Monday, May 14, 2007

Crossed Out

American television strives to disappoint nowadays. NBC-TV this morning announced its 2007-2008 schedule, confirming that it was dropping three of the small number of series I bother to watch anymore. While both the original Law & Order series and its foremost spinoff, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, managed to survive for another year, despite rumors of their pending demise), the same isn’t also true of Aaron Sorkin’s uneven but far-better-written-than-normal Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip; it won’t be returning in the fall. Neither will a couple of crime series I’ve enjoyed, Crossing Jordan and Raines.

Although only seven episodes of Raines were shot (a reduction from original expectations), the show managed to make a decent splash in a TV pool short on cop series that didn’t emphasize forensic science over character development. Jeff Goldblum grew on me as a wounded Los Angeles detective who feared he was going crazy, because his subconscious mind kept manifesting images of the people whose murders he endeavored to solve--images off whom he could bounce ideas, but who couldn’t supply him with any insights he didn’t have himself. (He didn’t actually see spirits, contrary to the critical shorthand that Raines was “Ghost Whisperer meets Dragnet.”) The pilot episode (still available for your viewing pleasure here) might have been the best, but the succeeding six all had their highlights, the sum offering up a protagonist whose psychological infirmities were integral to the story, but didn’t overwhelm the plot (unlike what’s happened to Tony Shalhoub’s Monk). This was Goldblum’s second short-lived shot at a continuing TV crime drama (following his appearance, with Ben Vereen, in Tenspeed and Brown Shoe, Stephen J. Cannell’s 1980 series), and may finally convince him that there’s no reason to bother with a medium that’s more interested in idiotic game shows than slow-developing dramatic series.

Still harder for me to accept than Raines’ demise is the cancellation, after a six-year run, of Crossing Jordan, the ever-dependable Boston-based medical examiner series. Although it originally focused around the lovely Canadian actress and Law & Order alumna Jill Hennessy (shown in the photo above), who played brainy and unstoppable Dr. Jordan Cavanaugh, always butting heads with her bosses and the cops who wanted her to butt out of their cases, Jordan quickly evolved into more of an ensemble piece. Miguel Ferrer (the son of Puerto Rican actor José Ferrer and American singer Rosemary Clooney) portrayed Cavanaugh’s tightly wound, alcoholic boss, Dr. Garrett Macy; while Ravi Kapoor took the role of Mahesh “Bug” Vijayaraghavensatyanaryanamurthy, a perpetually shy but warm-hearted Indian entomologist, who was friend and often reluctant co-conspirator to the more free-spirited, wisecracking British criminologist Nigel Townsend (played by Steve Valentine). For a time, Ken Howard (who I remember best, if most obscurely, from a 1974-1975 CBS period crime drama called The Manhunter) appeared as Jordan’s retired-cop father, but he hasn’t been seen much lately. And more recently, ex-Sliders star Jerry O’Connell has been a regular Boston police detective and less regular boyfriend of Jordan’s on the show, with Kathryn Hahn playing grief counselor Lily Lebowski.

Hennessy was something of a revelation as Dr. Cavanaugh, a woman more overtly sexual, psychologically troubled, and dynamic than Claire Kincaid, the publicly restrained assistant district attorney the actress had portrayed for three years on L&O. This show wasn’t perfect. It depended for far too long on a continuing story thread about Jordan’s murdered mother (and did we ever actually hear a resolution to that case, by the way?). A few crossover eps with the far cheesier NBC series Las Vegas were less than credible, and even less than necessary. Still, there was more welcome attention paid to the development of Jordan’s cast than there has been to the stars of, say, the CSI franchise shows or the original Law & Order. I tuned in every week, confident that I would be entertained by a wonderfully flawed cast with whom I had built up a relationship over the years. I wasn’t asked to care simply about the forensic wizardry element of the program, which would’ve gotten old (and explains why I can only watch the CSI series every now and then).

While it’s sad to see Crossing Jordan and Raines (and Studio 60, for that matter) tossed atop the discard pile, it’s equally regrettable to me that they should’ve died at the hands of NBC. There was a time when the network formerly known as the National Broadcasting Company served up most of my evening’s entertainment. It gave me many of the crime dramas I remember most fondly (Columbo, The Rockford Files, Ironside, McMillan & Wife, City of Angels, Hec Ramsey, Crime Story), as well as Cheers, The Addams Family, The Bob Newhart Show, I’ll Fly Away, Friends, Get Smart, L.A. Law, Mad About You, and Aaron Sorkin’s extraordinary The West Wing. That NBC has now become synonymous in my mind with such simple-minded fare as Deal or No Deal and The Office is tremendously disheartening; and that any series should be canceled to make way for NBC’s fall revival of that dopey Lindsey Wagner series, The Bionic Woman, just adds insult to injury.

No wonder I’ve resorted to watching DVDs of older TV shows at night. NBC, as well as the other U.S. networks, seem determined to drive anything remotely intelligent or challenging from the airwaves, and to kill off what remains by moving the shows around so frequently that they can’t possibly hold audiences. It’s funny: When I was a kid, I was a TV addict. Now, I barely turn on the set, and it is not just because I have other things to do.


Gerald So said...

I've had my share of cancellation disappointment. In the long run, it's made me appreciate the shows I like that do survive on the networks.

Two of my favorites--House and Bones--received early renewals from FOX. Shark and NCIS look to be in good shape at CBS.

Crossing Jordan was a good quirky show. I'm surprised (and glad) that it beat the odds for six seasons.

Graham Powell said...

So, how long do you think THE BIONIC WOMAN will last. I'm putting the over/under at "THE NIGHT STALKER revival".

J. Kingston Pierce said...

Hmm. THE NIGHT STALKER went six episodes (with a seventh appearing as an iTunes download). I'm going to predict that this revived BIONIC WOMAN series lasts slightly longer than that, but only because it boasts an attractive lead in the form of Michelle Ryan. I say nine eps, before the show crashes beyond anyone's capacity to rebuild it.

Linda L. Richards said...

On Bionic Woman: do you think Lindsey Wagner might make a cameo appearance at some point? Perhaps driving a Ford?

On Jordan: Nooooo! Tell me it's not so! As Gerald says, the show has had a decent run. And as Pierce pointed out a while ago, scripts have been weaker this last season, but still: beyond House and Boston Legal, there's not much left on television worth watching. (Though it was fun to see a brief appearance by Mannix himself on a recent episode of Two and a Half Men.)

And, yes: I do think we saw a resolution to the whole Jordan's mom sub-plot, though I don't quite remember what it was. Something to do with the odd brother that cropped up occasionally and the trunk of an old car. Anyone else remember?