Downton Abbey, House of Lies and The Firm offer crowd of quality TV on Sunday
Find everyone you know who has complained about how bad television is these days and park them in front of a screen on Sunday night.
Why? To catch a powerful lineup of interesting new and returning shows coming to the tube at the start of next week, kicking off a winter season filled with gems held back from the rush of the fall season.
It may take a bit of doing – two of these shows air at the same time on Sunday (consider a DVR and access to video on demand, if you can swing it).
But you’ll be rewarded with an experience worth the trouble – a stream of compelling TV product good enough to make you forget we’ve still got many weeks before the Walking Dead and Mad Men come back.
Downton Abbey, returns for second season at 9 p.m. Sunday on WEDU-Ch. 3: I’ll admit being a latecomer to Masterpiece’s well-regarded series about the fictional country home of a British Earl and Countess, set at the beginning of the 20th Century. But a boatload of honors for its first season, including six Emmy awards, is enough to make even this thickheaded Yank pay attention.
In the new episodes, time jumps forward two years to the start of World War I, and the draft of able-bodied men is blurring the class lines between nobility and commoner. The show’s patriarch, Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham, chafes under the genteel arrangements which keep older men with titles away from the front, as his youngest daughter considers work in a hospital, and his oldest daughter Mary remains separated from the man she loves, Matthew, who is engaged to another.
If you’ve guessed this is soap opera for those who think they’re too smart or cultured for soap operas, you’ve got the thrust of this lavishly-produced series. At a time when so many stories on the wealthy show them exploiting the working class, it is compelling to see a series centered on the symbiosis of the English class system, where aristocrats take their responsibilities for leading commoners and servants very seriously (even if it does feel a little like propaganda).
House of Lies, debuts at 10 p.m. Sunday on Showtime: Don Cheadle is a fast-talking, hyper-kinetic, super-savvy ball of charisma as Marty Kaan, the big money “closer” at the second-largest management consultant firm in the country. He’s the kind of guy who can pass off a stripper as his wife during a business dinner, end it with a fistfight and still land a massive contract by playing to his client's insecurities. And yes, this is a comedy.
It is also the role of lifetime for Cheadle, who plays Kaan like a man intentionally moving just fast enough to avoid realizing how empty his life is. It’s the kind of lost power broker George Clooney would play in the movie; and the fact that Showtime cast Cheadle, who is black, in a role which seems written for a white guy makes the character, his cross-dressing young son and dysfunctional psychiatrist dad even more compelling.
The perfect comedy for an age where corporate America seems like the biggest slapstick show in town.
The Firm, debuts at 9 p.m. Sunday on WFLA-Ch. 8: After watching NBC work wonders with its Parenthood remake, I was willing to be a little less cynical about its reinvention of this John Grisham novel/Tom Cruise movie. And at the risk of looking like a sap, I’m willing to say this TV version kept me entertained and engaged, even though it asks viewers to take one big leap.
The hurdle: accepting that an earnest, talented lawyer can stumble on another secretly nefarious, openly glamorous law firm looking to hire him in the same lifetime. The TV show’s action opens a decade after the events of book and movie, as plucky lawyer Mitch McDeere has pulled his family out of witness protection to start his own law firm in Washington D.C.
Josh Lucas is appropriately earnest and quick thinking as a grown-up McDeere, Deadwood alum Molly Parker brings the supportive spouse action as Abby McDeere and Juliette Lewis is appropriately sexy and trashy as McDeere’s quirky secretary, Tammy Hemphill. Just wish they found a way to get somebody like Wilford Brimley back in the saddle as the disarmingly avuncular, yet-ruthless security chief.
Only question left: Can NBC alternate a legal case of the week with the ongoing conspiracy deftly enough that we don’t feel like we’re watching a cheap imitation?