by a pie-in-the-sky idealist who refuses to sell. Naturally, they fall for each other.

The Good: There isn’t really a delicate way to put this: Jenna Elfman has a really nice ass.

The Bad: I always think of Dabney Coleman as a funny actor, but has he ever actually starred in a good series?

The Verdict: Remember when Elfman was a complete spaz on Dharma and Greg, and it kind of worked? Now she’s playing the buttoned-down, too-serious character, which eliminates the one part of her act that was actually worth watching. Besides the ass, of course.

Emily’s Reasons Why Not

The Formula: Emily’s Reasons Why Not = Jake in Progress – (a Y chromosome)

The Setup: Emily looks for love in all the wrong places. You know the deal.

The Good: The actors deliver their crappy lines with gusto.

The Bad: Why, why, why does the cold, catty office rival always have to be an Asian woman?

The Verdict: You know how if you photocopy a photocopy of an image, the image gets fuzzier with each successive copy? Well, if Jake in Progress was a copy of Sex and the City, then this secondhand knockoff looks awfully blurry.

South Beach

The Formula: South Beach = Miami Vice + Baywatch Nights

The Setup: Life is hard in Brooklyn (as evidenced by the blue filter that scenes there are shot with), so Vincent and Matt move down to technicolored Miami to seek their fortunes. They end up using their street smarts to land jobs as security guards-cum-private investigators at a club owned by Vanessa Williams.

The Good: The writers seem to have a pretty good handle on the set of clichés they need to include to make a cheesy detective show.

The Bad: I’ve seen syndicated Sunday-afternoon filler more engaging than this.

The Verdict: Next season, UPN and The WB will be combining to form a new network, where they will pool together their few decent shows in hopes of coming up with a lineup that won’t invite another decade of mockery. This show will not be one of those that gets carried over.

Four Kings

The Formula: Four Kings = 4 x 0

The Setup: Four guys who grew up together now live together. That’s… it?

The Good: It’s always nice to see Seth Green on the screen.

The Bad: Even Seth Green has nothing to contribute here.

The Verdict: It’s like I wasn’t watching a television show at all, there was so little going on.