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Dramedy

A few days ago, I was able to take part in a Q&A session with Fred Weller, who plays Marshal Marshall Mann on the USA Network’s hit show, In Plain Sight [Sundays, 10-9C]. Marshall may be Mary Shannon’s partner, but he is an interesting character in his own right – as is the man who plays him. One thing that is almost immediately apparent, is that both share a dry sense of humor.

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Also taking part in the session were: Jamie Steniberg [Starry Constellation], Troy Rogers [thedeadbolt.com], Chandra Williams [TVJolts.com], Beth Ann Henderson [nicegirlstv.com], Jamie Ruby [Media Blvd], and Kendra White [no affiliation mentioned…].

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The SCI FI Channel’s newest sci-fi/fantasy series, Warehouse 13, has added Allison Scagliotti [Drake & Josh] to its cast which already includes regulars Eddie McClintock, Joanne Kelly, Saul Rubinek and CCH Pounder.

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In the series – which focuses on two FBI agents who are assigned to a massive storage facility for “strange artifacts, mysterious relics and supernatural souvenirs” – Scagliotti will play Claudia Donovan, a young, hip, brilliant techno-whiz who cracks the facility’s security in search of Rubinek’s character, Artie. Her natural aptitude for science and technology enable her to figure out and manipulate many of the facility’s pieces in order to help the team.

Artie is the caretaker of the Warehouse, while Pete [McClintock] and Myka [Kelly] are the FBI agents who are charged with finding and securing new objects to cache there.

Warehouse 13 premieres with a two-hour episode on July 7th, 2009, at 9/8 Central.

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When Trust Me [Mondays, TNT, 10/9C] premieres following The Closer, there will be a tonal shift of some magnitude. Whereas The Closer is a darker drama with humor, Trust Me is much lighter in tone, with a nearly equal amount of each.

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The set up is this: Mason [Eric McCormack] and Conner [Tom Cavanagh] are partners in a creative group for ad agency Rothman, Green & Mohr. Mason is a bit uptight, a bit square and a draughtsman as opposed to an artist. Conner is sly, charming, talented but incredibly immature – and us brilliant at coming up with concepts and taglines.

When one of their biggest clients, Arc Mobile, wants to change their approach, Mason and Conner are pulled away from a cushy assignment to come up with something new – only their boss [Life on Mars’ Jason O’Mara] hasn’t been told. When he finds out, he retreats to his office and has a heart attack. The group’s creative director, Tony Mink [Griffin Dunne] promotes Mason to take his place. Conner has a fit of pique.

Trust Me’s first two episodes [Before and After, All Hell The Victors] deal with the ramifications of the client’s need for change and the fall out form Mason’s promotion – working a newly hired hot shot writer, Sarah Krajicek-Hunter [Monica Potter] who was promised “a window;” two junior copywriters, Tom [Mike Damus] and Hector [Geoffrey Arend] who think taglines are passé, and Mason’s wife Erin [Sarah Clarke] into the mix, along with all their unique arcs.

Between dealing with Arc Mobile and the inadvertent plagiarizing of a tagline from a potential employee, the first two episodes do a good job of setting up the characters and situations that will be the foundation for the series. If the ad agency stuff feels real it’s because series creators, Hunt Baldwin and John Coveny have between them over twenty years experience in the field.

Trust Me wouldn’t be out of place on a major network [or on the “Characters Welcome” cable net, for that matter]. It’s hugely entertaining despite still needing a bit of work on the drama/humor balance and figuring out how to maximum effect out of its minor characters. It’s certainly a better than average series, but it has the potential to be much more.

Final Grade: B-

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Tomorrow marks the return of one of the summer’s brightest lights, Burn Notice [USA, Thursdays, 10/9C]. When last we saw burnt agent Michael Westen [Jeffrey Donovan], he was caught in a freeze frame in mid-air after a bomb planted inside his door had gone off. It should come as no surprise that the winter premiere of the show picks up right at that precise instant. Nor will it come as a surprise that Westen survives – though he is banged up enough that he’s less than subtle in both his dealings with Carla [Tricia Helfer] and the con artists who benefited financially at the expense of a perhaps terminally ill boy named Jack. Westen saves Jack’s father from a terrible mistake [suicide] and after a very brief conversation, Kenny [David Barry Gray] becomes his next “side job” [as Carla puts it].

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In our interview with Bruce Campbell [Westen’s right-hand man, Sam Axe] mentioned that he thought the show had a core of innocence, like The Rockford Files. Actually, I’d take that a couple of steps further and suggest that Burn Notice is a mash-up of Rockford and It Takes a Thief – only the hero is I Spy’s Kelly Robinson [in an upcoming interview, Nix talks about the way classic TV influenced the show].

In Do No Harm, the Season 2.5 premiere, Westen, who was pretty banged up after surviving the explosion, decides that he’s not exactly in the mood for subtle –something to do with almost dying [attempts on his life, he says, “are like snowflakes. Each one is different – and icy cold]. This puts Sam a bit on edge, and makes Fiona [Gabriel Anwar] a hair crazier than usual. It also means babysitting duty for Westen’s mom, Madeline [Sharon Gless].

