TV Reviews: 3 sorry series debut on Fox

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Fox is getting its new fall series on the air before other networks, and with "Justice" last week, the network showed some creative promise. This week? Not so much.

Chris Cuffaro/Fox
Ron Livingston and Rosemarie DeWitt star in "Standoff," premiering at 9 p.m. tomorrow on Fox, about two hostage negotiators who are partners in several senses of the word.
Click photo for larger image.

'Standoff'

When: 9 p.m. tomorrow, Fox.

Starring: Ron Livingston, Rosemarie DeWitt.

''Til Death'

When: 8 p.m. Thursday, Fox.

Starring: Brad Garrett.

'Happy Hour'

When: 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Fox.

Starring: Lex Medlin.

'Standoff'

TV dramas do not have to be believable in the strictest sense -- dramatic license, by necessity, must sometimes be taken -- but today's sophisticated TV audience expects dramas at least to be credible within their own universe. That's the reason "24" fans can suspend disbelief. It's why the optimism and idealism of "The West Wing" was acceptable to even the most jaded wonks.

There is nothing remotely realistic in Fox's "Standoff" (9 p.m. tomorrow, WPGH), a ridiculous series about hostage negotiators who are partners at work and in the bedroom. Never mind the unbelievable premise -- the way the audience is introduced to it is so strained it's painful to watch.

Los Angeles FBI crisis negotiators Matt Flannery (Ron Livingston) and Emily Lehman (Rosemarie DeWitt) try to talk down an actor who's holding his kids hostage as part of a custody dispute. During the attempt, Matt tells the guy (and all his co-workers listening in) that he has troubles, too, including that he's breaking the rules at work by sleeping with Emily.

Wouldn't a good hostage negotiator be trained to come up with better stories than having to rely on his real life? Secondly, this is just sloppy exposition, the anvil approach to letting viewers know the show's primary conceit.

Livingston is a likable actor who deserves a TV hit, but here he's saddled with terrible material. His chemistry with DeWitt isn't exactly smoldering, either. Actress Gina Torres, as their new-ish boss, also had much better scripts on "Firefly."

"Standoff" threatens to give viewers whiplash as it segues in one scene from cutesy attempts at "Moonlighting"-esque banter between Matt and Emily to a terrorist preparing to take hostages.

If viewers take a standoffish approach to this weak new drama, who could blame them?

''Til Death' and 'Happy Hour'

With "My Name Is Earl" and "The Office" airing new episodes in this time slot beginning Sept. 21, it's difficult to imagine anyone, even Fox's teen core, tuning in for these sorry sitcoms.

In "'Til Death" (8 p.m. Thursday, WPGH), Brad Garrett ("Everybody Loves Raymond") stars as Eddie with Joely Fisher ("Wild Card") as Joy, a miserable, long-married couple who find their sour attitudes challenged by the newlyweds next door, Jeff Woodcock (Eddie Kaye Thomas) and his wife, Steph (Kat Foster).

The Woodcocks jog wearing matching iPods, and Jeff creates a Web site, mywoodcock.com, completely missing the adolescent humor in his last name. He's supposed to be a school vice principal, and he was never mocked for that name? Come on!

The pilot plot -- Jeff wants a pool table in the dining room, Steph agrees, Eddie says it'll never happen, Jeff wants to prove him wrong -- follows a well-worn path of sitcoms traceable back to when cavemen acted them out with large dinosaur bones as props.

At least "'Til Death" has some known stars. The cast of "Happy Hour" (8:30 p.m. Thursday, WPGH) will likely remain unknown, starring, as they do, in this dud. Henry (John Sloan) gets dumped by his girlfriend and finds himself living with Larry (Lex Medlin), a lout who swills martinis daily at 4 p.m. while singing "Ain't That a Kick in the Head" two too many times in the course of the first episode.

Larry's tomboy friend, Amanda (Beth Lacke), makes more of an impression than any of the other characters in a blowsy, Jennifer Coolidge sort of way. In this week's pilot, at least, that's not enough to make this even a happy half-hour.


TV editor Rob Owen can be reached at rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Ask TV questions at www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Q&A.


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