powered by FreeFind

Apple iTunes


AMC's Rubicon steps smartly to the head of the intelligence field

James Badge Dale segues from the horrors of The Pacific to the intrigues of high-level intelligence in Rubicon. AMC photo

Premiering: Sunday, Aug. 1st at 7 p.m. (central) on AMC
Starring: James Badge Dale, Jessica Collins, Lauren Hodges, Dallas Roberts, Christopher Evan Welch, Arliss Howard, Miranda Richardson, Michael Cristofer, Roger Robinson
Produced by: Henry Bromell, Jason Horwitch, Kerry Orent

Television's next great drama series is arriving -- where else? -- on AMC.

Then again, it would be nice if they'd pick up the pace a little bit.

Then again, that might ruin it.

Then again . . .

Let's get back to the fact that you wouldn't have gone to AMC for much more than old movies until just a few years ago. Or maybe you stopped going to AMC altogether once its programming execs started screwing up your movie-watching enjoyment with commercial breaks. But then came Mad Men. And next, Breaking Bad. And now, Rubicon, a contemporary, post-9/11 ode to post-Vietnam/Watergate films such as Three Days of the Condor, The Parallax View and The Conversation..

In the view of Rubicon executive producer Henry Bromell, all were "powerful movies steeped in conspiracy-related paranoia" and built around "individuals traveling through the looking glass into a world of abject moral confusion, where nothing is what it seems and no one can be trusted."

OK, got it. More or less. But it's all in the execution. And Rubicon proves to be both captivating and many-layered in its up-close look at the American Policy Institute, which is supposed to be fictional even though there are a few such-named organizations in real life. The first two hours precede Season 4's second episode of Mad Men on Sunday, Aug. 1st. Rubicon then will move to its regular Sunday, 8 p.m. (central) slot, giving AMC back-to-back helpings of topflight textured drama for the next several months.

AMC sent the first four episodes of Rubicon, whose code-breaking intelligence analysts lead mostly insular lives, have little or no fashion sense and work out of a camouflaged, non-descript building with a demonstrably utilitarian employee cafeteria. So no, it's nothing like Mad Men, although both are set in Manhattan.

Rubicon's lead character, the brilliant but haunted Will Travers, has a piled-high mound of curly hair streaked a bit prematurely gray. He's had a lot on his mind ever since his wife and child died while waiting for him atop the first World Trade Center tower hit by a terrorist-hijacked plane.

Travers, played by James Badge Dale in a quick segue from HBO's The Pacific, was running late as usual that day. Now he's never late for anything, but still walks in a slight stoop and tends not to smile much.

"He's not mopey," says a co-worker. "He's just introspective."

Travers has all the more reason to look vexed after his API mentor, David Hadas (guest star Peter Gerety), suddenly dies under what may well be questionable circumstances. Another death, this time by suicide, further weaves Rubicon's web while also bringing his stricken widow, Katherine Rhumor (Miranda Richardson), into the picture.

Dale's character is the principal drink-stirrer here, piecing together left-behind clues while being watched very closely by suitably mysterious forces. But there also are terrific performances by Arliss Howard and Michael Cristofer as tightly wound senior API operatives Kale Ingram and Truxton Spangler.

In Hour 4, Spangler and Travers journey together to Washington to convince various movers/shakers that API must continue to be amply funded and have total independence from the military, the CIA and the FBI. Spangler loosens up and explains himself to his younger colleague only after victory is theirs. But Travers is hardly cheered by the older man's dedication to duty at the expense of any troublesome family ties.

"The solitude. The separation. It's a gift," he says. "That's what they don't see."

Travers' younger API colleagues are also toiled and troubled. Grant Test (Christopher Evan Welch) tends to be morose, demanding and condescending -- on a good day. Miles Fiedler (Dallas Roberts looking eerily like a young John Ritter) is all twisted up inside; Tanya MacGaffin (Lauren Hodges) is still a rookie; and Maggie Young (Jessica Collins) is both Travers' top-ranked assistant and something of a snitch.

They all work for the API's Team E, digesting the day's daily stacks of intelligence files while eventually deciding who to take out in the name of international security. Collateral deaths of innocent people are also part of the bargain. And cases can stretch out for weeks.

As previously noted, Rubicon perhaps could use a little pep in its step. Still, the mood music is intoxicating and invariably very well-placed. And Travers' weekly detective work so far is yielding just enough results to make ends meet.

Close attention is mandatory, of course. And being strung along at length during this season and who knows how many more also is a built-in deterrent for many viewers. Rubicon definitely looks like the real deal, though, for those with an appetite for a cerebral spy experience rather than a weekly spy caper series. AMC has done it again, with a third thoroughly distinctive weekly drama that just won't let go.


P.S. on the Shirley Sherrod "scandal": they're still spouting B.S.

Fox news mainstays Chris Wallace and Bill O'Reilly

The truth-twisting continues in the aftermath of the media's sorry handling of the Shirley Sherrod "scandal."

