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Three New Thursday TV Shows, No New Thursday Triumphs
April 8, 2009  | By David Bianculli
Three new shows premiere tonight, with little cause for celebration. NBC's Parks and Recreation, with Amy Poehler, may develop into something worthwhile, but it's disappointingly derivative. NBC's Southland is even more disappointing, and even more derivative -- and Harper's Island, on CBS, is a bloody mess.

Harper's Island, at 10 ET, is designed as a hybrid of Agatha Christie mysteries and Saw-style torturama movies. It's a mutation that doesn't take -- and even though Harper's Island is envisioned as a miniseries, and designed to unspool with weekly murders until the killer is revealed in July, this series deserves a quick kill.

If NBC lopped off Chopping Block after a single telecast, and CBS dumped Secret Talents of the Stars after one installment, then Harper's Island, too, can leave the airwaves without proving an ending. Sometimes, disappearance is more satisfying than closure, and this is one of those times.


It's not that there isn't a cast member or two who rises above the rest. Cameron Richardson from Point Pleasant, as Chloe, sparkles enough that when she's threatened with death by drowning in the pilot, you hope you haven't seen the last of her. For most of the other characters, and for this series itself, death can't come quickly enough.

It has none of the style of a Christie mystery, and none of the clever writing. Without characters to care about, or stories to draw you in, Harper's Island offers no reason to watch. CBS expects this to be a new way to lure viewers. My guess: It's a new way to lose them.


Southland, premiering at 10 ET on NBC, is much less repugnant. It's just so familiar, it's boring. Benjamin McKenzie, who played Ryan on The O.C., plays a rookie cop on his first day on the force. He's a privileged young man diving into an altruistic job and mixing with common folk. It's the flip side of his O.C. character, but exactly the same as Noah Wyle's Carter character on E.R. -- like Southland, a show with John Wells as executive producer.

This follow-the-rookie approach is nothing new: It was used on St. Elsewhere 25 years ago. But St. Elsewhere pushed the envelope when it did it. Southland is just recycling, and not very dynamically. Some of its teach-the-rookie speeches are laughably over the top, and so are many of the situations and the characters populating them. Nothing original here - and nothing expected to last past fall, when Jay Leno takes over the time slot.

Finally, there's Parks and Recreation, at 8:30 ET. By default, it's the best of the bunch, but it has quite a way to go. Amy Poehler is a proven comic actress, of course, but all of the insistent claims by the cast and creators of this show that it's not like The Office are, in a word, absurd. This couldn't be more like The Office, in tone and execution, unless it were about a rival Pennsylvania paper company.


Parks and Recreation may grow and find its own voice. At least one promo for a future show, in which Poehler's Leslie Knope is stalked by a raccoon indoors, made me laugh. Unfortunately, nothing in tonight's pilot did, not once. I was hoping for more, and expecting it, too.

But I'll keep watching Parks and Recreation, in hopes that it improves. Southland has lost me already -- and the folks behind Harper's Island should be happy Fox has televised at least one installment of Osbournes Reloaded.

That way, Harper's may not end the year as the Worst Show of 2009.




Davey said:

I saw two promos for P&R. One had somebody finding a giant bra. The other had her putting speed bumps on kids' slides. They were perhaps the stupidest, most boring, clumsiest previews I've ever seen. The only thing they managed to interest me in was how incredible childish garbage like this makes it into production.

Comment posted on April 9, 2009 12:58 PM

Toby O'B said:

I caught 'Southland' on Hulu.com, so I was glad not to waste the precious DVR space for it last night. It was pedestrian, and I won't be going back unless there's some interesting guest star - much the same way I treated 'ER'.

I DVR'd 'Harper's Island', but I think I'm tapped out on serialized stories. 'Lost' reigns supreme in that category.

'Parks & Recreation' made me laugh only once - when Loudon Wainwright showed up at the forum as Barry, who wanted to talk about Laura Linney. Totally unexpected so that made me laugh out loud.

But 'The Office' comparison is dead-on and that's unfortunate because I gave up on that show a while ago. (Just can't stand Michael Scott!)

Have yet to watch my recording of '30 Rock' (I like to save that for the next day, when I can give it the attention it deserves), but oddly enough the one Thursday show I really enjoyed turned out to be an old episode of 'The Time Tunnel' on American Life. And it wasn't very good at that. So that doesn't say much for the new offerings......

Comment posted on April 10, 2009 7:13 AM
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