New Episodes of THE CLOSER, RAISING THE BAR on TNT Tonight

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I kinda like FBI Agent Fritzie (Jon Tenney), so I wonder occasionally what he sees in Brenda Leigh Johnson. Sure, I love her, but I love her as a hard-nosed cop who makes cool intuitive leaps. If I had to live with her, the Bacon Universe version of Deputy Chief Johnson would be investigating how the real Deputy Chief Johnson’s hacked-up corpse ended up in the garbage disposal.

Still, Fritz seems to be sticking it out, and the new season of The Closer that begins on TNT tonight finds the newlyweds negotiating both marriage and a case both the LAPD and the FBI want. Brenda and Fritz can be married all they want, as long as we get to see lots of Provenza (GW Bailey), Flynn (Tony Denison) and Tao (Michael Paul Chan).

TNT also brings back legal drama Raising the Bar, which did not raise the bar when it debuted last year. I may try it again for the love of Jane Kaczmarek, for said love runs deep. If they expect me to stick with it, though, they’re going to have to come up with twistier storylines and retreads of things we saw on Law and Order a decade ago. Fleshing out the characters and their relationships would be a bonus, too. They’ve gotten a second chances, so we’d love to see them take advantage of it. Opening the season mocking Mark-Paul Gosselaar‘s hair seems like a good sign.

The Closer premieres at 9pm Eastern and Pacific, with Raising the Bar immediately following, both on TNT.

TNT’s RAISING THE BAR Actually Lowers the Bar

Hill Street Blues… L.A. Law… Murder One… NYPD Blue… There was a time when Steven Bochco’s name was synonymous with the best cop and lawyer shows on television (and also Doogie Houser, M.D.). So when I heard that TNT had snagged Raising the Bar–Bochco’s latest lawyer drama with a promising cast that includes the excellent Jane Kaczmarek (Malcolm in the Middle), Gloria Reuben (E.R.), J. August Richards (Angel) and Mark-Paul Gosselaar (who’d probably prefer that I remind you of his work on NYPD Blue rather than Saved by the Bell)–I was intrigued. Heck, even the guest stars are interesting–Veronica Mars alum Percy Daggs III (we miss you, Wallace!) and My So-Called Life vet Wilson Cruz (we love you, Rickie!) both show up in episode two.

Alas, there is nothing to intrigue in this terminally mediocre show because Raising the Bar is a standard-issue courtroom drama populated by one-dimensional characters struggling through been-there-done-that plots. While it’s ostensibly about a group of chummy young prosecutors and public defenders who duke it out in the courtroom and then adjourn for a beer in the local bar, it’s actually a study in just how tired the whole genre has become.

Everyone on Raising the Bar is apparently either pure good or pure evil or–dullest of all–professionally disinterested. Kaczmarek is criminally wasted as a hateful, self-serving judge engaged in a squicky (and unfathomable) affair with her obviously gay law clerk (Jonathan Scarfe). Reubens is so uniformly pleasant and bland she might as well not even be there. Richards seems to be playing the exact same generic lawyer he played on the deservedly short-lived Conviction (which was, incidentally, not so different from his character during the last season of Angel). Gosselaar is stuck with a caricature of an idealistic young public defender–complete with the requisite shaggy hair, untucked shirt and messenger bag we’ve come to know as this television trope’s standard uniform– who’s seemingly unable to learn from his own mistakes.

Which leads me to another problem with the series. The characters are so trapped by their clichés that they bump up against one another in exactly the same ways, episode after episode. Watch three episodes and you’ll have seen Gosselaar and Kaczmarek have the same argument three times. Yawn.

If you’re hankering for a lawyer show, do yourself a favor and Netflix some of Bochco’s classics. Even Doogie Houser was better than this tripe.

Guide to September 2008 Series Premieres

September is nearly upon us and that can mean only one thing–the busiest month of the year for new television programming. Well, it’s not quite as busy as usual thanks to the writers strike, but we’ve still got a good number of new shows debuting in the coming weeks. So many, in fact, that’s it’s hard to keep them all straight. So to help you navigate the maze we’ve prepared a guide to all the new shows premiering this month.

RAISING THE BAR (TNT)
Premieres: Monday, Sept. 1 at 10 p.m.
Time slot: Mondays at 10 p.m.
This series from Steven Bochco follows the lives and cases of young lawyers who have been friends since law school but now work on opposing sides. Mark-Paul Gosselaar (NYPD Blue), Gloria Reuben (ER), and Jane Kaczmarek (Malcolm in the Middle) star, along with Teddy Sears (Ugly Betty), Melissa Sagemiller (Sleeper Cell), Currie Graham (Boston Legal), J. August Richards (Angel) and Jonathan Scarfe (Into the West). Created by Bochco and lawyer/writer David Feige (author of the book Indefensible).

