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Decoding summer TV: Reviews of Wilfred, Louie, Combat Hospital and more



11-4-08-watchingtv.jpgWhen faced with a month where 46 new and returning shows are surfacing on television, you don’t just need a TV review; you need a serious small screen strategy.

So let’s take a look at what’s coming at you this week, using shows you may already know, to suss out shows you don’t.

If you like: Wipeout -- You might like:
101 Ways to Leave a Game Show, debuting at 9 tonight on WFTS-Ch. 28:
Not sure how smart it is to build the most compelling part of a game show around what happens to the losers. But ABC has gathered the kind of deliriously enthusiastic knuckleheads who bounce off huge red balls in Wipeout, and instead asked them questions like “How much did William Shatner get when he sold his kidney stone for charity?” (answer: too much). Losers get ejected by being dropped off a moving truck or strapped to a flying biplane. I only wish we could do that to whoever invented this show.

If you like: China Beach -- You might like:
Combat Hospital, debuts at 10 p.m. tonight on WFTS:
It may be a measure of how little we all want to acknowledge the wars America still wages, but it is odd to see a Canadian TV production come up with a drama about a military hospital in Afghanistan before any U.S. network (at least, ABC nicked the show for its summer lineup). Unfortunately, the first episode plays like a humorless version of M*A*S*H, complete with a hard-charging female character – this time, a doctor – with relationship issues, an earnest, cynically idealistic leader and a supernaturally competent clerk. For those of you born after 1983, it’s like Grey’s Anatomy in a plywood tent with the Taliban and active IEDs.

If you like: new school James Bond -- You might like:
Burn Notice, returns at 9 p.m. Thursday on USA:
Over four seasons, Jeffrey Donovan’s insanely resourceful spy Michael Westen has worked toward one goal – reversing his status as an unfairly discredited “burned” spy while helping those who need a little unorthodox, action-oriented justice in the Magic City. But as the fifth season opens, Westen has reversed his status and is now working with the CIA to take down the guys who burned him in the first place. Grant Show joins in as the latest CIA suit forced to realize how cool Westen’s improvised solutions are, which raises a pointed question: What happens to the ex-spies, especially girlfriend Fiona (Gabriella Anwar), who helped Westen when he was “burned?”


Suits, debuts at 10 p.m. Thursday on USA: This may be a stretch, since this quirky series isn’t exactly action packed – centered on an arrogant, corners-cutting Harvard-trained attorney (Gabriel S. Macht, The Spirit) who decides to bring a street smart protégé with photographic memory into the tony law firm where he works, even though the kid doesn’t actually have a law degree. But its subversive spirit and focus on sharp-suited, smart-talking guys with attitude shares a lot with Burn Notice and Bond. In real life, you’d think they were clueless jerks worthy of serious comeuppance; on TV, you can’t wait to see how they pull off their latest scam.

If you like: Family Guy -- You might like:
Wilfred, debuts at 10 p.m. Thursday on FX:
In the same way the gleefully obnoxious Family Guy bitterly divides fans of comedy, Wilfred ups the argument ante. Elijah Wood is in lovable loser mode as Ryan, a suicidal attorney overwhelmed by life until he meets Wilfred. To the world, Wilfred is a cute dog owned by Ryan’s cutesy blonde neighbor; to Ryan, Wilfred is an in-your-face Australian guy in a ratty dog suit. Who talks to him. As Wilfred pushes Ryan to spend his days taking bong hits, stealing another neighbor’s homegrown weed and defecating inside the guy’s shoes, viewers are left to wonder when the show will reveal that Ryan has lost his mind and Wilfred is his own runaway ID. Quirkily absurd and unapologetically implausible, Wilfred isn’t really a metaphor for anything but a young guy losing it in a compelling way. Is that enough for a quality TV comedy to hang its hat on? Let the arguments begin.

Louie, returns at 10:30 p.m. Thursday on FX:
Centered on the absurdly real travails of divorced dad and ace standup comic Louis C.K., this comedy’s second season kicks off with Louis giving his 5-year-old daughter the finger after she admits she likes staying with her mother better, because he’s not a great cook (fortunately, the little girl had left the room). Sprinkled in-between Louis’ side-splitting standup (“Nobody gets divorced right on time…you get divorced after being in a s--- marriage for years. But you’re only aware of it for one.”), these chunks of dramedy are offhandedly explicit and bizarrely touching, like an indie film directed by Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane. And Louis, who created, writes, directs and edits every episode with spare, New York flavor, gets no filter between his twisted vision and any viewer brave enough to take it in.

[Last modified: Tuesday, June 21, 2011 1:41pm]


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