We'll touch only briefly on it this time. But one point should be made. Anchor Chris Wallace, presiding over Fox News Sunday, and Fox News Channel representative Stephen Hayes on ABC's This Week program repeatedly contended that Fox didn't use Sherrod's name on the air until after she had been forced out by Agriculture Department secretary Tom Vilsack.

Wallace sparred with the ever-ineffectual Howard Dean, who accused Fox of pushing racism. Hayes was on a panel with Sam Donaldson, Cokie Roberts, Donna Brazile and host Jake Tapper, whom he told, "The timeline doesn't work. She (Sherrod) actually was forced to retire before anyone on Fox said a word about this."

Dean and the This Week panelists could have easily refuted this by saying, "Yes, but Bill O'Reilly taped his Monday night program before Sherrod was forced out." And on that program he called for her resignation based on the doctored video of her NAACP speech disseminated by right-wing and still unapologetic blogger Andrew Breitbart.

So yes, O'Reilly in fact did rush to judgment, even if his knee-jerk demand for Sherrod's resignation didn't actually air until after Vilsack had knee-jerked her out of the Agriculture Department while the national NAACP also made an ass of itself.

O'Reilly "apologized" on a subsequent edition of The Factor. But he then immediately attacked Sherrod on another front while also again deriding NBC/MSNBC for assailing Fox News.

Wallace and Hayes both know full well that O'Reilly's program is taped in advance. But they stuck to their markedly similar "talking points" in perpetuating the illusion that Fox News had in no way jumped the gun. That simply isn't true. But no one was smart enough to call them on it. Dean in particular ended up looking like a fool while Wallace happily and disingenuously carved him up.

Mad Men's Season 4 makes some new sales pitches. Sold!

The first words out of Season 4's mouth are certainly to the point.

"Who is Don Draper?" a New York reporter asks Mad Men's enigmatic, dual identity leading man during a lunchtime interview.

Draper (Jon Hamm) fails to make the sale, though, eventually prompting a newspaper description of him as "a handsome cypher." So he's flunked the test of bringing a little buzz to the hard-pressed, still fledgling Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce ad agency, formed from scratch after Draper's old employer started imploding from within.

In a rare show of kneejerk emotion, Draper kicks an office chair and protests that he's an in-house creative man, not a personality for public consumption.

"Turning creative success into business is your work," patriarch Bertram Cooper (Robert Morse) scolds. "And you failed."

Returning on Sunday, July 25th (9 p.m. central on AMC), Mad Men's latest curtain-raiser shows no signs of languishing creatively. This is a sharp-edged, tightly written re-starter kit, replete with lines that both state the obvious but somehow manage to say it all.

Many are directed at Draper, who's living in a rather joyless apartment while estranged wife Betty (January Jones) still occupies the old Draper homestead with their three kids (including a newborn babe) and her boyfriend, Henry Francis (Christopher Stanley). Sunday night's brief Don-Betty encounters are thoroughly frosty, prompting him to reconsider his reluctance to make her move out as agreed upon.

Back at the workplace, colleagues strive to pump him up.

"Creatively, (rival ad firm) Y&R is not capable of living in this neighborhood," adman Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) tells Draper. "You know why? Because you don't work there."

Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss) also sees her boss's darkened moods as a temporary inconvenience. "You know something? We are all here because of you," she says. "All we want to do is please you."

Draper also embarks on a date set up by longtime saddlemate Roger Sterling (John Slattery). Later comes an apartment quickie that in at least two ways is a flat-out stunner. There's also the challenge of trying to win over the chaste manufacturers of "wholesome" bathing suits.

"A bikini is underwear that you wear to the beach," says a company rep intent on launching a new ad campaign. "We make a two-piece bathing suit."

To which Draper rejoins: "Do you want want women who want bikinis to buy your two-piece, or do you just want to make sure women who want a two-piece don't suddenly buy a bikini?"

Pause, reflect, regroup. "My Lord," says the potential client. "That question just tied a knot in my brain."

The latter exchange comes in the early minutes of an altogether splendid hour. Mad Men then closes the night's books -- but not this particular sale -- with Draper's full-circle come-around. More than ever he's a cocksure advertising man. Except he now has a story to tell. What a great, great drama this is.


FNC's Shepard Smith again a steady hand amid partisan provocateurs on both his own network and MSNBC

Unfairly scandalized Shirley Sherrod and FNC anchor Shepard Smith

Who's the last standing, upstanding objective news anchor/personality at Fox News Channel?

That's an easy one: Shepard Smith.

Yeah, he's showy. But Smith's two principal FNC venues -- Fox Report and Studio B -- notably did not bite on the much-reported Shirley Sherrod "scandal" that turned out to be a doctored video disseminated by a right-wing blogger.

Unlike his colleagues -- most notably Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity -- Smith said he "did not run the video and did not reference the story in any way" because "we do not and did not trust the source."

Smith criticized both Fox News and the White House for their respective roles in going with the "story" and forcing Sherrod to resign from her post at the Department of Agriculture.

"What in the world has happened to our industry and the White House?" he asked before discussing the matter with FNC contributor Juan Williams, who said the White House had "freaked out" at the prospect of Fox blowhard Glenn Beck ripping Sherrod as a racist.