90210 (The CW)
Premieres: Tuesday, Sept. 2 at 8 p.m.
Time slot: Tuesdays at 8 p.m.
Freaks and Geeks‘ Gabe Sachs and Jeff Judah are exec producing this contemporary spin-off of the ’90s-era teen drama. The new incarnation centers on Annie Mills (Shenae Grimes, Degrassi: The Next Generation) and her adopted brother Dixon (Tristan Wilds, The Wire), who’ve moved from Kansas to attend West Beverly Hills High. Co-starring Lori Loughlin (Summerland), Jessica Walter (Arrested Development), AnnaLynne McCord (Nip/Tuck), Dustin Milligan (Runaway), Michael Steger (The Winner), Jessica Stroup (Reaper), and Ryan Eggold (Dirt). 90210: Original Flavor alums Jennie Garth and Shannen Doherty guest star.

SONS OF ANARCHY (FX)
Premieres: Wednesday, Sept. 3 at 10 p.m.
Time slot: Wednesdays at 10 p.m.
This darkly comedic drama from executive producer Kurt Sutter (The Shield) focuses on an outlaw motorcycle club intent on protecting their sheltered town from advancing drug dealers and local corporate developers, and equally determined to preserve their thriving illegal arms business. Starring Charlie Hunnam (Children of Men), Katey Sagal (8 Simple Rules), Ron Perlman (Hellboy), Drea de Matteo (The Sopranos) and Maggie Siff (Mad Men).

HOLE IN THE WALL (Fox)
Premieres:
Sunday, Sept. 7 at 8 p.m.
Time slot: Thursdays at 8 p.m.
This game show is based on the popular Japanese show where two teams face various barrier walls speeding toward them with weird and wacky cut-out shapes. Team members must contort their bodies to fit through these cut-outs or they will be swept away into the pool below. Described as one of the trickiest, fastest, funniest and wettest half-hours on the planet, versions of the show have already been produced in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, China, Colombia, Denmark, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Israel, Malaysia, Mexico, Russia and Sweden.

TRUE BLOOD (HBO)
Premieres: Sunday, Sept. 7 at 9 p.m.
Time slot: Sundays at 9 p.m.
The latest offering from Alan Ball (Six Feet Under) is a new twist on the vampire genre based on Charlaine Harris’ Southern Vampire Mysteries books. The series centers on a psychic small-town waitress (Anna Paquin, X-Men) and the mysterious gentleman vampire (Stephen Moyer, NY-LON) who catches her fancy. This comedic drama is set in an alternate-universe Louisiana in which vampires are real and have “come out of the coffin” only recently with the advent of a synthetic blood beverage–”Tru Blood”–that removes their need to feed on live humans. Or does it? Ryan Kwanten (Summerland), Nelsan Ellis (The Inside), Rutina Wesley, and Sam Trammell co-star.

FRINGE (Fox)
Premieres: Tuesday, Sept. 9 at 8 p.m.
Time slot: Tuesdays at 8 p.m.
When the passengers on an international flight turn up dead under unusual and grisly circumstances, an up-and-coming FBI agent (newcomer Anna Torv) teams up with an eccentric scientist (John Noble, The Lord of the Rings) and his estranged genius son (Joshua Jackson, Dawson’s Creek) to unravel the mystery. Mark Valley (Boston Legal), Blair Brown (Altered States), Lance Reddick (The Wire), Kirk Acevedo (Oz), and Jasika Nicole (Law & Order: Criminal Intent) costar in this thriller from executive producers J.J. Abrams, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, (Mission: Impossible III, Alias).

PRIVILEGED (The CW)
Premieres: Tuesday, Sept. 9 at 9 p.m.
Time slot: Tuesdays at 9:00 p.m.
Based on Zoey Dean’s young adult book, How To Teach Filthy Rich Girls, this show centers on a Yale-educated young woman (JoAnna Garcia, Reba) hired to be the live-in tutor/life coach to two rich heiresses (Ashley Newbrough, The Best Years, and Lucy Kate Hale, Bionic Woman) in Palm Beach. Anne Archer (Fatal Attraction), Allan Louis (Stomp the Yard), Kristina Apgar (Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles), Michael Cassidy (Smallville), and Brian Hallisay costar. From executive producers Rina Mimoun (Gilmore Girls, Everwood), Bob Levy (Gossip Girl) and Leslie Morgenstein (Gossip Girl, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants).

SOMEBODIES (BET)
Premieres: Tuesday, Sept. 9 at 10 p.m.
Time slot: Tuesdays at 10 p.m.
BET’s first original sitcom, based on the 2006 Sundance film by series star Hadjii, tells the story of Scottie, an everyday, party-hopping, church-going, African-American undergraduate student looking for a good time with his friends and a little luck with the ladies. Kaira Akita, Quante Strickland, Corey Redding, Anthony K. Hyatt, Tyler Craig, Eric L. Register, Pat Brown, and Carlos Davis round out the ensemble cast.

THE RACHEL ZOE PROJECT (Bravo)
Premieres: Tuesday, Sept. 9 at 11 p.m.
Time slot: Tuesdays at 10 p.m.
Celebrity stylist Rachel Zoe, along with her husband Rodger and fashion team, Taylor and Brad, are featured in this docu-drama as they endeavor to take Zoe’s business to the next level. In the series, the perfectly styled, go-to force among “it” starlets, fashion houses, beauty firms and magazine editors will give viewers a fly on the wall look at how she juggles constant deadlines, fashion shows and celebrity clients.

