The best thing about today's super-fractured media landscape is the vast amount of new TV shows available for us couch potatoes who can never see too much television. The worst: Quality varies wildly, from the heights of Mad Men to the depths of Duck Dynasty. Today, I'm making it easy by arranging reviews of four new shows from masterful to moronic. Save your energy for programming your DVR. Because this is just the beginning.
Nurse Jackie: fifth season debut at 10 p.m. Sunday, Showtime.
Ever since star Edie Falco accepted her 2010 Emmy award as best comedy actress by proclaiming "I'm not funny," the showbiz world seems to have slept on this quirky show.
Veering from wry comedy to heartbreaking drama in an instant, the series centers on Falco's Jackie, a drug addict and emergency room nurse who shines at work, but leads a disastrous personal life. As the season begins, Jackie is a tenaciously recovering addict, going through a painful divorce, unburdening herself only to the cellphone voice mail of a dead fellow addict.
Sounds like a laugh riot. Still, it's a measure of Falco's skill that we keep rooting for Jackie. She's helped by an ace supporting cast, boosted by Morris Chestnut as a super-competent ex-Army doctor, Adam Ferrara as the unlikeliest love interest of all and Anna Deavere Smith as a hospital administrator who may be slipping into dementia.
Once upon a time, with Weeds, United States of Tara, The Big C and Jackie, Showtime cornered the market on strong, quirky female dramedies. Check in Sunday to see once of the best – and last – left standing.
THE VERY GOOD
Veep, second season debut, at 10 p.m. Sunday, HBO.
As a vice president known for clumsy charisma and a long history of gaffes, Julia Louis-Dreyfus' Selina Meyer might seem like a character the real vice president would avoid.
Still, news that Joe Biden called Dreyfus with congratulations or her Emmy win mostly shows the vice president knows his TV comedy. And Veep's second season continues the same sidesplitting style, presenting Meyer as a self-obsessed, perpetually disappointed politician with a knack for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
Meyer completes a series of successful stump speeches for midterm candidates, only to find her party crushed by the opposition in the actual election (by declining to name her affiliation, Veep deftly highlights the absurdity of the process, regardless of party leaning). Of course, she uses the opportunity to demand more visibility in the administration, making her the face of their massive failure.
If it sounds like that could be the pool report from an actual trip with the vice president, you're learning why Veep is a fun ride, indeed.
THE INTER- ESTING
Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown, debuts at 9 p.m. Sunday, CNN.
To ramp up Sunday programming, the newschannel hired bad boy chef Anthony Bourdain for a program that seems equal parts news feature and travelogue, exploring the world's hotspots through their food and lifestyles.
On Sunday Bourdain alights in Myanmar, also known as Burma, where the military regime has seemingly eased its oppressive controls after a 50-year run. In such a singular cultural moment, I couldn't decide if Bourdain felt like a dilettante or someone telling an important story in a new way, digging into a pile of chicken necks while joking with his dining companions about prison food.
There is much here which is interesting – including a ferris wheel powered by workers swinging from its buckets and an indie rock band dreaming of playing New York City -– but little that is truly compelling.
Life with LaToya, debuts at 10:30 p.m. Saturday, OWN.
This is the sad result of a celebrity freak cashing in the last card she has left to play: reality TV.
If that sounds harsh, I apologize. But an hour of watching LaToya Jackson refuse to take responsibility for the insane choices in her life, starring in a so-called "reality" series which tells you so little about her supremely damaged family, will do that to you.
The show follows Jackson as she moves into a hotel, festooning it with jewel-encrusted knick knacks and demanding her assistant wipe down every surface she might touch. ("I'm not a gemaphobe," LaToya chirps, displaying that grasp on reality for which the Jackson family is known.)
She starts the show blaming a controlling father and mob-connected ex-husband for most of her awful career and life decisions, hanging out with celebrity mom Kathy Hilton (Paris' mom) and a "business partner"/professional friend who pronounces his name Jeffrey but spells it Jeffre'.
Yeah. It's that kind of party.
She only briefly refers to the scandal when some family members spirited off mother Katherine Jackson, who now controls her dead superstar brother's estate, leading to suspicion she had been kidnapped. But we also learn Michael, Kathy Hilton and LaToya promised as childhood buddies to each name their first children Paris. One mystery explained.
I was just glad she hasn't yet hornswoggled her brother's surviving children to come on camera, too.