Just so we're clear here, I think no better of MSNBC's roster of prime-time liberal partisans, led by the ever thin-skinned, always egomaniacal Keith Olbermann. In his extended and prototypically indignant commentary on the matter, Olbermann of course took great joy in ripping "the perpetual fraud machine that is Fox News." He also urged the Obama administration to grow a pair.

As regularly noted in these spaces, you can't believe hardly anything you see or hear in prime-time on either FNC or MSNBC. But CNN, which at least continues to take a stab at being objective, has paid a fearsome price in the ratings. So much so that they're currently in the process of rebooting while hiring the likes of former disgraced New York governor Eliot Spitzer of call girl scandal fame.

Yeah, we want our media to be objective, all right -- as long as they reflect our views. Smith, who doesn't have a prime-time forum on FNC, at least has the temerity to both call out his network and hold off on stories of highly questionable origin and veracity.

O'Reilly, who never tires of saying he has cable's most-watched prime-time program, doesn't tilt quite as far to the right as Hannity or Beck. But in his "apology" to Sherrod, he also opened up a new line of attack on her while of course also criticizing NBC and MSNBC.

It's sickening. But it's not going to change. Credit Smith, though, for both making the right decision and then following up with criticisms of all guilty parties. The below video of Smith in action runs for more than seven minutes. But it's well worth your time.

Pillars of the Earth strives to stand tall, but doesn't live up to its Starz billing

Evil Waleran Bigod (Ian McShane) and goodly Jack Jackson (Eddie Redmayne) clash time and again in Starz's The Pillars of the Earth.

Perhaps you thought television's "EPIC EVENT OF THE SUMMER" came when Dallas flyboy turned Bachelor star Jake Pavelka and his onetime "true love," Vienna Girardi, lobbed verbal grenades at one another during a very special episode of ABC's The Bachelorette.

Starz sees it otherwise. Its own "EPIC EVENT OF THE SUMMER" is an 8-hour adaptation of Ken Follette's mammoth 1989 bestseller, The Pillars of the Earth. It begins unfolding on Friday, July 23rd with a two-hour dose (9 to 11 p.m. central) and continues on July 30, Aug. 6, 13 and 20 before ending on Aug. 27th with another doubleheader.

Still striving to get noticed in a premium cable universe dominated by original series on HBO and Showtime, Starz is very much in its swords 'n' armor period. The network's super-graphic Spartacus: Blood and Sand aired earlier this year, with a prequel, Spartacus: Gods of the Arena, set to start production next month. And filming on Camelot is underway in Ireland, with Starz promising a "telling of the Arthur legends that is relatable to contemporary audiences."

Pillars begins in 1120 A.D. with the sinking and burning of a ship carrying the rightful heirs to the English throne. Scheming, conniving and confusion ensue, with viewers initially challenged to figure out who's who and what's what among a big gaggle of characters and storylines. There's also a mystery involving the ship's sole survivor, and why he wound up on the receiving end of a burning stake.

It all gets better and more involving in time, so my full immersion in the entire eight hours wasn't entirely for naught. Starz sent a notably frayed "rough cut" review copy, though, with green screens, tarpaulins and various diagrams becoming the norm as the denouement neared. The special effects assumedly will be convincingly in place when Pillars officially arrives Friday.

At least one thing's certain amid all the goings-on. Ian McShane is taking another evil turn. The famed despot of Deadwood is now the jet black bewigged Waleran Bigod, a self-flagellating, power-mongering clergyman who authorizes torture, murder and anything else it takes to move him farther up the church food chain.

Pillars' only other readily identifiable actor is the seemingly always available Donald Sutherland, who does a brief turn as Bartholomew, the deposed Earl of Shiring. His daughter, Aliena (Hayley Atwell), and son, Richard (Sam Claflin), have vowed to avenge his honor at the expense of the usurping King Henry (Tony Curran).

McShane's Bigod initially manipulates Prior Philip (Matthew Macfadyen), who yearns to build a sky-high cathedral in his hometown of Kingsbridge. His vision is shared by the rather amusingly named Tom Builder (Rufus Sewell), whose eventual allies include an accused witch named Ellen (Natalia Worner) and her virginal son, Jack Jackson (Eddie Redmayne), an all-around good guy who also happens to be a helluva sculptor and visionary.

Tom Builder also has a son named Alfred (Liam Garrigan), who might as well be named Cain. But his evil-doing can't hold a candle to that of the birthmark-scarred Regan Hamleigh (Sarah Parish) and her co-opted son, William (David Oakes), with whom she has her way in many ways.

Co-produced by Ridley Scott of Gladiator fame, Pillars weaves its tangled webs within surprisingly chaste surroundings. Spartacus, easily the most graphic weekly series in TV history, purveyed maximum-strength amounts of blood, gore, expletives and full frontal nudity (both male and female). Pillars comparatively is Candyland, with a few blood squirts/swollen eyes here and there, fleeting glimpses of bared anatomies and a wee pair of expletives. This isn't necessarily a drawback. But it's a quantum change from the full throttle approach that Starz deployed with Spartacus.

