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Summer TV Treats: See 'Suits' 'In Plain Sight,' with 'Rizzoli & Isles' & 'Franklin & Bash'
August 2, 2011  | By Eric Gould
 

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It's clear by now there's a TV recipe out there with quite a bit of traction. Start with a buddy pair of leads, add great hair, glowing skin, toothy grins. Sprinkle with snarky quips and hipster references on the minute. Repeat weekly.

In concept, not my idea of TV Worth Watching, or even TV Worth Folding Laundry By. But a funny thing happened on the way to the reject pile: I found some highbrow humor, more than a few smart scripts, and some fun actors to watch and get to know.

As much as the snob in me wanted to dismiss these shows as interchangeable fluff, color me pleasantly surprised. (And no, this does not apply to the vampiric, unrecognizable CBS buddy reboot of Hawaii Five-0.)

TNT and USA seem to have the touch when it comes to rolling out light dramedies that don't require a lot mental lifting, and that keep the jokes coming. (Although, artistically, TNT erred by recently canceling Men of a Certain Age.)

TNT just renewed Franklin & Bash, a comedy about a pair of prankster lawyers enlisted to shake up a prestigious law firm. The buddy concept is in high gear here, with both Jared Franklin (Breckin Meyer) and Peter Bash (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) as the courtroom jesters.

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Malcolm McDowell is getting a new post-Entourage ride here as the puppet master of the firm, a boss who enjoys the duo's antics as if he were some super-villain unleashing anarchy onto the world.

TNT also has built a nice multimedia campaign for the show via the web. If you go to Franklin & Bash's faux website, "weretotallylawyers.com," it links you to a page of tongue-in-cheek commercials for the fictitious firm, starting with them in a hot tub with business suits on (at right).

On to the women.

Angie Harmon and Sasha Alexander do quite well as a female buddy pair -- a street-wise detective (Harmon) and a brainy medical examiner (Alexander) -- in TNT's Rizzoli & Isles. They both have great range, and are continually interesting to watch, even though the scripts' procedural plot points regularly go off the rails. The actresses are enough to carry the show, though, and bring a lot of depth to their characters.

(Harmon recently recounted to TVWW's Bill Brioux how co-star Lee Thompson Young has characterized her as "a combination of Aphrodite and Yosemite Sam." I can see it. She's got the chops both ways.)

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USA, building on its Monklegacy, probably has the better concept here: shows with quirky but credible plot lines, whose stars perhaps aren't so shiny, but have their own magnetic charm.

In Plain Sight, created by David Maples, is finishing its fourth season, and features Mary McCormack as kind of a hardened anti-star, law enforcement's answer to Murphy Brown. McCormack's Mary Shannon is a seemingly burned-out Federal Marshal, working a witness protection program in Albuquerque.

In-plain-sight-1.jpg(Albuquerque, all of a sudden, is the locale du jour, with McCormack's Mary Shannon feasibly just around the corner from meth manufacturer Walter White of AMC's Breaking Bad.)

McCormack's character is a jaded, sarcastic, been-there, seen-it-all cop -- with the standard-issue tender heart. But her twist is to have quick-draw 1980s and early '90s references at the ready. Very funny stuff, getting dropped down at odd moments.

Her labored family telephone chit-chats with her sister Brandy (Nicole Hiltz) are always moments where she must slow down, and seem sensitive and caring -- much to her impatient, well-played annoyance. Brandy interrupts a case with a cell phone call, claiming, "I'm sorry to bother you, but this is important." Mary replies: "Like 'Mom's in jail for a DUI' important? Or 'Bon Jovi just cancelled their tour' important?"

Once, absentmindedly looking at old family photos, Mary says to Brandy, "Who goes out for Halloween as Gandhi, anyway? Who does that?" Brandy's reply: "Mary, that was Sinead O'Connor."

So Maples and his writing staff are running a good game -- getting the right kind of snark in, with just the right timing.

Other USA writers may be doing their network's best current work on Suits, a new show finishing its first year. Starring Gabriel Macht as Harvey Specter (great name for the character, as he seems to be omniscient), and Patrick J. Adams as Michael Ross, it drew me in for seven consecutive viewings.

suits-ep1.jpgThe long arc of the series, created by Aaron Korsh, is that Ross is an underachieving pot dealer with a photographic memory. Having memorized all sorts of law books, he passed the bar exam without going to college. Specter is a lone wolf -- smart, arrogant, reckless -- but with the wins to back it up. In his search for a new associate, he stumbles on Ross and his peculiar genius, and hires him. Now he has to conceal Ross' lack of real credentials from the rest of his very competitive, very upscale New York law firm.

Sounds run of the mill, I know. And it seemed even worse when, thirty minutes into the first episode, I realized I was watching another USA boss and protege show called White Collar. Clearly the early, Edsel version of Suits, it's now in its third season.

That changed quickly when I finally got the right show, and found the banter between Macht and Adams to be a fun, well-timed verbal fencing match. Macht is commanding (and yes, with great suits), while Adams is a skilled actor, playing Ross with just the right amount of youthful trepidation coupled with his superior gifts.

Again, the writers do a great job here, not taking us so far out with outrageous procedural plot leaps such as the fantastical forensic pirouettes to be endured, for example, on Bones.

These USA efforts, along with Mark Feuerstein's lightweight Royal Pains vehicle, are pretty well-crafted vanilla. Call it vanilla drizzled with caramel -- and it never feels like you want that last hour back.

Try on Suits, for starters. I'm thinking it will be a good fit.

--

[Currently, fresh episodes of Rizzoli & Isles run Monday nights at 10 ET on TNT (with repeats Tuesday nights at 8 ET). New White Collar episodes can be seen Tuesday nights at 9 ET on USA; Franklin & Bash, Wednesday nights at 9 ET on TNT; Royal Pains, Wednesday nights at 9 ET on USA; Suits, Thursday nights at 10 ET on USA; and In Plain Sight, Sunday nights at 10 ET on USA.]

 
 
 
 
 
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