Mr. TV: The New Quartet

If you are in the mood for something different, I have four new shows for you to check out this week: sitcoms Surviving Suburbia and Parks and Recreation, dramedy The Unusuals and murder mystery Harper’s Island, which is sure to strike a chord if you are a fan of Agatha Christie.

If Surviving Suburbia sounds familiar, this is the sitcom that was supposed to air on The CW Sundays last fall when Media Rights Capital was leasing out the night.  But the MRC deal was cut abruptly short, Surviving Suburbia was sent packing and comedy-deprived ABC, looking for a cheap investment, snapped it up. So, what would have likely been another clinker on The CW now has a shot on ABC out of Dancing With the Stars at 9:30 p.m. on Monday. How lucky can you get?

Surviving Suburbia features perennial TV Dad Bob Saget and recent Men in Trees co-star Cynthia Stevenson as a couple with two teenage kids and a seemingly perfect life in suburbia after 20 years of marriage. But what looks normal is, of course, anything but. While that golden statuette called Emmy will probably not be in the offing for this sitcom, there is nothing wrong with some mindless laughs that we can all relate to.

Next up is ABC’s The Unusuals, an ensemble hour headlined by Amber Tamblyn, Adam Goldberg and Terry Kinney that focuses on frantic life at NYPD’s 2nd Precinct. It airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. Described as M*A*S*H meets Hill Street Blues, ABC certainly struck gold with the similarly sounding NYPD Blue. And what could work to its advantage, the series takes a lighter approach to the traditionally grittier crime dramas. Still, recent occupant Life on Mars, which was also crime-themed, came and quickly went. The competition—CBS’ CSI: NY and NBC’s veteran Law & Order—are also well established crime-solving hits, and template Hill Street Blues was never exactly a ratings hit. While leading out of Lost brings an ample number of young adults 18-49 into the time period, ABC may have to exercise some patience if it wants The Unusuals to arrest viewers.

Moving to Thursday, we have NBC’s Amy Poehler vehicle Parks and Recreation, which airs at 8:30 p.m. out of fading My Name is Earl, and CBS mystery Harper’s Island, which replaces on-the-fence Eleventh Hour out of CSI at 10 p.m. Had NBC found a better-suited vehicle for the former Saturday Night Live star (how about a harried mother with a few rambunctious kids, a dumbbell husband, smart-mouthed housekeeper and wacky neighbor?), this might have a chance.


Poehler certainly possesses solid comedic chops. But casting her as an Indiana-based parks and recreation employee who attempts to take on the system to improve her own town sounds pretty limited. Who the heck named this show? Since Parks and Recreation is set in Indiana, I have an idea. How about sending over former One Day at a Time (classic ’70s sitcom was also based in Indiana) janitor Dwayne Schneider for a cameo? I bet Pat Harrington Jr. could use the gig.

Mirroring My Name is Earl, The Office and 30 Rock, all on NBC Thursday, there is no reason to believe Parks and Recreation will ever be a mass-appeal hit. Clever, maybe, but NBC just does not seem to realize that sometimes generic draws bigger crowds, if not better.

Last, and by no means least, is Harper’s Island, the tale of a group of friends and family who are murdered one by one while attending a wedding in a secluded island off the coast of Seattle. Although you might wonder how long this show can last, the goal from the get-go is just 13 episodes. If it works—and I am optimistic it will—there are plenty of other places where random murders can occur. I envision this as a midseason utility player.

For years, I have knocked CBS for relying too heavily on crime dramas. But I like the Ten-Little-Indians tension of Harper’s Island. It’s like a scripted reality/competition where you root for your favorite characters to survive and just the opposite for the ones you hate.
Out of CSI, which is still alive and well despite the departure of William Petersen, I think Harper’s Island is the perfect fit. And I do believe it will dominate overall (in total viewers, at least) opposite ABC’s Private Practice and NBC’s unproven Southland. Thumbs up, CBS.   

Do you agree or disagree with Mr. TV? Please e-mail mberman@mediaweek.com and let him know if you would like your response published in an upcoming issue.