Pillars unfortunately also comes up short on truly memorable characters and scenes of lasting impact. It takes a while to feel much of anything for its principal players. But in due time -- perhaps halfway through -- it starts to grab hold. Then again, many prospective viewers may have already forsaken it by then.

All in all then, the "EPIC EVENT OF THE SUMMER" doesn't measure up to its immodest billing. Pillars is OK, but not A-OK. But you don't entice an audience by trumpeting, "THE SEMI-INVOLVING COSTUMED DRAMA OF THE SEASON ON A NIGHT WHEN NOT ALL THAT MUCH ELSE IS ON."


Haggard twangs his magic twanger in exemplary American Masters film

Merle Haggard: early travails, new CD and now an American Master.

His surname fits him better than ever. At age 73, though, the well-worn and still troubled Merle Haggard still has the pipes and wherewithal to sing his timeless autobiographical songs in venues ranging from Nashville's esteemed Ryman Auditorium to Durant, Oklahoma's less legendary Choctaw Casino & Resort.

"His legend casts a long shadow over himself," country pal Marty Stuart says in the early minutes of Merle Haggard: Learning to Live with Myself, another first-rate entry in PBS' American Masters series. It premieres on Wednesday, July 21st (9 p.m. in D-FW on KERA/Ch. 13).

Oft-imprisoned as a youth after losing his beloved daddy at age 9, Haggard has spent most of his life in various degrees of melancholy. His fourth wife, Theresa Haggard, tellingly bookends this 90-minute film when she's asked if her husband in fact has gotten any better at learning to live with himself.

After a pause, she says, "No," smiling through misty eyes.

They've been together for 24 years and married for the last 17, though, more than the sum total of Haggard's previous three marriages. And his exes seem to bear him no ill will. Wife No. 2, the late Bonnie Owens (she earlier had married Buck Owens), was a bridesmaid in Haggard's wedding to Leona Williams. Their nine-year marriage "wasn't long, but it was long enough," Leona says good-naturedly.

Learning to Live with Myself nicely meshes archival footage with current-day interviews in telling the story of a revered twanger who was in the audience for three of Johnny Cash's famed San Quentin concerts. Cash made a big impact on him, Haggard recalls. But he didn't resolve to go straight until he got drunk, fell in a San Quentin latrine and was sent to "The Hole" for seven days.

Haggard says he decided then and there that "I didn't want to be in that field."

Most of his incarcerations were for running away and dodging school as a youth. Haggard also was involved in a burglary after admittedly falling in with the wrong crowd. His sister, Lillian Rae Hoge, says bitingly, "He was a constant problem to mother, and she was constantly having to retrieve him from some distance."

Says Haggard himself: "My mother couldn't do anything. She was a little old woman and I was the rottenest kid."

His innate musical ability finally won out. And in 1969, Haggard became a poster boy for Richard Nixon's "Silent Majority" and the scourge of anti-establishment "hippies" with the release of "Okie From Muskogee." Many of its lyrics are still ingrained, including, "We don't smoke marijuana in Muskogee. We don't take our trips on LSD. We don't burn our draft cards down on Main Street. 'Cause we like livin' right and bein' free."

Haggard actually wasn't from Oklahoma, but his parents were. They migrated to California during The Great Depression, with Merle born in Oildale, near Bakersfield. The family lived in a boxcar that James Haggard converted into their home. Merle and wife, Theresa, revisit what's left of it while he drives in the vicinity of Merle Haggard Drive.

"Isn't that somethin,' " he says, sniffling a bit.

Haggard still sings "Okie From Muskogee at his concerts -- how could he not? -- while contending that he really didn't mean for it to be a right-wing anthem. Like many of his songs, it was aimed directly at the heart of the working class, although Haggard does admit that "it pissed me off" when he saw protestors in the streets "bitchin' about things" while their countrymen were dying in Vietnam.

Fans of Haggard interviewed during the film include Keith Richards, Robert Duvall, Kris Kristofferson, Billy Gibbons, Buck Owens, Alison Krauss, John Fogerty, Dwight Yoakam and Tanya Tucker, who has the most telling observation.

It's unfortunately true, she says, that "when he's not feeling pain, it's hard for him to feel anything else."

One also gets the impression that Haggard can be a Capital A a-hole much of the time. His comfort zones are a cramped touring bus that reminds him of his various prison cells and the stage that transforms him into the center of attention.

Young German filmmaker Gandulf Hennig (Gram Parsons: Fallen Angel) followed Haggard for three years during the course of putting together Learning to Live with Myself. Haggard recently returned to the concert stage after undergoing major lung surgery. He perseveres as one of the last remaining of bygone country pathfinders such as Lefty Frizzell, Jimmie Rodgers and Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, which whom Haggard is seen performing very early in his career.

Haggard also clings to other remnants of his past, including the wrist tattoo he received as an identifying mark during his time at the punishing Preston School of Industry.

"I probably ought to have a good tattoo done over that," he remarks. "But I never will."


Footnote: Here's Haggard's splendid performance of "Footlights," complete with tasty guitar licks and a voice that's still a marvel:

Steinbrenner's death rekindles interest in ESPN's 8-part The Bronx Is Burning -- for $3 at Big Lots!

