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Boys Will Be Boys

It's almost cute the way NBC tries to make Jimmy Smits's Cyrus Garza seem like a "bad boy" in the new show Outlaw – he's a Supreme Court justice, but he's also a blackjack card-counter and degenerate gambler with a quarter-million-dollar debt to his bookie and a habit for one night stands with women half his age. Good for a start, but let's stack him against Enoch "Nucky" Thompson (Steve Buscemi) on HBO's Boardwalk Empire – corrupt Atlantic City treasurer, owner of the boardwalk's largest casino, constantly screwing whores, and planning a career as a bootlegger while the country counts down to Prohibition. (To use his words – and with words like his, you'd be a fool not to – "dry though the country may be, I am in the midst of concluding arrangements that will keep Atlantic City wet as a mermaid's twat.") Sorry Garza, but you're an outlaw like Dennis is a "menace."

Outlaw takes place in an Aaron Sorkin universe where Garza can be confronted by an ACLU hottie picketing outside the casino where he's blowing off steam and he can– well, first of all, it takes place in an alternate universe where ACLU girls are hot, but anyway... Garza, a sitting Supreme Court justice, can suddenly engage in a frank discussion of his personal views on the death penalty and the Court's role in the interpretation and application of the Constitution, precedent, and case law. (And then he beds her.) As opposed to the real universe, where all spontaneity and honest opinion is wrung from the system. Where even the confirmation process is a such a banal, pointless charade that a nominee who's on the written record describing what a pointless charade it is has to walk those comments back at her confirmation hearing. But Outlaw should take place in a Sorkinverse, just as The West Wing should have, because it's a lot more interesting. There are issues there, and there's actually time to discuss them without all the screaming and fake chest-thumping. And because Garza is a carbon copy of Sorkinverse creation Matt Santos: deeply principled, looking for ways to do the right thing, making brash gestures that fly in the face of reason just to make a point (except unlike Santos he's hard-line conservative). He's got Jesse Bradford with him also, so West Wing viewers will feel right at home. The show has a fast pace and a nice balance between issues, character, and cases (finding the truth, making the case, and getting the drop on the evil opposing attorney). Plus, since Garza is sort of lecherous, there's a little bit of that sexy spice in the mix that pretty much any legal show (or any show?) has to have.

If you've seen an HBO drama in the past ten years, you know exactly what to expect from Boardwalk Empire – just add 15% more directorly flair for Scorsese's influence on the first episode. (Some self-conscious camera angles and a few extra-gory assassination scenes.) Myself, I'm ecstatic to see Steve Buscemi in a lead role, after many fine years in supporting and character roles. His performance is strident and confident (with plenty more enjoyable dialogue like the example above) and he's supported by a great cast, including Kelly Macdonald (No Country for Old Men, The Girl in the Café) as a young mother he meets while lying through his teeth at a Women's Temperance League meeting. The series is created by a Sopranos alum, but the tone of it rings much closer to The Departed for me, with the snappy banter and rapid double-crossings. It was well paced and intriguing; I hadn't planned to watch more than one episode, because I just don't have time, but now I'm tempted. A lot has been made of its vast and expensive boardwalk set, and it's fun to look at, but it also keeps reminding me of Stormalong Harbor from one of my favorite shows, The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack on Cartoon Network:

Granted, they're not identical, but considering the resemblance between Nucky and Peppermint Larry, the proprietor of Stormalong's Candy Barrel...

And if you've seen Flapjack, candy is like the liquor of their world, so Peppermint Larry really does serve as the bootlegger of the Flapjack universe. I think I'm onto something here – I'm going to go pitch HBO on this...

4 stars (80/100) Boardwalk Empire
3 stars (60/100) Outlaw

Premiering This Week

Basically, everything. I should be watching half of these shows, simultaneously, right now, if I'm going to be caught up in time to make a pithy comment about each of them by this time next week. I need a Billy Baldwin Sliver console to watch all the new shows in time. But here's the list...

The Event: NBC, Monday at 9:00 2 stars (40/100)
Lone Star: Fox, Monday at 9:00 2 stars (40/100)
Mike & Molly: CBS, Monday at 9:30 1 star (20/100)
Chase: NBC, Monday at 10:00 2 stars (40/100)
Hawaii Five-O: CBS, Monday at 10:00  star (0/100)
Raising Hope: Fox, Tuesday at 9:00 3 stars (60/100)
Running Wilde: Fox, Tuesday at 9:30 2 stars (40/100)
Detroit 187: ABC, Tuesday at 10:00  star (0/100)
Undercovers: NBC, Wednesday at 8:00 2 stars (40/100)
Better with You: ABC, Wednesday at 8:30 1 star (20/100)
The Defenders: CBS, Wednesday at 10:00  star (0/100)
The Whole Truth: ABC, Wednesday at 10:00 2 stars (40/100)
My Generation: ABC, Thursday at 8:00 1 star (20/100)
$#*! My Dad Says: CBS, Thursday at 8:30 1 star (20/100)
Outsourced: NBC, Thursday at 9:30  star (0/100)
Blue Bloods: CBS, Friday at 10:00 2 stars (40/100)
Outlaw: NBC, in its regular Friday time slot at 10:00 3 stars (60/100)

