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Watching stuff: "The Divide," "Los Jets"

By Rich Heldenfels Published: July 16, 2014

Cable premieres tonight include two shows of interest, "The Divide" on WE at 9 p.m. and "Los Jets" at 10 p.m. on NUVOtv.

"The Divide," which begins with a two-hour premiere before settling into the 10 p.m. hour on July 23, comes from a team including director-actor Tony Goldwyn ("Scandal") and writer-director Richard LaGravenese ((the screenplay for "Behind the Candelabra"). It involves a decade-old murder in Philadelphia in which a convicted killer is about to be executed. The case was racially charged, with the victims a well-heeled African-American family and two white men implicated in the crime. But an investigation into the conviction begins to raise questions about what exactly happened. Especially engaged in the case is Christine Rosa (Marin Ireland), a caseworker with the Innocence Initiative, who has personal reasons for involvement. But any attempt to overturn the conviction is going to run into Adam Page (Damon Gupton), the district attorney who won the original conviction -- and who has higher ambitions that the case could derail. And any attack on the African-American Page is going to bring race back into the argument.

The premiere reminded me a bit of "The Killing" in its sometimes too-slow pace and in Christine's weariness. There's also a liberal tinge to it (angry at a reporter, one character snaps, "Where did you study journalism -- at Fox News?"). But it tries to have a variety of points of view expressed, and to make everyone more than a position paper; the supposed good guys have their flaws, and the ones who appear to be the bad guys in the premiere are given reasoned motivations for their actions. On top of that, by the end of the premiere, it's clear that the show is about more than saving one man from execution. Is that enough to watch more? I'm not sure. But Ireland's performance is quite good.

"Los Jets," which has an hour-long premiere tonight and then will be weekly half-hours, is -- as I mentioned in a previous post -- one of two soccer-connected shows making debuts this week; the other is El Rey's "Matador," which started last night.

"Los Jets" boasts Jennifer Lopez among its creators; the documentary series follows a high-school team consisting mainly of Latino students at  a Siler City, NC,  high school. Some of the challenges they face are ones you might expect with any team -- about a decade after winning a state championship, the Jets are struggling to win another; one student has academic problems; another, fundamental Christian feels apart from his less devout teammates.

But the team also provides a way to talk about race and immigration; some in the community resisted the arrival of Latinos, and it took a huge effort to start the soccer team even when there was considerable interest in part of the community. For that matter, the coach, Paul Cuadros, is a former journalist who pushed for the team after his coverage brought him to the community. (He is also an associate professor in the UNC journalism school and wrote a book about his experiences, “A Home on the Field: How One Championship Team Inspires Hope for the Revival of Small Town America.") And the ethnic background of the players means there are special challenges; one student struggles with English, and Cuadros during games can be heard calling out instructions in Spanish.

But it's an earnest series, at least in the early goings, and the personalities of the players and their coach gradually unfold through interviews and footage of them on and off the pitch. And the tone of the early episodes is one of deliberate understatement, asking the audience to think about the subject instead of firing up one side or the other.

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