John Turturro as Billy Martin and Oliver Platt as George Steinbrenner in the 2007 ESPN miniseries The Bronx Is Burning.

George Steinbrenner's death at age 80 Tuesday brings to mind the terrific miniseries that captured the volatile baseball mogul and his New York Yankees in their prime warring years.

ESPN's 8-part The Bronx Is Burning, which premiered three Julys ago, depicts the volatile triumvirate of Steinbrenner (played by Oliver Platt), Yankees manager Billy Martin (John Turturro) and slugger Reggie Jackson (Daniel Sunjata). Its focal point is the 1977 season, when the "Son of Sam" murders and a very combative mayoral race also were making daily headlines in New York City.

From this view, Bronx Is Burning ranks at or near the very top of the best baseball dramas ever made. And here's the good part. The entire miniseries is being virtually given away at Big Lots stores across the country. For the low, low price of $3, you get all eight hours plus a bonus disc that includes interviews with the real-life Steinbrenner and Jackson among others.

And that's not all. The packet I recently bought also included two other ESPN DVDS -- March Madness: The Greatest Moments of the NCAA Tournament and Sportscenter Year in Review -- 2006, which includes both the pulsating Texas Longhorns' Rose Bowl victory over Southern Cal and the stomach-churning Miami Heat comeback against the Dallas Mavericks in that year's NBA Finals.

Bronx Is Burning is the gem, though. And there's no better time to rush out there and get it -- for $3 bucks!!! -- before copies run out. Just head for the DVD bin or kiosk -- and start digging.

For now, here's the official teaser:

Covert Affairs gives USA network another potential perennial

Christopher Gorham, Piper Perabo of Covert Affairs. USA network photo

Premiering: Tuesday, July 13th at 9 p.m. (central) on USA
Starring: Piper Perabo, Christopher Gorham, Peter Gallagher, Kari Matchett, Anne Dudek
Produced by: Doug Liman, Dave Bartis

Melodically named Piper Perabo gets a much more standard issue TV moniker in USA network's Covert Affairs, which rises a rung or two above the gratingly ordinary.

Launching Tuesday night with a 90-minute episode, the spy/counterspy drama trains its sights on willowy Annie Walker (Perabo), a hard-charging linguistics whiz who also enjoys a good romp in the sack. She's first seen taking a polygraph test for potential CIA admission. Her questioner knows all about a torrid affair that ended abruptly when Mr. Right left a note reading "The truth is complicated. Forgive me."

"The sex was good?" her inquisitor wonders while viewers are treated to a few illustrative flashbacks.

"It rocked," says Annie, who's next seen eagerly jumping from a plane during a CIA training session before underlings whisk her off to the agency's Washington, D.C. headquarters.

Annie, still reeling a bit from her fast-track promotion, quickly encounters three reasonably familiar TV faces. There's perky Christopher Gorham from Ugly Betty and The OC's Peter Gallagher, who retains those croissant-sized eyebrows and that waxen Madame Tussaud visage. Some viewers might also remember Kari Matchett, who played a key MD role on ABC's much-hyped but eventually doomed Invasion series.

This time around, Gorham is CIA agent Auggie Anderson, who was blinded in the act of duty but is still both a playa and Annie's new-found best pal. Gallagher plays the stern Director of Clandestine Services, Arthur Campbell, while Matchett is both his suspicious wife, Joan, and the officious head of the CIA's Domestic Protection Division.

The other character of import is Annie's older married sister, Danielle Brooks (Anne Dudek), who's also intent on being a matchmaker.

Tuesday's extended pilot episode unduly dawdles at times. But it does include a very well-staged jeopardy sequence in which tenderfoot Annie is at the mercy of a long-range sniper while on assignment in a posh hotel suite. A lotta stuff is busted up, and the bullet holes convincingly rip out chunks of walls rather than merely polka-dotting them.

As with Syfy's recently premiered Haven series, the superiors in Covert Affairs may well have ulterior motives in promoting Annie so fast. But there's a not-so-clandestine product placement agenda, with a Starbucks coffee shop strategically placed in the CIA building and a verbal reference to TGIF Fridays.

Perabo, originally from Dallas, and Gorham ably acquit themselves as the series' featured buddy-buddy duo. And Matchett is adept at being icy and also thawing just a bit after her comparatively kid agents screw up.

Warming up the potential crowd for Covert Affairs is the Season 2 return of USA's winning White Collar series. They'll probably run pretty well together on summertime Tuesday nights, with Agent Annie in perfectly tailored pantsuits and WC's Neal Caffrey (Matt Bomer) in debonair Armani. A two-part "crossover" already seems advisable at some point. In fact it would probably be a breeze.

GRADE: B-minus

TNT's Rizzoli & Isles: Sounds like a pasta dish, but served as a crime drama

Crime-stoppers Jane Rizzoli and Maura Isles. TNT photo

Premiering: Monday, July 12th at 9 p.m. (central) on TNT
Starring: Angie Harmon, Sasha Alexander, Lorraine Bracco, Lee Thompson Young, Bruce McGill, Jordan Bridges
Produced by: Janet Tamaro, Bill Haber, Joel Fields

It's debatable what's more gruesome in TNT's new Rizzoli & Isles.

