Of all the new television series premiering in the next couple weeks, no two may be more different than CBS's "Unforgettable" and ABC's "Revenge." Each typifies the divergent approaches networks take to their prime-time programming.
CBS tries yet another crime procedural with "Unforgettable" and ABC goes the serialized drama route with "Revenge."
Both shows are middling entries in their respective genres but "Revenge," by the nature of its twisty storytelling, fares better. "Unforgettable" is pretty routine business: Crime, investigation, case solved.
Starring: Emily Van Camp.
The premiere episode opens in the Hamptons at a posh engagement party for Emily (Emily Van Camp, "Brothers & Sisters") and Daniel (Josh Bowman). His society matron mother, Victoria Grayson (Madeleine Stowe), imperiously presides.
"In a word, I approve," Victoria says of their pending union. "And as anyone can tell you, approval is not something I give away easily."
But her approval may disappear when Daniel is found dead on the beach before the show flashes back to five months earlier as Emily rents the beach house next to Victoria's mansion. Turns out Emily may look sweet but she's plotting revenge against the wealthy denizens -- including Victoria and her husband -- who framed her father for a crime he didn't commit.
Much soapy intrigue ensues, including infidelities, Emily's flashbacks of her father (James Tupper) and the love lives of working-class brothers Jack (Nick Wechsler) and Declan (Connor Paolo, "Gossip Girl").
The show burns through a lot of plot in Wednesday's fast-moving premiere -- establishing relationships and back stories -- but the pace is often undermined by a one-two punch of bad dialogue delivered poorly.
"You must come from a family of polar bears," says Lydia Davis (Amber Valletta) when she comes upon Emily dipping her toe in the ocean.
"Only at first," Emily replies. "After a while you can't feel anything."
"Sounds like my marriage," Lydia shoots back.
Whether the lines or the performance are more painful is a toss-up.
Actually, Ms. Van Camp is as likeable an actress as ever; it's the actresses playing uppercrust socialites who are prone to chewing the scenery. Sometimes these showdowns between Emily and the Ladies Who Lunch play out with subtle cattiness; other times they flail wildly.
If "Revenge" can curb its more outlandish tendencies, this soap could become a welcome guilty pleasure.
Starring: Poppy Montgomery.
Poppy Montgomery ("Without a Trace") stars as Carrie Wells, a former police detective with a knack for remembering everything she ever sees.
It's a real ability -- "60 Minutes" did a piece on actress Marilu Henner, who has the ability and serves as a consultant on "Unforgettable" -- but in the current TV landscape this skill comes off as gimmicky. That's especially true when the show tries to show Carrie remembering the scene of a murder outside her apartment building. She stands outside the scene, watching it unfold, seeing herself in the moment. ("If there is chanting, I am so out," says one police officer during the investigation.)
Carrie's former partner/lover Al (Dylan Walsh, "Nip/Tuck") investigates the murder, bringing the two back together and giving Carrie the chance to throw his words back at him from a conversation on Aug. 14, 2002 ("2:36 a.m., hot night, no rain, there were crickets," Carrie remembers). The two pick up where they left off fighting over an unsolved case that touched Carrie personally.
This element brings to mind CBS's "The Mentalist," which also gave its lead character an unsolved, personal case in his past.
And that's the thing: "Unforgettable" is completely forgettable because it brings nothing new to the increasingly creaky crime procedural. CBS has gone to that well over and over, and, credit to them, it's worked. Viewers seem to have an addiction to crime shows. But at some point viewers will lose interest, especially when the shows are too alike as "Unforgettable" is.
The show even tries to make fun of itself and its prime-time kin -- "Gotta love 'CSI,'" Al says, "Everybody's an expert now" -- but that only reinforces the similarities.
Ms. Montgomery's attempt to hide her natural Australian accent is unsuccessful at best. Either she's not trying as hard as she did on "Without a Trace" or her American accent on her previous series was worse than I recall.
Rob Owen writes this Sunday TV column for Scripps Howard News Service. Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2582. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook..