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Saturday, July 6, 2013

The New Season

Several television shows have premiered over the last couple of weeks.  Herewith, some thoughts:

Crossing Lines (NBC): Basically "Criminal Minds" with an international flavor, "Crossing Lines" focuses on an elite group of crimefighters recruited from across Europe (plus one disillusioned New York City detective).  This task force functions as an investigative arm of the International Criminal Court, pursuing criminals who cannot otherwise be pursued, due to the cross-border nature of their crimes.  (Personally, I always thought that was what Interpol was for.  Of course, I've also never been quite sure whether Interpol was a real thing: It sounds far too cool to be real.  Where was I?)

Unlike most new TV shows, "Crossing Lines" is refreshingly non-continuous; that is, each episode functions as a stand-alone story.  There is an ongoing subplot featuring a shadowy Russian criminal mastermind who is responsible for the murder of the young son of one of the team members, but one doesn't need to know much about this plotline to follow the events of any individual episode.  The question is, Will this subplot be enough to keep people coming back week after week?  The answer, for me at least, is No.

Under the Dome (CBS): I was looking forward to this one.  Based on the Stephen King tome of the same name, "Under the Dome" tells the story of Chester's Mill, a pleasant New England town whose residents one day find themselves trapped under a transparent but unbreakable dome.  While the basic concept and main characters are familiar from the novel, the producers have taken some liberties with the plot--changing some details, adding and deleting others--presumably to give themselves the option of exploring further storylines depending on how successful the show is.

The show's not bad, but I have one quibble with what has been done with one of the major characters, James "Big Jim" Rennie, the show's primary villain.  In the book, he is the "Second Selectman" of Chester's Mill, but he effectively runs the town, including several shady enterprises in and around Chester's Mill.  For the show, the producers have changed Rennie's title to councilman--a wise move, in my opinion: I read all 1,000-plus pages of Under the Dome, and I STILL have no clear idea what a "second selectman" is.  I assume it's some position of authority unique to Maine--the kind of title that probably comes with a free chicken and unlimited use of the town snowplow.  Another choice made by the producers, however, is far less satisfying.

Rennie is played by Dean Norris.  Now, I have nothing against Dean Norris as an actor; indeed, as a member of the "Breaking Bad" ensemble, Norris (who plays Walt's brother-in-law, Hank Schrader) has my utmost respect.  But while Dean Norris may be any number of things, he is most definitely not "Big."  Big Jim Rennie needs to be an imposing physical presence--the part fairly screams for John Goodman--and Norris just does not convey any sense of physical menace.  Maybe he'll grow into the role--but he'll need to have quite a growth spurt.

Ray Donovan (Showtime): Remember "Pulp Fiction"?  Remember Harvey Keitel's character, "The Wolf," the guy who cleans up other people's messes?  Well, Ray Donovan  (Liev Schreiber) is basically "The Wolf," only not quite so amusing. By far the best of these new shows, "Ray Donovan" revolves around an all-purpose fixer, the guy you call if you're a Hollywood A-lister, and you wake up with a naked dead woman in your bed.  Ray's family consists of his brothers Terry (Eddie Marsan), who is suffering from Parkinson's, and Bunchy (Dash Mihok), who is dealing with alcoholism, drug addiction, and other long-term repercussions of having been molested by the family priest; Ray's father (Jon Voight), who has just been paroled for unspecified crimes, and whose reappearance in Ray's life is less than welcome; and Ray's wife Abby (Paula Malcomson), who is desperate for a more mainstream version of the Hollywood dream than that provided by Ray's shady profession.  As "Dexter" (which it follows on Sunday nights) staggers to an end--none too soon, if the season premiere is any indication--"Ray Donovan" provides a nice palate cleanser.

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