The episode – which was written and directed by creator Matt Nix – seems to move a bit faster than usual. Probably because of Westen’s decision to forego subtlety. Also probably because of a twist in regard to his would-be assassin. Mostly, though it’s the combination of the above and con artists who target fatally ill children. As a result, the voiceovers aren’t quite as matter-of-fact as usual. There’s just a slight tonal difference, but we can tell Westen’s objectivity isn’t exactly intact.

Nix proves to be a capable director. He keeps the pace up and knows when to let the show’s trademark humor relieve the tension. Because he is so good, it should come as no surprise that Do Not Harm is one of the series’ best episodes, to date. After all, there’s compromising of the writer’s vision.

Final Grade: A

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Sam 03

USA’s popular spy series, Burn Notice, is returning this week [Thursday, 10/9C] and we had the opportunity to chat with Bruce Campbell [crusty, semi-retired spy Sam Axe] on what to expect in Season Three. Campbell didn’t dip into any classified intel, but it was definitely a fun interview…

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Tara Gregson [Toni Collette] is a struggling artist/designer with a charming husband, Max [John Corbett] and two kids – studious Marshall [Kier Gilchrist] and uber-brat Kate [Brie Larson]. She also has three more personalities [slutty teen, T; macho redneck Buck, and super Betty Crocker, Alice – and a sister, Charmaine [Rosemarie DeWitt] who thinks she’s faking [“that’s not even a real disease,” she tells Max after an early incident]. Fortunately, Max is a little more open minded than she is – though the exchange does basically set up two schools of thought on DID. The United States of Tara [Showtime, Sundays, 10/9C] is yet another reason that Showtime is sometimes referred to as “the new HBO.”

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UST was created by Steven Spielberg and developed by Diablo Cody – which as likely a combination as Juno and Paulie from Cody’s first film, and turns out to be as an unexpectedly good one. It takes a lot of nerve to tackle DID in the manner of UST – the premise is that Tara has gone of her meds with the approval of her family and therapist in the hope that the appearance and behaviour of her alter-egos might lead to the discovery of the events that led her to develop them in the first place. Not the simplest premise, and one that probably be watched closely by mental health professionals and families of DID victims.

From the moment we meet each of Tara’s “alters,” it becomes apparent that Cody is playing for keeps. There moments with each alter that reach almost profound levels of accuracy – and the humor that arises from these situations ranges from dark to light to dark again. In most instances, the humor is used to relieve the impact of the drama, as when Alice takes umbrage with Kate’s attitude and language in the third ep, Aftermath [in which the family attempts to clean up after the damage T and Buck caused in the first two eps.

The United States of Tara is not an easy show to watch, but despite it flaws [the children are woefully underdeveloped and it’s a tribute to Gilchrist and Larson that they have any presence at all], it is smart and refuses to take it easy on its audience. There are moments that are genuinely raw – that will definitely have an impact on you – and moments that leave you rolling with laughter [and you might feel guilty only about half the time].

The United States of Tara will make you think and feel – and isn’t that what the best television should do?

Final Grade: B+

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Secret Diary of a Call Girl [Showtime, Sundays, 10:30/9:30C] may be best known as the television program that helped Billie Piper escape the stereotyping that could have followed her from two seasons as The Doctor’s most popular companion ever on Doctor Who, but it is also a charmingly oddball look at the oldest profession as seen through the eyes of Belle/Hannah [Piper], a high-end, independent call girl.

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This season finds Hannah attending a christening as godmother, and having to deal with the prospect of being the featured prostitute in a political scandal; considering cosmetic surgery, and trying to figure out a way to have a real relationship without leaving the profession. The potential relationship thing begins with Belle picking up a guy named Alex [Callum Blue, Dead Like Me], thinking he’s a client, and then being unable to stop thinking about him. This is complicated by a would-be call girl named Bambi [Ashley Madekwe] who picks Belle’s mind for pointers – and steals one of her clients, with near disastrous results.

Season Two of Secrets of a Call Girl is pretty much what you might expect if you saw Season One. Belle’s clients are the source of some humor – as well as some drama, and her personal life, her real life, continues to intrude on her professional one in ways that make her think about changing her line of work. The writing is mostly frothy, but occasionally darker, with the result that we can laugh, cry, shudder and, occasionally, cringe as we watch.

The characters continue to be drawn well enough for us to care about at least a few of them. Blue’s Alex is awkwardly charming; Madekwe’s Bambi is an innocent who thinks she isn’t, and there’s always ex-boyfriend Ben [Iddo Goldberg] to call Hannah on her BS [being the only person from her real life who knows about her profession].

Technically, the show is as glossy and sleek as ever – though the rather awkward cuts from Belle to her body double are a weak point. Secret Life of a Call Girl is occasionally erotic enough to make us feel naughty as we watch, bit just as often so matter-of-fact that we can relate to the characters as people.

Final Grade: B-

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