Finally, after a summer's worth of awful new sitcoms, I'm laughing again. In Married, Russ (Nat Faxon) and Lina (Judy Greer) are a once-happy couple weighed down by three kids (Thursday, 9 p.m., FX). Russ is frustrated by their nonexistent sex life, and Lina is frustrated by everything else. "Look," she says, with the kids screaming nearby, "I have to make everyone happy, then at the end of the day I have to make you happy. It's just too much." We understand where both of them are coming from, so we gladly suspend disbelief when Lina makes an only-in-a-sitcom suggestion: Russ should get his sexual needs met elsewhere.
It proves to be a great premise because Russ is so comically bad at finding a mistress. He's a decent guy who's still in love with his wife but also in thrall to his libido. Encouraged and teased by friends with their own specific sexual backstories (John Hodgman, Jenny Slate, Brett Gelman), he bumbles into a misadventure with a woman who's both hot and troubled. A mensch at heart, Russ can't ignore her troubles and see her only as a sex object.
If you had told me in May that there'd be a summer sitcom with world-class actors, nuanced writing and honest truths about relationships, I'd have called you crazy. Now I'll call you crazy if you don't tune in to Marriage.
Monday, 8 pm (Fox)
Gordon Ramsay's hotel-makeover series Hotel Hell doesn't stint on the "hell." The credit sequence erupts in flames as Ramsay strides through an infernal hallway of flickering neon. In the second-season premiere, he visits a New Mexico hotel that Satan himself might flee in horror. It's owned by a woman named Cali who inflicts Cher-inspired singing on unsuspecting guests, as well as forcing them to eat incongruous Tuscan food. "I need someone to tell me what I'm doing wrong," Cali says.
Oh, believe me, someone will. Ramsay marches in with insults and colorful Scottish curses, causing the staff to break down in tears. But by the end of the hour, he has worked his usual miracle. Cali stops singing, the menu adds local New Mexican food, and Ramsay leaves a hero, ready for his next challenge.
Believe it or not, hell will be a perfectly pleasant place to spend the rest of the summer.
Thursday, 8 pm (USA)
Will Rush (Tom Ellis) is a doctor who feeds cocaine to a date until she overdoses. He brutally beats one of his patients with a baseball bat. He does the bidding of a gang leader, then dispatches the gang to threaten another patient who won't pay up.
Oh, and in the premiere episode of Rush, we're supposed to love him.
This dramatic series falls all over itself trying to make its hero Sympathetic in Spite of His Flaws. You get the sense of filmmakers so out of touch with humanity that they don't understand how irredeemably repulsive Will is. No, we're not going to warm up to him because he graduated first in his class at Harvard. No, we're not going to warm up to him because he gives a dollar to a bum on the street. I repeat: THIS IS A DOCTOR WHO BRUTALLY BEATS UP A PATIENT WITH A BASEBALL BAT!
As a series about a man we're supposed to like, Rush is an unmitigated disaster. But as an example of Hollywood's haywire moral compass, it's utterly fascinating.
Working the Engels
Thursday, 8:30 pm (NBC)
In this new sitcom, a pathetic woman (Andrea Martin) and her pathetic kids (Kacey Rohl, Azura Skye, Ben Arthur) must take over Dad's pathetic law firm after he dies. Your first inkling of script problems comes with the lame pun in the series' title. Working the Engels tries to find humor in the idea that "pro bono" sounds kind of like "boner" and that Mom calls Yoda from Star Wars "Yodel." Meanwhile, the score pumps out heavy guitar riffs as if this were the most happening party on summertime TV.
It's always sad when a score is having more fun than you are.
Thursday, 9 pm (USA)
Businessman Neil (Matt Passmore) and wife Grace (Stephanie Szostak) are both having a midlife crisis. Neil thinks there must be more to life than working 70 hours a week, so he goes to a Buddhist monk to learn the meaning of life. Grace, meanwhile, becomes tired of bad sex with Neil and hooks up with a male prostitute. Neil discovers her secret and, through various plot twists, begins a double life as a male prostitute himself.
Yep, the premise for this new drama is absurd. But a story is all in the telling, and Satisfaction is told pretty well. It takes plenty of time to characterize Neil and Grace, to the point where we almost understand why they make such extreme choices. Passmore and Szostak also happen to be likable actors who can hold onto our sympathy even while their characters behave very badly.
In between Neil's visits to the Buddhist monk, we get to watch lots of scenes of good-looking people engaging in wild sex. It's not a bad way to pass the time while waiting for the meaning of life.