Is it the camera's lingering looks at horrific crime scenes? Or might it be a now notably puffy Lorraine Bracco's portrayal of a one-note scold of a mom whose two scenes in Monday's premiere find her kvetching non-stop?

Bracco knew the glory of The Sopranos, where she so memorably played Tony's contentious therapist, Dr. Jennifer Melfi. Viewers know the gory of countless "procedural" police shows and their oft badly mutilated corpses.

TNT, which now has nine original drama series in its arsenal (including new episodes of NBC's abandoned Southland), will be pairing Rizzoli & Isles with its most enduring crimefighter, The Closer. This could be a very potent summertime duo, with Kyra Sedgwick's tough-as-nails Brenda Johnson setting the table for Angie Harmon's hoarse-voiced, doggedly determined detective Jane Rizzoli.

Harmon, veteran of both NBC's long-running Law & Order and ABC's short-lived Women's Murder Club, is joined by NCIS veteran Sasha Alexander as a stylish but capable medical examiner named Maura Isles. They're regulars at both hard core crime scenes and social settings.

A particularly notable scene in tonight's opener finds Rizzoli platonically sharing a bed with Isles while they discuss the attributes of a mysterious, hunky new agent who's blown into Boston to help apprehend a very sadistic and twisted serial killer.

"Should we draw straws?" Isles asks about the possibility of further adventures with him.

"Couldn't we just show him our tits and let him decide?" Rizzoli ripostes. Another TV no-no has been breached. Maybe "cock" is next in line.

Humor otherwise is in short supply during the manhunt for a Boston killer who at first is thought to be copycatting the technique of an imprisoned piece of human excrement known as "The Surgeon." Rizzoli was once nearly his victim, but escaped with nail holes in her hands that now are scarred over.

"I like that scent -- the smell of lavender and fear," he taunts when she comes to interrogate him in prison. Asked what she'd like to do with him, Rizzoli says, "I'd like to get my gun and put it in your mouth, and pull the trigger."

This isn't exactly breezy, escapist entertainment. But Harmon is very good in her latest detective outing and Alexander provides strong support. Together they're a winning pair, whether showing them or not.

It's kind of shocking, however, to see Bracco in such a subservient and seemingly throwaway followup to The Sopranos. Even Harmon can't stand to have her around -- at least when she's in character.

"I'm leaving," she tells Bracco's mama Angela after she again proves to be too much to take in their second scene together.

"You're leaving! Where are you going?"

"Someplace you're not."

Wise decision.

Next week's second episode will have Rizzoli and Isles in hot pursuit of a Boston Strangler-type killer. But there'll also be time for Isles to go out on a date. And in Episode 3, it'll be Rizzoli's turn to meet a man after mama sets her up.

Viewers without any aversion to graphic crime scenes -- and there must be many millions by now -- are advised to make time for Rizzoli & Isles. It's pro forma crime-solving for the most part. But the two lead actresses are pros who deliver the goods, even if Bracco's character needs a makeover. Otherwise it may be best to kill her off and put the show's heroines on the trail of a serial murderer whose MO is preying on harpies.


The Glades turns out to be an air-freshener for A&E

Jaunty Jim Longworth would rather be sinking putts. A&E photo

Premiering: Sunday, July 11th at 9 p.m. (central) on A&E
Starring: Matt Passmore, Kiele Sanchez, Carlos Gomez, Uriah Shelton, Jordan Wall
Produced by: Clifton Campbell, Gary A. Randall

We may have a TV first here -- a fish out of water who gets his hand bitten by an alligator.

On the receiving end is transplanted Chicago homicide detective Jim Longworth (Matt Passmore), who's come to fictional Palm Glade, FL to play golf, crack wise and of course reluctantly solve crimes.

His venue is A&E's The Glades, a nice 'n' easy new cop series that also marks a rare venture into scripted territory for the purveyor of "Real Life. Drama."

Usually that means "reality" hours on the order of Billy the Exterminator, Dog the Bounty Hunter, Gene Simmons' Family Jewels, Intervention, Hoarders and Criss Angel: Mindfreak. But here we have actors and their roles, complete with some decent cinematography and a fun screenplay by executive producer Clifton Campbell, who also created The Glades.

Sunday's premiere begins with an impressive panoramic view of the local swampland, where bad things are bound to happen and soon do. In this case it's the discovery of a decapitated woman's corpse by a young dude who begins puking at length while his one-night stand remains asleep in her undies in an SUV.

Meanwhile, on the golf course, Longworth is "four holes away from breaking 80 for the first time in my life" when he's rudely summoned to investigate. His steady stream of banter irritates the hell out of pretty much everyone, particularly medical examiner Carlos Sanchez (Carlos Gomez) and world-weary partner/supervisor Mike Ogletree (John Carroll Lynch).

Viewers also might find themselves yearning for a glib-ectomy before the hour is out. Still, Longworth's devil-may-care demeanor and disdain for "procedure" are what makes The Glades tick more often than it tanks.

