When good performers are stranded in awful shows: TNT's Memphis Beat, HawthoRNe and Falling Skies
There may be no sadder circumstance in television than seeing great performers trapped by mediocre material.
Memphis Beat debuts at 9 p.m. Tuesday, and HawthoRNe debuts at 10 p.m. Tuesday, both on TNT: The sorrowful fact is, no matter how wonderful Memphis Beat star Jason Lee is and HawthoRNe star Jada Pinkett Smith may be, the TV series built around them are predictable permutations of the same cop and medical drams that have clogged the small screen for decades.
Smith's no-nonsense head nurse Christina Hawthorne is a righteous hero, always fighting red tape and shrinking resources. But as the show's third — really, third? — season opens, Hawthorne becomes the patient in a shocking and gratuitous way, forcing those who love her most to make medical decisions for her in ways no real-life hospital would tolerate (shades of Grey's Anatomy! Or Chicago Hope! Or ER!).
Lee's eccentric, bar band-singing Dwight Hendricks is a righteous homicide detective, fighting a too-uptight boss (a similarly wasted Alfre Woodard) while negotiating Memphis' laid-back Southern style.
But the show obviously isn't filmed there, has zero local flavor and flounders this season with a mopey story line in which a murdered cop is suspected of participating in a white supremacist group. You would never guess the long list of executive producers here include film star George Clooney.
TiVo or TiNO? TI-NO until TNT demands more.
Falling Skies debuts at 9 p.m. Sunday on TNT: I have written many columns begging network TV to stop trying "genre" shows like science fiction and superhero series because they don't have the creativity or effects budgets to tackle them. And now executive producer Steven Spielberg has teamed with star Noah Wyle to create an eight-week series making the same argument for standard cable.
It's not just that this story of a ragtag band of human survivors resisting an alien invasion was explored so much better in Spielberg's own big-budget movie War of the Worlds. Or that Wyle's nerdy history professor-turned-resistance fighter dad seems like a bearded, more ruthless version of his character from TNT's Librarian series. Or that every plot point in this series seems cribbed from a succession of fairly recent films, from Battle: Los Angeles to Skyline to Independence Day.
It's that there's little reason for this derivative TV version of all those derivative alien invasion movies. Want to see a TV treatise on how people lose it when civilization collapses? AMC's Walking Dead is superior. Interested in a sci-fi twist on a contemporary action adventure series? Plunk down a little more cash to see Torchwood on Starz or watch Dr. Who on BBC America.
TiVo or Ti-NO? Avoid the hype and Ti-NO; a Netflix date with Independence Day and Red Dawn would bring a more entertaining dose of the same story lines.