The opening scene of The Good Wife (Tuesday, 9 p.m., CBS) is all too familiar: A politician ensnared in scandal faces reporters as his wife stands by his side wearing pearls and an ashen expression. Fast-forward six months, and the wife, Alicia (Julianne Margulies), tries to pick up the pieces by reentering the workforce. She dusts off her law degree and joins a firm at the bottom of the totem pole, surrounded by young sharks who don't have to worry about kids or a husband in jail.
The Good Wife is expertly made. The story moves so quickly that your own head spins right along with Alicia's. The cast is filled with old pros (Josh Charles, Christine Baranski) who have immediate rapport. Margulies herself is now an old pro - no longer the young beauty of ER, but still a radiant presence who quietly dominates every scene. Alicia doesn't have many reasons to smile in the pilot, but when she does, the screen lights up about a hundred watts. That smile may well be the brightest thing in the whole 2009-10 season.
Sunday, 7 pm (CBS)
The Emmys, Grammys and Oscars are all deadly dull, despite the potential fun of TV, music and movies. After a particularly low-rated Emmy broadcast last year, the organization had a wild idea: make the show enjoyable. Don't bore the audience with awards for every miniseries writer and director - the stuff no one cares about but the recipients. Showcase popular series more than obscure cable productions. In other words, please the viewers rather than the industry insiders.
But the industry insiders were having none of it. The Writers Guild of America, the Directors Guild of America and HBO all opposed the plan, and the renegade Emmy producers were forced to return to boring business as usual for this week's broadcast.
So much for an entertaining awards show. Apparently, it's an idea way ahead of its time.
Bored to Death
Sunday, 8:30 pm (HBO)
Given HBO's track record with Curb Your Enthusiasm, Entourage, Extras and other quirky masterpieces, it's an event when the network premieres a comedy. But Bored to Death is a disaster - and, in retrospect, HBO probably should have been tipped off by the title.
Viewers will indeed be bored to death by this self-indulgent story of writer Jonathan Ames (Jason Schwartzman), who happens to have the same name as the series' own writer and executive producer. Jonathan is a sad sack whose girlfriend leaves him, causing him to mope for the entire pilot. This is the really annoying kind of moping, in which Jonathan whines to his best friend (Zach Galifianakis), his boss (Ted Danson) and every stranger he meets. In a cutesy turn of events, Jonathan hires himself out as the world's most incompetent private eye, providing him with opportunities to whine about his girlfriend to a whole new set of people.
"I don't want to hear about your love life," a cop barks at him.
That makes two of us.
The Beautiful Life
Wednesday, 8 pm (CW)
This new series hopes to achieve instant glamour and excitement with its fashion-world setting. It presents an All About Eve scenario in which a young upstart (Sara Paxton) displaces an aging superstar (Mischa Barton) - except in this case, the aging superstar is in her early 20s. She's a model who returns to the catwalk after a mysterious disappearance. Her rival appears to be a teenager: pale and skinny, with teeth too big for her tiny head. She's one of those china-doll corpses so beloved of the modeling industry.
We meet predatory agents and a hunky Iowa farm boy who practically has a stalk of wheat sticking out of his mouth. Such is the series' clichéd notion of "innocence."
Thus far, The Beautiful Life has no characters to sympathize with. It's hard to relate to a series in which the line "I gained two pounds" passes for a tragic turn of events.
Thursday, 8:30 pm (NBC)
A fast-talking con man (Joel McHale) enrolls in a community college when his previous degree is revealed as a fake. He falls in with a bunch of misfit students, including a businessman (Chevy Chase) who runs a moist-towelette company. There's not a decent comedian in the bunch (Chase, I'm sad to say, doesn't qualify anymore), and the script isn't much help. Someone tells the school hottie that she looks like Elisabeth Shue, and that's supposed to pass for a punchline. Later, someone else tells her she looks like Elisabeth Shue. Ba-da-boom!
Renting a real Elisabeth Shue movie would be a more sensible option than watching Community.