Also in the mix is comely nurse Callie Cargill (Kiele Sanchez), who's working her way through med school while also tending to a 12-year-old son after her no-account husband was sent to prison. The inquisitive Longworth's bottomless cup of one-liners irks her at first. But give them time.

The opening whodunit otherwise includes an alligator shooting, an alligator autopsy and a twist that's pretty well hidden until justice is served with a side order of breezy asides from our gabby golfing cop.

Future episodes will include a boss lady named Colleen McManus (Michelle Hurd), whom publicity materials say has a "quick mind and an even sharper tongue, making her the perfect foil for Longworth's dry wit and self-serving humor."

Which probably means that The Glades' biggest challenge will be to avoid laying it on too thick.


The Decision casts "The King" in a better light than expected

"This fall I'm going to take my talents to South Beach." Photo: Ed Bark

"The King" finally made The Decision seconds before 8:28 p.m. Thursday, informing the world on an exclusive ESPN special that he'll be joining buddies Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh on the Miami Heat next season.

Now comes "The Derision," which started near the end of The Decision when ESPN showed brief footage of a LeBron James Cleveland Cavaliers jersey being burned in the city he's forsaking.

In truth, though, James did a decent job of explaining himself in spite of all the pomp, ceremony and overall ESPN pomposity. He first broke the news to the interviewer he selected, veteran sports reporter Jim Gray, while they sat face to face in a small gymnasium at the Boys and Girls Club of Greenwich, Conn. ESPN's Michael Wilbon later interviewed James from afar while colleague Stuart Scott hopefully toweled off after spurting stuff such as, "Coming up, The King will choose his next court." Or, if you prefer, "You are now looking live at The King, LeBron James."

James came off more as a humble prince. His basic talking points went like this:

***In the end, he took his mother's advice to make himself happy above all else.

***He sacrificed what would have been substantially more money to stay in Cleveland because he wanted to pursue "the best opportunity to win now and into the future also."

***He pledged to share and share alike with his two new big-name teammates because "you become a superstar individually, but you become a champion as a team."

***And he feels "awful that I'm leaving. And I feel even worse that I wasn't able to bring an NBA championship to that city, because I know they've been wanting it a long time."

At least that's what he said. And for a 25-year-old with no college education, he said it quite well. Bosh comes off like a punk and Wade is an ever-smooth salesman of cell phones in tandem with foil Charles Barkley. But James seems like their Daddy, a mature-beyond-his-years Sears kinda guy whose outwardly indulgent one-hour ESPN special donated all money from ad sales to five designated Boys and Girls Clubs, including the one in James' hometown of Akron, Ohio.

That said, the new and "exciting conglomerate" in Miami, as Wilborn so well put it, will be by far the most targeted team in the NBA next season. Fans will jam-pack all 41 of their road games, hoping to see the Heat and its self-indulgent superstars torched by their mostly plebeian hometown Fives. Even Kobe Bryant gets to wear the white hat now. Only his defending champion Lakers, it seems, stand in the way of The King, D-Wade, just plain Bosh and whatever assortment of minimum wage handymen they're surrounded with to fill out the roster.

It obviously won't be easy for Miami, though. Fans around the league used to watch James in awe. Now they'll likely be booing everything they think he stands for. The King's image at least temporarily has gone from Arthur to Henry VIII. And Dirk Nowitzki is more than ever the loyal Sir Galahad, still valiantly seeking a ring while remaining true to his subjects.

Think about it, though. Would anyone here or elsewhere have blamed Nowitzki for leaving the Mavericks after all the post-season trauma his teams have experienced? I doubt it.

Should everyone except the fickle fans of the Heat castigate James for leaving Cleveland after carrying the previously woeful Cavs on his back for seven seasons?

"I tried to take them places where they have never been before," James somewhat immodestly told Wilborn. He hopes at least some fans will remember his contributions while the city where he became a star now is left with crappy teams in baseball, football and basketball.

I didn't expect to be defending James -- to a degree at least. And I think he would have been wiser to sign with the heartland Chicago Bulls, who have both a winning tradition and more than ample supporting talent.

But after watching him Thursday night on ESPN, I find it impossible to despise James as some kind of uncaring, disloyal carpetbagger who epitomizes today's insidious breed of mercenary athlete.

The guy basically just wants to win. His ego demands no less, it's good for the LeBron James brand and he'd like to do it with his two best NBA pals.

"I can't say it was always in my plans, 'cause I never thought it was possible," James said of teaming with Wade and Bosh.

But now it's a reality, and it's going to make the NBA super-interesting next season. It'll be fun rooting for the Heat's downfall, with the boos ringing loudest in Cleveland, Chicago and New York. And as long as no one gets hurt, I'm all for it.

By the way, do you think the Mavs wouldn't have loved to have LeBron and Dirk in the same uniform? North Texas would have been happy to let everyone else eat cake, including Cleveland.

Meanwhile, we can thank our lucky stars that we at least still have the noble Nowitzki. Now if we could just get a few good soldiers of fortune to join him.

