New Summer Dramas: USA vs. TNT

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What happened to all the cool legal dramas on TV?  The only really good news is that the much-beloved Damages will return courtesy of DirectTV this summer, and Kathy Bates will be back in the fall to singlehandedly keep Harry’s Law afloat. Meanwhile with James Spader in talks to star in The Office, Hollywood’s now minus another great actor with the chops to make any sleazy lawyer thoroughly engrossing.

So where is the next big thing? Well, a few new legal dramas have debuted this summer. Of course the networks love to toss shows they’re unsure about our way during June, July, and August because they’re hoping audiences will be more gentle – or at least distracted. Now if you’re one of those people for whom the current reality show canon holds little or no appeal, some of the legal newbies on cable may warrant a viewing. I saw two of them this weekend. At least one of them looks pretty good.

USA Network has been doing some really great stuff with its original – if somewhat formulaic – programming. If you like shows about good-looking people in nice clothes with zippy dialogue, great camerawork, improbable circumstances and entirely implausible escapes & twists, this is the channel for you. If you’re a fan of Burn Notice, Royal Pains, White Collar, or Fairly Legal you know exactly what I mean. It’s delicious TV that doesn’t make your brain work too hard  — but it’s very satisfying nonetheless. The drama Suits is a perfect addition to USA’s lineup, and having just watched the pilot I believe that they’ve got another very popular show on their hands. This was one of those shows that was extremely well–advertised but whose plot remained a mystery – and now we know why. They had to get an enormous amount of information out of the way right off the bat. Gabriel Macht stars as an uber-slick  lawyer (read: con man) who hires a younger, even more eager con man to pose as a lawyer; together they pull the wool over everyone’s eyes, all the while trying to do good over evil and hoping not to get caught at their own game. Did that make sense? Both guys are bad news but in that good way that makes for fun TV. Naturally the pilot is burdened with sixteen tons of dialogue required for exposition: (i.e. Kind Old Lady: “Well, if your parents hadn’t died when you were just seven and I had to raise you singlehandedly and watch while you became a model student before you took to a life of crime …” ) Still, it’s sharp and funny with constant tension as there’s always someone on the brink of being exposed. Thus Suits stays taut and watchable. If I had to guess I’d say this one will be a go. The leads are excellent and there’s plenty of forward motion.

TNT also has a new show out called Franklin & Bash and unlike its sibling (the similarly ampersand-ed) Rizzoli & Isles –  which is intelligent – this one’s  anything but. Again, clearly not the actors’ fault – both Mark Paul Gosselaar and Breckin Meyer are excellent and have undeniable chemistry. For whatever reasons however, it’s as if the writers said “let’s try and make two ambulance-chasing lawyers hilarious heroes, who cavort with strippers and read legal manuals at their own hot-tub parties.”  There are way too many stock characters, way too many ultra-chesty girls devoid of identifiable purpose, and just one too many offices with basketball hoops (so we know someone’s “irreverent”). It’s absolutely inane and I predict that it will begin and end during the summer because the characters just aren’t redeeming enough to last into fall. But again, that’s just me. What do you think? Have you watched any of the new shows?

Today’s featured poll:

Voice your choice in today’s featured poll and tell us which of these USA Network shows is your favorite:

1)    Burn Notice

2)    Fairly Legal

3)    Royal Pains

4)    White Collar

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