The New Fall Shows

Here’s a question about the shows that have debuted during the past few weeks: What’s with all the cop/detective/law/forensics shows these days? C.S.I., C.S.I. Miami, Law and Order, Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, Law and Order: Criminal Intent, Crossing Jordan, Judging Amy, N.Y.P.D. Blue, Boomtown, Without a Trace, The Practice and on and on.

Perhaps one can ascribe this to the post-9/11 adulation (deserved, of course) for public servants, but if that were the case, we’d also see a raft of new firefighter shows. It’s a bit baffling, unless one remembers that when TV producers see round-the-clock Law and Order reruns, they don’t think, This again? They think, Gee, that’s a lot of residuals.

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As an aside, I’ve also never quite understood the appeal of the original C.S.I., the current number-one show, so it’s difficult for me to fathom why there is a need for a brand-new one in Florida, unless it is to restart the career of David Caruso, who years ago left N.Y.P.D. Blue to star in a string of lousy movies and provide a cautionary tale to actors tempted to walk away from a profitable show. (Are you listening, Rob Lowe?)

Among the glut of new police dramas, Boomtown (NBC, Sunday 10 p.m. ET) stands out. Each episode offers a look at a particular crime through the eyes of the participantscriminals, family members, police officers, detectives, medical personnel, etc. In this way one gets a fuller understanding of the tapestry of crime in Los Angeles through the use of multiple perspectives. (Feel free to insert the obligatory Rashomon reference here.) The acting and writing are fine, with especially good performances by Donnie Wahlberg and Neal McDonough. Eagle-eyed viewers will recognize the two as former members of Easy Company in last year’s terrific Band of Brothers (whose reruns are preferable to 90 percent of the new shows this season).

Hack (CBS, Friday 9 p.m. ET) is a strange program, with a faint whiff of vigilantism. On the one hand, it boasts a topnotch cast, and stars the always interesting David Morse, as a former Philadelphia police officer turned cab driver. (Those with longer memories will remember him as a stringbean doctor on St. Elsewhere, those with shorter memories as Jodie Foster’s father in the movie Contact.) Adding to Mr. Morse’s star power is Andre Braugher, as his former partner on the force, and George Dzundza, as a roly-poly priest who is, so far at least, blessedly normal. On the other hand, the premise of the show is bizarre: Mr. Morse’s sullen cabbie takes on the obligation of helping those in need. It’s Taxi meets The Equalizer, which gives you some idea of how poorly the show works.

Predictably, most of the new situation comedies are bland. Life With Bonnie (ABC, Tuesday 9 p.m. ET), however, is a refreshing surprise. Bonnie Hunt is a regular in movies, usually playing what would have been called the Eve Arden role, that is, the wisecracking best friend or devoted sister (cf. Jerry McGuire). In real life, she is a peerless talk-show guest, for two simple reasons: she’s smart and she’s funny.

In her new offering she plays a Chicago TV host with a family. Nothing new there, except that, according to the show’s producers, most of the scenes on her TV show are largely unscripted and have so far given actors like David Duchovny free reign for lunacy with the always-ready-for-a-laugh hostess. Ms. Hunt’s series is easily the best of the new sitcoms, certainly better than either 8 Simple Rules... or the dull Good Morning Miami. As for that last show, any scriptwriter who feels that Suzanne Pleshette is best utilized as a grandmother who makes ribald comments should have his head examined.

Since this is a family magazine, and since I havebelieve it or notreceived several letters asking why I haven’t ever told readers how wonderful Seventh Heaven is, I should probably consider some of the new family-friendly shows. In Everwood (WB, Monday, 9 p.m. ET), Treat Williams, a successful neurosurgeon, moves his children to a small Colorado town following his wife’s death. Dr. Treat also decides to open a family practice that will provide free medical service to the presumably delighted townsfolk. (Viewers understand that he is a Good Doctor because he sports a beard and wears flannel shirts, unlike the town’s other physician, who wears a tie and is therefore an Evil Doctor.)

The show is warm and occasionally winning, thanks to Mr. Williams, who is faced with a role difficult to make interesting: Caring Dad. A recent episode focused on the son’s adoption of a stray deer (What’s on the lawn? asks Dad. Doe, a deer, a female deer, says the son.) This led to a father-and-son-and-deer hike, which, though touching, seemed like something out of Davey and Goliath.

Also in the family category, a Catholic magazine cannot fail to mention American Dreams (NBC, Sunday 8 p.m. ET), which revolves around the lives of a Catholic family in Philadelphia during the early 1960’s. One of the show’s selling points is that in the episodes when Meg, the high-school age daughter, appears on American Bandstand, current pop stars will reprise appearances by, for example, Marvin Gaye, Leslie Gore and Dee Dee Clark. (Mashed potatoes, anybody?) Given the centrality of the American Bandstand device, viewers will be unsurprised to learn that one of the series’ producers is Dick Clark.

So far the series is appealing, if unsurprising (e.g., the son’s girlfriend’s rich father disapproves of him because his family is middle class, blah, blah, blah). For me the show is mainly interesting for its depiction of Catholic life in the 1960’s. And it’s a relief to see scenes with priests and nuns played seriously, without going for cheap laughs or fake drama. By the way, full disclosure: the eldest son attends the fictional East Catholic High School; my father attended the very real West Catholic High School, and as a Philadelphia Catholic (1960’s variety) I am perhaps inordinately partial to the show. Non-scrapple-eating viewers will have to make up their own minds.

In general, when it comes to the new shows, I’m too much a fan of HBO and PBS to worry about all the new shows on network TV. This may sound pretentious, but it’s true. After all, what would you rather watch: The Sopranos or Bram and Alice? The Forsyte Saga or Still Standing? Six Feet Under or Yes, Dear?

I rest my case, as they say on The Practice.

Or is it Judging Amy?

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