New shows: "NCIS: LA" and "The Good Wife" (CBS), "the forgotten" (ABC, pictured above).
Returning: "NCIS" (CBS). "Dancing With the Stars" continues its premiere week with performances by the women contestants.
Reviews of the three new shows, after the jump.
Of tonight's three shows, the one I am most likely to watch a second time is "The Good Wife," which has the most spark of the three. That said, all of these shows have something in common: They aim not to be innovative or startling, but respectable. They do not set out to offend or to challenge, the way many boutique shows do, but to provide an hour that offers a reasonably entertaining story told in a reasonably straightforward way with a reasonably emotional underpinning. They're basic, if unremarkable, television.
How much you want that depends on how much other basic television you have in your diet -- do you want a little more, or is your plate full now? That's not a silly question, either. CBS thrives as the network of the reasonable; even some of its more impressive accomplishments -- "CSI," "The Amazing Race" -- are still placed within viewer-comforting frames.
So, tonight, we have "the forgotten," from producer Jerry Bruckheimer, who has always understood that you have to know your audience. And "the forgotten" echoes other shows, such as "Without a Trace" and Bruckheimer's "CSI" empire, in its assembling of a group of decent people who try to identify unknown crime victims after the police have given up; the identity may then help find whoever killed the victims.
Christian Slater, who tasted ratings disaster a season ago with "My Own Worst Enemy," is on seemingly safer ground here as the compassionated leader of forgotten-finders; as is hinted during tonight's premiere and finally explained at the end, he has something in his own life that he cannot forget. He is joined by others who are also involved in a quest for redemption, each with a skill -- or at least a doggedness -- that helps the group as a whole. And the people they help are made flesh, not only through flashbacks but (in the premiere at least) by providing a voiceover narration.
I can't say it's a terrible show, but I can say it's a bore. It is too full of scenes which feel borrowed from other shows, and the premiere's mystery seems to get solved far more quickly than the investigation would realistically lead to. It's the sort of show where there's a sudden intuitive leap from guess to conviction, to wrap things up just before the hour has run out.
"NCIS:LA" finds CBS trying to build on the success of "NCIS," but this is a weak variation of the original. The characters are not as interesting as in "NCIS," the cast far less strong. In addition, the audience is going to be at least one step ahead of the team in solving the mystery, started when a Navy man is killed during a shootout between crooks and police. "NCIS" took a little time to find its way, but it was still more promising in the early going than this. Also, it has Mark Harmon. This has Chris O'Donnell. That is a major difference.
"The Good Wife," to its credit, has Julianna Margulies -- once again playing a lawyer, as she did in the short-lived but not-without-potential "Canterbury's Law." She plays the "good wife" of a politician (Chris Noth) who has been caught in a scandal and gone to jail. She goes back to work, but is still entangled in her husband's troubles, which may be more complicated than they at first look. Still, she has to prove once again her abilities as a lawyer, and has to help her clients as much as she wants to help herself.
The premiere is just interesting enough to bring me back for more, although that interest has less to do with the story than with the performances by Margulies, who knows how to put an edge on, and Noth, who is quite able to make you wonder how good, and bad, he might be. He has, after all, done it often enough in other roles. But the show didn't dazzle me as much as make me wonder a bit where it, and the actors, might go. If there is nothing else on some night, and nothing backed up on the DVRs, then "The Good Wife" would be a ... reasonable choice.