Could the people behind Arrested Development possibly come up with another outside-the-box sitcom that single-handedly redeems the genre? Yes. Running Wilde (Tuesday, 8:30 p.m., Fox) has you laughing from beginning to end at its tale of a rotten millionaire still in love with the poor do-gooder he fell for as a child. Steve (Will Arnett) gives humanitarian awards to himself and pays servants to be his friend; Emmy (Keri Russell) sacrifices everything to help beleaguered tribes in the Amazon jungle. Both characters are rich with comic possibilities, and it takes a stratagem by Emmy's long-suffering daughter (Stefania Owen) to bring them under the same roof.
The cast? Brilliant. The direction and writing? Ditto. From the sight gags to the verbal wit to the social satire, this is TV's most stunning new half-hour. Running Wilde is not the first sitcom to deal in extreme personalities, but it's found a fresh approach to the clash of the selfish and the selfless.
"The only way I'm going to get her," Steve reasons, "is to stop being so vain and shallow."
I have a feeling he won't stop, and thank God for that.
Friday, 9 pm (CBS)
CBS has assembled an impressive cast for this new cop show, starting with Tom Selleck as the stern but compassionate New York City police commissioner. The chief's whole family is in the law enforcement game, from old-school ex-commissioner grandpa (Len Cariou) to principled assistant D.A. daughter (Bridget Moynahan) to hotheaded detective son (Donnie Wahlberg) to the baby of the family (Will Estes), who's just shelved a Harvard law degree to become a rookie cop.
These tough cookies hold in their emotions most of the time they have criminals to catch, after all but when the emotions do spill out, take cover. They sometimes find themselves on opposite sides of an issue, as when the detective son roughs up a suspect to get information about a kidnapped girl. He and the assistant D.A. daughter blow up at each other at the dinner table, with other family members taking sides in a gripping philosophical dispute over police brutality. Selleck calls for order: "This is Sunday dinner, not a free for all!"
That calms the family down, but here's hoping Selleck fails to keep them under control in future episodes.
No Ordinary Family
Tuesday, 7 pm (ABC)
Almost every new drama series is dark-and-intense. So it's a pleasure to discover No Ordinary Family, which has a little fun with its premise. An ordinary dysfunctional family obtains superpowers, making them an extraordinary dysfunctional family. Mom (Julie Benz), the harried overachiever, gains super-speed. Dad (Michael Chiklis), the depressive underachiever, gains super-strength. The dumb son (Jimmy Bennett) gets a super brain, and the sensitive teenage daughter (Kay Panabaker) gets the ability to hear everyone's thoughts at school. You can imagine what a mixed blessing that turns out to be.
No Ordinary Family threatens to become heavy as Dad moves into crime-fighting, battling bad guys with similar superpowers. I hope the series has the courage of its lightheartedness and leaves dark-and-intense to every other hour-long drama.
Tuesday, 8 pm (Fox)
Sitcoms usually get the tone wrong when they deal with less intelligent, less affluent people: too mean, too condescending. Raising Hope is the rare sitcom that gets the tone just right. Jimmy (Lucas Neff) is sweetly stupid rather than contemptibly stupid, and he's looking for a purpose in life. It arrives via his stupidity when he impregnates a stranger who's revealed as a serial killer. She gets the chair, he gets the baby, and the comedy of cluelessness begins.
Jimmy lives at home with his ambition-challenged family, and you can bet none of them has read Dr. Spock. They chain-smoke in the baby's presence and let her tumble around unmoored in the back seat of the car. "She really liked the bath," Jimmy says ecstatically. "I think that's gonna be a weekly thing."
Raising Hope is definitely gonna be a weekly thing for me.
Thursday, 8:30 pm (NBC)
In this new sitcom, a novelty company sends corporate cog Todd (Ben Rappaport) to India to run the outsourced call center. There ensues culture-clash comedy of a very low grade. Todd stares at the bin of unappealing Indian food in the cafeteria and says reluctantly, "Okay, just give me some of that yellow-and-green stuff." He stares at the cow wandering outside the office window. He stares at the Indian workers trying to make sense of cheesehead hats and beer helmets. The recurring punchline comes at the expense of clueless little brown people.
Outsourced is the yellow-and-green stuff of 2010-11 sitcoms.