New Must-See Off-Beat TV
Check out three new, offbeat shows
-Cynthia Parsons McDaniel
Dark is the new black on TV. Dark humor, that is. When you are hunkering down in front of the boob tube later this month, you will be watching shows with a sardonic or offbeat twist. My Fab Finds for this week are three new midseason series that are worth viewing during the heaviest TV-watching time of the year.
First up is United States of Tara a dark comedy on Showtime that airs on January 18. It stars Toni Collette, a terrific actress, and was developed by Juno‘ s Academy Award-winning screenwriter, Diablo Cody. Steven Spielberg serves as executive producer. The show is about a housewife with dissociative identity disorder, which means she has multiple personalities. Think Sybil with a husband and teenage kids.
When things get out of hand and Tara must cope with a lot of stress – and what mother of teenagers doesn’t? – she simply can’t help but turn into one of her other personalities. When her kids say “Mom isn’t herself today,” they really mean it. John Corbett (Sex and the City) stars as Tara’s hard-working and committed husband, and Rosemarie DeWitt (Mad Men) plays her sister, while the kids are played by Ken Gilchrist and Brie Larson. Good cast.
Among Tara’s personalities are Alice, the perfect homemaker who believes in traditional values, bakes for the family and labels herself as old-fashioned. Buck is Tara’s male personality: He loves beer and motorcycles, has a habit of getting into fights and enjoys outings to a topless bar. T is a wild, pot-smoking teenager who relates well to Tara’s daughter, loves to get some action and has a habit of stealing from the drugstore.
Now, you may ask whether Tara should be on her meds. Good question, but according to the script, she’s stopped taking them, making a normally dysfunctional family dysfunctional enough to build a show around. Crazy, yes, but I think a super actress like Collette, a writer like Cody, and a director like Craig Gillespie, who directed Lars and the Real Girl and is directing some of the episodes of this show, can make it worth watching.
Next, try Lie to Me, which will air on Wednesday, January 21, on Fox. It features Tim Roth, a British multitalented character actor whose face you’ll recognize even if you don’t recognize his name. Variety reported it took his agents more than three months to persuade him to do the show. Smart agents, because I bet he wins an Emmy for his performance. The show was actually inspired by a real-life scientist, Dr. Paul Ekman, and Roth plays a human lie detector. He can pick up the subtle clues we offer up in our facial expressions and body language when we are not telling the truth. “Statistically speaking, the average person tells three lies per 10 minutes of conversation,” Roth’s character explains in the opener. On the show, the group Roth heads up is brought in by the FBI and the police to investigate crimes. Roth’s character’s ability to understand body language also complicates his personal life. Yes, it is a bit like Monk.
From just watching the pilot, I’ve learned some interesting stuff: Slightly lifting your shoulder shows you don’t have confidence in what you’re saying; acting surprised for more than second means you really aren’t surprised; and briefly clenching your mouth means you don’t like the news you’re getting. Yes, this show isinteresting, and I have already noticed things that I never realized while talking to people. How many TV shows can help you determine whether your husband or the kids are really telling you the truth?
Last to take a look at: Trust Me on TNT, which airs on Monday, January 26. This contemporary drama is a witty and biting look at the world of advertising. Mad Men was set in the ’50s, but this is a close-up look at the wacky world of advertising today, and the focus is on two main characters, played by Eric McCormack (Will and Grace) and the very underestimated Tom Cavanaugh, whom you may remember from Ed. The basic formula of the show is that they are not only best friends but creative partners. And we all know mixing business with friendship holds great potential for drama in life and on TV. Remember Nip/Tuck? .
Both partners have very different lifestyles as well as work styles. Cavanaugh is a single, laid-back copywriter and McCormack is an art-director workaholic who also happens to be a family man. Each week, the team faces a new crisis at their agency, as they handle difficult clients and make complex moral choices.. The show also stars the very talented Griffin Dunne. If you loved Mad Men and can’t wait till it comes back, then maybe you should give Trust Me and today’s even more cynical world of advertising a try.