New TV Dramas — ELEMENTARY, CHICAGO FIRE, NASHVILLE, and VEGAS

As I’ve lost interest in most of the new TV sitcoms (except The New Normal and…maybe…The Mindy Project), I’ve started checking out some of the dramas.  I’ve already lost interest in most of those, too.

The problem is that they feel like stories about characters rather than about people and the formats feel ever so predictable.

Elementary (CBS, Thursdays at 10 p.m.), which is supposed to be a modern day Sherlock Holmes series featuring an Englishman in New York and a woman Watson hired by Holmes’ father to keep him off drugs, is just another transparent detective procedural with a bit of diversity (Lucy Liu plays Dr. Watson) and an elegant accent (Jonny Lee Miller as Holmes).

Speaking of procedurals, Dick Wolf of Law & Order fame oversees production of this new series, Chicago Fire (NBC, Wednesdays at 10 p.m.), which is more in the mold of ER than the other franchise shows.  The problem is that in ER, the hospital was the locus of activity where the regulars worked and flirted and faced a variety of stories involving patients and paramedics and other characters who sometimes emerged in the lull and sometimes amid full-fledged chaos.  I loved ER and stuck with the series through great seasons, good seasons, and a few that missed the mark.

Chicago Fire has the fire station as its locus, and not a lot happens there in the lull except fairly predictable jealousies and pranks and unrequited love scenarios.  Several times an episode, when things get particularly dull at the firehouse, there is an emergency call.  Because the characters are first responders, the potential for dramatic development of these storylines is either truncated or, if it carries on past the initial encounter, a little forced.

Callie Khouri is the creator of the new ABC drama Nashville (Wednesdays 10 p.m.), which makes me want to like it.  After all, Khouri wrote Thelma & Louise, which was a cultural signpost as well as a fine film (that won her an Oscar for screenwriting), and I still use that film in introductory film studies courses.  She also wrote and directed what I consider to be an underrated (and more complex than it appears on the surface) feminist film Something to Talk About.

Nashville stars Connie Britton (whom I loved in Friday Night Lights) as Rayna Jaymes, a country music star facing competition from an upstart who is eager to sleep with anyone who can benefit her ascending career.  Interesting premise, but it’s pure soap.  If Powers Boothe weren’t chewing so much scenery in a one-note performance as Rayna’s controlling and powerful father, I might be able to watch more than two episodes.  But, I don’t think I can take it.  What happened to nuance?

Certainly, there is no nuance in Vegas, a CBS drama (Tuesdays at 10 p.m.) starring Dennis Quaid as a rancher sheriff and Michael Chiklis as a mob-affiliated manager of a casino in Las Vegas in 1960.  Despite the pedigree of Nicholas Pileggi as one of the creators of the series, it doesn’t have the edge we’ve come to expect from cable series and suffers from the watered down characters and storylines.

 

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