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Wednesday, August 20, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 71.0° F  A Few Clouds
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Hollywood hell
An L.A. socialite bottoms out in The Starter Wife
on
Messing must face the day in machine-wash clothes.
Messing must face the day in machine-wash clothes.

I panned The Starter Wife TV movie last year, which is hard to believe now that I've seen its new incarnation as a series (Friday, 8 p.m., USA). This time, the production strikes me as a masterpiece, an inside-Hollywood satire worthy of Entourage. All I can say is: My new medications must be working like a charm.

The Starter Wife is Entourage from the female point of view. Molly (Debra Messing) once lived the high life as a smarmy producer's spouse. Post-divorce, she has no money, no job and no prospects. To grow as a person, she must find the fortitude to "face the day in machine-wash clothes."

Messing shines in this role, her face expressing 20 shades of comic humiliation. And the series' take on Hollywood manners and mores is just plain wicked. Molly's 7-year-old daughter wants a BlackBerry because other kids at her exclusive private school - namely "Skyler M. and Skyler P." - have them. A typical movie producer's pitch goes something like this: "Think Big meets Die Hard. I call it Big and Hard."

I hope The Starter Wife holds up, along with my medications.

My Own Worst Enemy

Monday, 9 pm (NBC)

In the opening scene, we meet Christian Slater as Edward, a roguish superspy who ticks off all the roguish-superspy moves. He glamorously smokes and drinks with his shirt off. He beds a beautiful Russian spy and then kills her, quipping all the while.

Sub-James Bond material - but then My Own Worst Enemy unveils its grand concept. A government computer guy pushes a button, causing Edward to shake his head really fast. The camera goes blurry, and suddenly Edward is Henry, a milquetoast with a normal job, a normal family and no knowledge of his other life.

One of those no-nonsense spy bosses (Alfre Woodard) shows up to walk Henry through the exposition, informing him that he's really just a government-created personality housed in Edward's brain. "We manifested a dormant identity in the sealed-off portion of the medial temporal lobe, creating a split personality," she says. And that - along with the shaking head and blurry camera - is pretty much it for scientific explanation.

My Own Worst Enemy is a hilarious comedy that, tragically, NBC seems to think is a dramatic thriller. The necessity of playing two characters stretches Slater way beyond his comfort zone. And the writers are equally uncomfortable with the "philosophical" dialogue: "To prove the existence of free will, a person must do things he does not want to do."

I didn't want to watch the entire pilot, but I did. Free will exists!

Kath & Kim

Thursday, 7:30 pm (NBC)

This adaptation of an Australian hit stars Molly Shannon as a tacky hairdresser and Selma Blair as her tacky daughter. They yell at each other, stuff chips into their mouths and get jealous of their tacky boyfriends. The screen is thick with condescension: Look how stupid lower-class people are! If the jokes clicked, fine; but since they don't, you have plenty of time to get offended by the snobbery. Shannon and Blair act broadly idiotic, trusting their loud outfits to supply all the humor.

"Let's go someplace fun!" Kath cries.

"Applebee's?" Kim answers, as if the mere mention of a moderately priced restaurant would send us into hysterics.

To be honest, Applebee's sounds a lot more fun than Kath & Kim.

Life on Mars

Thursday, 9 pm (ABC)

A modern-day detective named Sam (Jason O'Mara) gets hit by a car and wakes up in 1973. Sam can't believe he's really time-traveled, and sadly, neither can we. Life on Mars is chock-full of detritus from the early '70s: eight-track tapes, bushy sideburns, Nixon portraits, Harvey Keitel. But it never seems authentic, and the script pushes the cute anachronisms way too hard. "Diet Coke, now that would be somethin'," a 1973 bartender tells the perpetually disoriented Sam.

I turned on the producers for good when they showed our hero gazing in awe at the intact World Trade Center towers, blithely milking our national tragedy for their two-bit drama.

"I had an accident and woke up 35 years in the past," Sam says. "That either makes me a time-traveler, a lunatic, or I'm lying in a hospital bed in 2008 and none of this is real."

You forgot one possibility: You're in a lousy TV show.

Eleventh Hour

Thursday, 9 pm (CBS)

Dr. Jacob Hood (Rufus Sewell) is a brilliant scientist who solves mysteries for the FBI. You can tell he's brilliant by his penchant for talking like the World Book Encyclopedia. He alludes to René Descartes and Catherine de' Medici in the course of an investigation, and even finds an opportunity to quote Nietzsche: "What doesn't kill me makes me stronger."

Yes, Dr. Hood is smart, but Eleventh Hour isn't. It takes the low road for emotional effect - dead children, anyone? - and offers the silliest solution to a mystery that I've seen in years.

What doesn't kill me makes me stronger, but Eleventh Hour might just kill me.

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