Safe Haven? Not on Syfy

Law enforcers Audrey Parker, Nathan Wuornos of Haven. Syfy photo

Premiering: Friday, July 9th at 9 p.m. (central) on Syfy
Starring: Emily Rose, Lucas Bryant, Eric Balfour
Produced by: Scott Shepherd, Lloyd Segan, Shawn Piller

Haven's havin' heavy problems lately.

That's what happens when you're a small town on Syfy -- or on most TV networks for that matter. Peaceable little kingdoms such as Mayberry, Petticoat Junction, Cicely and Cabot Cove are strictly yesteryear. In today's TV, burgs are mostly the pits. Which means that Haven, Maine, site of Syfy's new Haven, is populated by people with peculiar powers and haunted by a mysterious back story that will be doled out in small doses. It's all based on a Stephen King novella called The Colorado Kid.

Paired on Fridays with Eureka, Syfy's smallish habitat for weird science in the Pacific Northwest, Haven is built around inquisitive, lippy FBI agent Audrey Parker (Emily Rose from Brothers & Sisters). At the outset of Episode 1, she's awakened by a taciturn boss who dispatches her to Haven in pursuit of a fugitive killer named Jonas Lester.

There are ulterior motives here, but Parker initially is none the wiser. "You're a good agent, Audrey," she's told. "And someday maybe you'll be a great agent. Just focus on the job."

Minutes later, she dutifully has her eyes on the road to Haven before a big crack materializes and sends her careening toward a cliff's edge. A handsome guy who turns out to be local cop Nathan Wuornos (Lucas Bryant) is soon pulling her to safety. They then trade a series of light quips while investigating the death of Lester, who had been catapulted high into the sky while on the lam.

A third central character, Duke Crocker (Eric Balfour), is despised by Wuornos as no-good and untrustworthy. Still, he's respectable enough to save Parker's life after she's flung into nighttime deep waters following the sudden onset of a downpour.

Rose's performance is pretty engaging, making Haven better than the sum of its somewhat hum-drum parts. In future episodes, her character will be torn between Wuornos and Crocker while sticking around a spell to dig deeper into both the town's psyche and that mysterious long-ago newspaper picture of a woman who looks a lot like her.

It all makes for passable entertainment on a network whose slogan is "Imagine Greater." With Haven, though, I think not.


Love lost is Bachelorette's gain: Jake and Vienna brawl 'n' bawl in close encounter of the lurid kind

Dallas-bred Jake Pavelka looked vexed for much of his reunion with Vienna Girardi on Monday's festive The Bachelorette. ABC photos

Stunningly ill-suited for a wicker love seat, Jake Pavelka and Vienna Girardi sat side by side Monday night while further distancing themselves from each other.

Their made-for-TV engagement turned estrangement no doubt sent ratings for The Bachelorette into a summertime stratosphere. ABC cannily saved their 40-minute loathe-fest for the end of another two-hour edition. There were ample post-Fourth fireworks before Girardi turned on the waterworks.

She called the Dallas pilot by trade a "liar" and a "fame whore." He repeatedly accused her of "undermining" him at every turn and said he is "disgusted" with his ex-fiancee for trashing him in the tabloids in return for payment.

Girardi threw perhaps five times as many verbal punches as Pavelka, interjecting whenever he managed to get in a sentence or two.

Pavelka, who seemed tightly wound all night, finally blared, "Please stop interrupting me!" This reduced Girardi to a sobbing mess before she exited stage right on home screens while cameras followed her.

"Don't go away," host Chris Harrison then advised. "The Jake and Vienna interview continues momentarily."

But it didn't. Instead, the final few minutes afforded Pavelka a chance to tell Harrison, "Unfortunately that is what one of our arguments looks like." He termed it "embarrassing" before Harrison fake-wished both of them "the best."

Harrison earlier wondered, "Will this crap continue of 'He said, she said.' "

As long as there's a suitable pay day involved, of course it will. Pavelka and Girardi have been far more marketable apart than together. So while she angles for a Playboy cover, he'll be guesting on ABC's upcoming Bachelor/Bachelorette aggregation. The name of that game is Bachelor Pad, which will start soiling prime-time on Aug. 9th.

Girardi, who now supposedly has a marketing job in the Hollywood she professes to hate, had the night's biggest laugh line when she declared, "I'm done talking about it. I said my side of the story."

"You're done talking . . ." Harrison said before Pavela snidely interjected, "That's a first."

Pavelka, who was treated like a Nobel Prize winner during two recent guest host appearance on WFAA8's Good Morning Texas, came off as a smug and condescending cad during the first half of his icy cold return engagement with Girardi. But her constant yapping and closing histrionics may have sent a few sympathy points his way. Pavelka's clearly a preener. But Girardi's hardly a virgin in the ever-grandiose game of self-aggrandizement.

True love never runs smooth, of course. But from the very start, this "love" story was about as believable as a new Elvis Presley sighting. Still, that won't stop Monday's Bachelorette from being the week's most-watched program.

As guilty pleasures go, Pavelka and Girardi slinging mud from a love seat sinks somewhere beneath the weekly muck on display in ABC's Wipeout. Needless to say perhaps, ABC couldn't be happier.