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Watching Stuff: New Series, Emmys

By Rich Heldenfels Published: September 23, 2013

Tonight brings three new series: comedy "Mom" and dramas "The Blacklist" and "Hostages," which are pitted against each other. It's also new-season night for "How I Met Your Mother," "2 Broke Girls," "Castle" and "The Voice" as well as Week 2 of "Bones," "Sleepy Hollow" and "Dancing With the Stars."

I have two DVRS cranked up for shows tonight -- even though I have already seen several things so I don't have to record. For the next week or so, there will be double-DVR days, and some dipping into on-demand, as I sort out which new shows are worth watching more than twice. Some, of course, don't deserve more than one shot but I try to give them a couple of shows before writing them off permanently. As for the new shows:

There's not a one tonight that I am dying to see a second time.

"Mom" on CBS has the pleasure of Allison Janney doing comedy, and doing it opposite Anna Faris, who has more than once elevated material handed her. They are a mother and daughter with lots of issues, including histories of substance abuse, whose lives once again intersect. But the pilot was not all that well written, and I felt pretty meh by the end. I have faith in the two stars but not in the overall concept, and it felt like just enough of a maybe-good that I want to watch a second one.

Much the way I like watching Janney work, I stayed all the way through the pilot of NBC's twisty "The Blacklist" because James Spader is at his creepy-coolest as an international criminal deciding to help law enforcement, and every time he comes onscreen the show seems more energized. There's just something about Spader insulting other people that is fun to watch. I know, it't the same territory as "House," "Elementary" and other shows about brilliant meanies. But Spader can make it sing. The problem is that the show around him is not all that interesting, and the female lead, Megan Boone, is competent enough on her own but not a match for Spader. (Let's put it this way: If you have Anthony Hopkins, then you'd better get Jodie Foster to play opposite.) The plot of the pilot was no more than mildly interesting, and it required some characters to act in a way that had me wondering out loud why they weren't more sensible. Again, a maybe show. If nothing else, I'd fast-forward to Spader scenes.

CBS's "Hostages," on the other hand, is a 15-part thriller that by all logic should be over at the end of an hour. Toni Collette plays a doctor about to perform surgery on the President of the United States. Then her family is taken captive, and she is told she has to kill the President in surgery to keep them alive. Fine. That's an hour. Perhaps two. There's no plausible way to make it run any longer without being ridiculous and by the end of the first hour the ridiculousness level is very, very high. And I haven't even addressed Dylan McDermott's Dangerous Man of Mystery character, mostly because I don't want to. The obvious antecedents here are "24," which was more exciting, and "Scandal," where nutty plots are the rule but which are carried off with a flair lacking here. This will get a second look but that's an obligatory one.

As for the DVRs, they are set for "DWTS," which had a so-so start and the usual biased-judges start a week ago; "Bones," which I still like but probably can't convince you to watch if you aren't by this time; "Sleepy Hollow," which was fun on first viewing and has to show if it can stay interesting, and: "How I Met Your Mother," because I've stayed with it even when it was mopey and not-great (as was the case much of 2012-13) because this is the last season.

I tuned to some of the Emmys on Sunday night, skipping part to watch the next-to-last episode of "Breaking Bad," which I will deal with in a separate post. Not a good telecast. The hit-the-road music for acceptance speeches was obnoxiously overused. The longer In Memoriam tributes were misguided because they did not show what these artists did; the audience that knows Cory Monteith -- whose tribute by Jane Lynch was excellent -- may have no idea what Jonathan Winters or even Jean Stapleton did. If you're talking about screen magic, show it, for pete's sake,

Elton John's tribute to Liberace drifted into a chance to plug a new song. The "middle of the show" musical number didn't really shine, nor did the sketches about hosting. And, as my colleague Daniel Fienberg noted, Carrie Underwood's song for 1963 was actually from 1965.

On the other hand, I did like the Kevin Spacey bit within one hosting bit, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler (please have them host something!), Merritt Wever's acceptance, Julia Louis-Dreyfus's acceptance (and I'm far from her biggest fan most of the time), Steve Levitan's "Modern Family" acceptance, the sheer joy of the "Breaking Bad" cast on its drama win. Michael Douglas! And any time Bob Newhart is onstage.

But that's not enough to make up for the dragging, gloomy presentation overall. When Neil Patrick Harris is the host and I am hard pressed to think of something really good that he did, then the whole enterprise has gone wrong.

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