Returning This Week

How I Met Your Mother: CBS, Monday at 8:00 3 stars (60/100)
House: Fox, Monday at 8:00 4 stars (80/100)
Rules of Engagement: CBS, Monday at 8:30 2 stars (40/100)
Castle: ABC, Monday at 10:00 3 stars (60/100)
Modern Family: ABC, Wednesday at 9:00 4 stars (80/100)
Community: NBC, Thursday at 8:00 5 stars (100/100)
30 Rock: NBC, Thursday at 8:30 5 stars (100/100)
The Office: NBC, Thursday at 9:00 3 stars (60/100)
CSI: CBS, Thursday at 9:00 3 stars (60/100)
The Mentalist: CBS, Thursday at 10:00 4 stars (80/100)
The Good Guys: Fox, Friday at 9:00 4 stars (80/100)
The Amazing Race: CBS, Sunday at 8:30 3 stars (60/100)
Family Guy: Fox, Sunday at 9:00 3 stars (60/100)
Dexter: Showtime, Sunday at 9:00 5 stars (100/100)
Eastbound & Down: HBO, Sunday at 10:30 3 stars (60/100)

Also New This Week

Age has softened me, I guess. I realized this week that it's dickish and unnecessary for me to exclude shows I don't watch from the "Returning This Week" section of the ATGoNFP. There's no reason to punish people whose wrongheaded taste in television happens to differ from mine. (Actually, there's every reason to punish them, and public floggings would be fantastic if we could make that happen – but the ATGoNFP is a public resource, and there's no reason it should be any less useful for the backward and feeble-minded just because they happened to be brought up wrong.) So, here are the rest of the shows that will be returning this week.

I realized it would be futile to add a star rating to each, since most of them would garner a rating of zero stars or fewer. But a solution has presented itself, inspired by a discussion Brandon and I had about the utter ridiculousness of this photo of the great Christopher Meloni from page 82 of the EW fall TV preview:

He's just awkwardly plunked in amidst the text – a lazy layout artist's attempt to fill up the page – and he's directing his stern scowl at nothing in particular, which makes the whole thing feel more out of place. So, let's take that disapproving glare and put it to good use: from now on, Meloni will be staring daggers at these shows which (to varying degrees) don't belong on TV. More Melonis means I'm more disappointed in your show; zero Melonis means, gosh, I really would watch your show, I do like it, but I watch too many shows as it is, and I have to make cuts somewhere. (Except in the case of Law & Order: SVU – I don't have much use for the L&O shows, but Meloni can't very well disapprove of his own show, can he?)

I really hope this catches on – I'd like to see America embrace the Meloni as the new way to express displeasure with something. It's certainly time to retire the current method: drawing a Hitler mustache on it. (Although a Hitler mustache on The Big Bang Theory does feel right somehow...)

Chuck: NBC, Monday at 8:00
Dancing with the Stars: ABC, Monday at 8:00
Two and a Half Men: CBS, Monday at 9:00
The Biggest Loser: NBC, Tuesday at 8:00
Glee: Fox, Tuesday at 8:00
NCIS: CBS, Tuesday at 8:00
NCIS: Los Angeles: CBS, Tuesday at 9:00
Hell's Kitchen: Fox, Wednesday at 8:00
The Middle: ABC, Wednesday at 8:00
Criminal Minds: CBS, Wednesday at 9:00
Law & Order: SVU: NBC, Wednesday at 9:00
Cougar Town: ABC, Wednesday at 9:30
The Big Bang Theory: CBS, Thursday at 8:00
Bones: Fox, Thursday at 8:00
Fringe: Fox, Thursday at 9:00
Grey's Anatomy: ABC, Thursday at 9:00
Private Practice: ABC, Thursday at 10:00
Medium: CBS, Friday at 8:00
Smallville: CW, Friday at 8:00
CSI: NY: CBS, Friday at 9:00
Supernatural: CW, Friday at 9:00
Extreme Makeover: Home Edition: ABC, Sunday at 8:00
The Simpsons: Fox, Sunday at 8:00
The Cleveland Show: Fox, Sunday at 8:30
Desperate Housewives: ABC, Sunday at 9:00
Bored to Death: HBO, Sunday at 10:00
Brothers & Sisters: ABC, Sunday at 10:00
Undercover Boss: CBS, Sunday at 10:00

8 Comments (Add your comments)

Joe MulderMon, 9/20/10 3:35pm

I've heard good things about "Boardwalk Empire;" I'm going to have to start illegally downloading it I mean waiting ten months for the DVDs to come out. Because a person would totally do that.

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