Tonight brings one new series, "Back in the Game" on ABC, and the season premieres of "The Middle," "Modern Family," "Nashville," "Criminal Minds," "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," "Revolution" and "Law & Order: SVU." I also have some thoughts about "Survivor," which began its latest season last week, and "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.," which began Tuesday night.
First, "Back in the Game" stars Maggie Lawson as a woman who is trying to get back in more than one game -- life after a broken relationship, for one, and baseball, for another. Both efforts have her dealing with her crusty father (James Caan), who has been out of the game a long time himself. There are some painfully obvious pieces here, particularly the homages to "The Bad News Bears," but there's something genuine and charming in the Lawson-Caan interplay. I'm not crazy about it but won't mind too much giving it a second chance.
Among the returning shows, the DVR is set for "Modern Family," "Nashville," "CSI" and "Survivor" and "X Factor" and I have a disc of "Revolution." I don't approach them all with unqualified enthusiasm. "CSI" is one of those shows I have stuck with from the beginning and just don't want to stop now. "Revolution" went nuts in the second half of its first season, and I will be wary of further nuttiness. "X Factor" I will record but may not watch all of; I've been in and out of audition shows so far this season and may want to save my attention for next week, when the weird "four chairs" plan starts. (See the previous post about that.) "Modern Family" just picked up another Emmy for best comedy series, yet last season it fell into a predictable rhythm of escalating comedy followed by a warm and fuzzy finish; that made my viewing intermittent at best. We'll see how it starts the new year.
I am more optimistic about "Survivor," which in its previous run was so tired that I did not last through the entirety of it. The latest gimmick, putting veteran players against their loved ones, gave the premiere last week more intensity than usual (Rupert saving his wife from Redemption Island!) and some intriguing gamesmanship. (Gervase's niece kicked off because of what Gervase did?) That said, I am baffled as to why the veterans did not kick off Colton the first chance they had; he's poisonous, and that should have been obvious to anyone worrying about effective team play. Still, just the idea that I want to argue about "Survivor" is a step up for the show.
"Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." delivered some good though not blockbuster numbers on Tuesday though it certainly fared well considering the competition included "NCIS" and its Ziva's-leaving controversy. While it wasn't as good as I hoped, and many of the best lines had been used in promotional clips, I liked it pretty well.
I once referred to HBO's "From the Earth to the Moon" as a series where the heroes were "guys in white shirts and neckties, solving problems with slide rules, blackboards and a lot of ingenuity." In the Marvel universe, "Agents" is somewhat similar. While the glory folks -- Iron Man, Thor et al. -- are out getting headlines and their own action figures, the agents are working on less grandiose problems, solving them with brains and technology (and, yes, some elaborate fight scenes).
The centerpiece, of course, is Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg), the guy in a business suit who helped bring together the Avengers, and whose death in the Avengers movie was more than a little touching. (Sniff, sniff) Now, we learn, his death was faked to inspire the other Avengers -- or was it? There's that whole did-he-really-go-to-Tahiti business to sort out. Will anyone be surprised if Coulson is now a brain in a Coulson-imitating 'bot body?
Still, even if there are other people with skills in the new Agents team, Coulson's the one who keeps them directed, and who can deliver the inspirational speech when required. To go back to my space-exploration idea, Coulson is Ed Harris in "Apollo 13." And he is one cool dude,
The other characters didn't appeal as much, partly because we only got glimpses of them and their stories as the first hour (about 42 minutes without commercials) put the group together AND had a plot -- "Angel" veteran J. August Richards as a working guy with superpowers -- AND showed off some of the toys the team gets to use. But the superhero plot was less than thrilling, too. And, as more than one viewer has noted, the opening sequence was cheap-seeming.
At the same time, there's the Whedonesque humor, the playing with audience expectations about the series -- and the way that the series is set firmly in the Marvel universe. This is not some parallel but not overlapping narrative; these characters operate in the post-Battle of NY (which is, of course, Cleveland) time, where there really are those action figures, and people name-drop Tony Stark and Black Widow because, even if we don't see them, they are part of this world.
That may prompt some viewers to expect a surprise performance by Robert Downey Jr. I don't. Instead, I look forward to seeing these people functioning in their more confined (and TV-budgeted) world, in rooms and dark corners where the work is not glamorous but is important, and is interconnected with the movies; Extremis, for example, was an element of "Iron Man 3" as well as the "Agents" premiere. But the path to dealing with it is far different for the agents than it is for the superheroes.