In this week's roundup of what's worth seeing (and what's not), Felicity returns, Kevin Bacon hunts a serial killer, Boston accents galore and murderous split personalities.
Premieres Wednesday at 9 p.m. on FX
There’s perhaps no more promising mid-season pilot this year than FX’s The Americans, which heralds Keri Russell’s return to television as one half of an undercover KGB sleeper spy couple masquerading as white-bread suburban parents (aliases Peter and Elizabeth Jennings) in the 1980s.
Russell, whose scarily intense performance as a ruthless Soviet hardliner is the standout of the show’s first hour, is joined by Matthew Rhys as her less-fanatical husband, who finds himself more in love with the American way of life every day.
The couple’s situation — an outwardly idyllic, cushy suburban life with their two oblivious, all-American children — is complicated by Reagan's recent election and the recent arrival of their new neighbor, affable yet suspicious counterintelligence officer Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich).
Peter and Elizabeth, whose arranged marriage hinges on their mutual Soviet mission, have an immediately complex, fraught and electric relationship — not an easy task for a first episode of television.
Although The Americans is a period piece, it doesn’t throw its era in audiences’ faces, other than a delightful '80s soundtrack featuring Fleetwood Mac and Phil Collins, as well as a truly fantastic pair of mom jeans worn by Russell. The pilot, though sedately paced, ends on a thrillingly tense final scene, foreshadowing an exciting season of espionage to fill the Homeland-sized hole in our hearts. A- — Katie Stroh
Airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on Fox
Creator Kevin Williamson (Scream, Dawson’s Creek, The Vampire Diaries) must have unearthed this pallid thriller about a Poe-obsessed serial killer (played with menacing Brit-ness by James Purefoy, because that’s so original) and his murderous cult following from a time capsule buried a decade ago. Either that, or he got carried away with a Criminal Minds spec script and tricked Kevin Bacon — so glib, so stoic — into starring as the Troubled But Brilliant Investigator with a Dark Past.
The auspices are indeed tempting, and Williamson has always known how to stage a good scare, but hasn’t TV seen enough crime dramas with grisly violence that’s grossly sexual? And hardboiled cops and grandstanding speeches from crime scene know-it-alls?
Beneath its faux-cable-caliber gratuitous blood and guts is a lazy premise: anyone can be one of the killer’s devotees! Anyone! When it should be suspenseful it becomes offensively obvious. D+ — Aleksander Chan
Premieres Tuesday at 9 p.m. on A+E
Of all the trashy reality shows to premiere in any given season, a few, for whatever inexplicable reason, manage to capture the imagination of the American public. Recently, both ironic and earnest viewers of reality programming seem more preoccupied with tales of America’s working class rather than with the tacky new-moneyed wealth of the Kardashians and their ilk, the most notably TLC’s infamous Toddlers and Tiaras spin-off Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.
Southie Rules, A+E’s new reality show about a salt-of-the-Earth South Boston family, is a clear push in the Honey Boo Boo direction — the show focuses on a large, rambunctious family deeply immersed in their specific regional working-class culture, and puts their well-meaning ignorance on carnival-esque display.
Unfortunately, the Southie family possesses absolutely none of the bizarre charm that makes the Honey Boo Boo clan so compelling (in that exploitative, trainwreck-y sort of way). In fact, besides their staunch Southie pride, heavy Boston accents and that unmistakable air of desperation that tends to hover around reality star hopefuls, the family is utterly unremarkable.
Their buffoonish money-making schemes and staged slapstick mishaps are painfully contrived, wince-inducingly acted and mind-numbingly dull. The show’s opening credits hint at an interesting anti-gentrification angle, but the premiere shows zero signs of any deep explorations on themes of class. Reality-show junkies: skip this one. D —KS
Do No Harm
Premieres Thursday at 8 p.m. on NBC
In this modern day Jekyll and Hyde story, Rescue Me’s Steven Pasquale does the same smoothy exasperation that won Natalie Portman an Oscar: for half the day, his character, Dr. Jason Cole, is a super skilled, super compassionate surgeon thisclose to finally turning his flirtatious relationship with his co-worker (Law & Order’s Alana De La Garza) into something more. That is if his menacing, violent alter ego, Ian Price, doesn’t get in the way.
After his special drug cocktail to keep Ian at bay stops working, Jason is forced to figure out how to contend with his dual personality. The stakes are maddeningly, frustratingly low here: a plot tailor-made to tell stories about identity and the different roles we take on to face life (like in Showtime’s late, great United States of Tara) are blithely set aside for a humdrum medical procedural.
The show makes a racket about Ian’s druglord dealings and his ex-wife stalking, but insists on keeping things tidy. Could it at least, then, have a little more fun with its premise? Because so far, the title is fitting: Do No Harm is harmless, and I don’t think that’s the point. C- — AC
Series finale airs Thursday at 7 p.m. on NBC
Tina Fey’s genre-busting sitcom airs its one-hour series finale Thursday night at 7 p.m. To honor its passage into Great Comedy heaven, we remember our favorite episodes of the show’s seven seasons.
“Dealbreakers Talk Show #0001” (2009). “Dealbreakers” isn’t a particularly significant episode in 30 Rock’s evolution: sure, Liz Lemon lands herself a talk show, but, as in so many others, the status quo is restored by the end of the episode and life at TGS resumes as usual.
What “Dealbreakers” is significant for, however, is how it packs in so many ingredients of what makes 30 Rock good into one delicious 20-minute stew of hilarity: fan-favorite bit players like the vengeful gay network executive Devon Banks (Will Arnett), Tracy’s Real Housewife of Atlanta clone of a wife Angie (Sherri Shepherd) and diabolical Ho Chi Minh City School of Medicine-educated Dr. Spaceman (Chris Parnell) all make appearances.
Tracy Jordan brings the term "EGOT" into the popular vernacular; and most of all, Liz Lemon is at her best — schizophrenic, singing about ham, failing to wave like a human being and crying out of her mouth. — KS
“Sandwich Day” (2008). Years before Anne-Marie Slaughter started writing essays about whether women can have it all, Liz Lemon demanded that she could. 30 Rock had an uncanny ability to tap into the cultural discourse and see it as the sitcom it really was. That reflexivity hit a personal comedic high point when Liz, chasing down her love interest before he flies away to Cleveland (the Cleve!), is nearly bungled by her sandwich’s container of dipping sauce, which is too large to pass through airport security.
In one go, Tina Fey inhales a sub sandwich as she struggles to yelp, “I can have it all!” Only on 30 Rock would the debate about women’s progress be so perfectly captured by a single sight gag. Can women have it all? To Fey, having it all is like stuffing a whole sandwich in your mouth — totally doable, but kind of messy. — AC
Also on this week:
Starter Wives Confidential
Premieres Tuesday at 8 p.m. on TLC. Celebrity ex-wives and girlfriends try to build their own lives away from their famous ex-spouses.
Premieres Monday at 8 p.m. on Style. Hott and Handy, a Manhattan construction and home design service, is exclusively staffed by high-fashion male models.
Who the (Bleep)...
Premieres Friday at 9 p.m. on Investigation Discovery. Stories of people betrayed by their two-faced, sinister neighbors, spouses and co-workers.
Nikki & Sara Live
Premieres Tuesday at 10 p.m. on MTV. Comedians and podcasters Nikki Glaser and Sara Schaefer humorously cover pop culture trends and headlines.