DO NOT DISTURB (Fox)
Premieres: Wednesday, Sept 10 at 9:30 p.m.
Time slot: Wednesdays at 9:30 p.m.
This workplace comedy from Abraham Higginbotham (Back to You) centers on the upstairs/downstairs dynamic at a hip New York City hotel. The series stars Jerry O’Connell (Carpoolers) as the hotel’s image-conscious general manager and Niecy Nash (Reno 911!) as the head of human resources who looks after the staff and tries to keep everyone out of trouble. Molly Stanton (Twins), Brando Eaton (Zoey 101), Jolene Purdy (Donnie Darko), and Jesse Tyler Ferguson (The Class) also star.

WORST WEEK (CBS)
Premieres: Monday, Sept. 22 at 9:30 p.m.
Time slot: Mondays at 9:30 p.m.
A half-hour comedy about an unwed couple with a baby on the way (Kyle Bornheimer, Jericho, and Erinn Hayes, Kitchen Confidential), who must break the news to her conservative parents (Kurtwood Smith, That ’70s Show, and Nancy Lenehan, My Name is Earl). From exec producers Matt Tarses (Scrubs) and Jimmy Mulville (Whose Line Is It Anyway?), based on the BBC comedy The Worst Week of My Life.

OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS (ABC)
Premieres: Tuesday, Sept. 23 at 8 p.m.
Time slot: Tuesdays at 8 p.m.
A mobile game show that travels to different neighborhoods and selects a family from each to play for money and prizes. Host J.D. Roth poses trivia questions to family members based directly on their lives, each other and articles found in and around their home. Produced by Ashton Kutcher, Jason Goldberg, Karey Burke (Beauty and the Geek), J.D. Roth and Todd A. Nelson.

THE MENTALIST (CBS)
Premieres: Tuesday, Sept. 23 at 9 p.m.
Time slot: Tuesdays at 9 p.m.
Simon Baker (The Devil Wears Prada) stars as Patrick Jane, an independent consultant for the California Bureau of Investigation and former charlatan TV medium, who uses his razor-sharp skills of observation to solve crimes. Co-starring Robin Tunney (Prison Break), Tim Kang (Rambo), Owain Yeoman (The Nine), and Amanda Righetti, (The O.C.). Bruno Heller (creator of Rome) is creator/executive producer, and David Nutter (Band of Brothers) is the executive producer.

KNIGHT RIDER (NBC)
Premieres: Wednesday, Sept. 24 at 8 p.m.
Time slot: Wednesdays at 8 p.m.
An update of the ’80s television series, following on the heels of last year’s TV movie. The new, customized KITT (Knight Industries Three Thousand) is now a Ford Mustang powered by nanotechnology, with Michael Knight’s son (Justin Bruening, Cold Case) behind the wheel. Deanna Russo (NCIS), Sydney Tamiia Poitier (Veronica Mars), and Bruce Davison (Kingdom Hospital, X-Men) co-star. David Bartis (Heist, The O.C.), Doug Liman (Mr. and Mrs. Smith, The Bourne Identity) and Gary Scott Thompson (Las Vegas, The Fast and The Furious) are executive producers.

GARY UNMARRIED (CBS)
Premieres: Wednesday, Sept. 24 at 8:30 p.m.
Time slot: Wednesdays at 8:30 p.m.
Jay Mohr (Ghost Whisperer) and Paula Marshall (Nip/Tuck) star in this comedy about Gary Barnes, a recently single painting contractor, and his controlling ex-wife, Allison, who face post-divorce mayhem after 15 years of marriage as they each juggle parenthood and embark on new relationships. Jaime King (Kitchen Confidential), Ed Begley Jr. (Recount), Al Madrigal (Welcome to the Captain), Kathryn Newton, and Ryan Malgarini (How to Eat Fried Worms) co-star. From exec producers Ed Yeager (Still Standing) and Ric Swartzlander (8 Simple Rules).

LITTLE BRITAIN (HBO)
Premieres: Sunday, Sept. 28 at 10:30 p.m.
Time slot: Sundays at 10:30
Matt Lucas and David Walliams, the stars of the smash-hit BBC comedy Little Britain, bring their surreal, edgy sketch comedy to the U.S., featuring an outrageous look at the quirkiest inhabitants of the country from coast to coast.

THE LIFE & TIMES OF TIM (HBO)
Premieres: Sunday, Sept. 28 at 11 p.m.
Time slot: Sundays a 11 p.m.
An animated show about a guy who just can’t seem to catch a break. Tim (Steve Dildarian, co-creator of the Budweiser “Lizards” TV campaign) is 25 years old and lives in New York City with his girlfriend Amy (MJ Otto), who’s patiently putting up with his antics while he gets his life in order. Rounding out the voice cast are Bob Morrow, Cheri Oteri (Saturday Night Live), Kurtwood Smith (That 70s Show), Matt Johnson (Passions), and Nick Kroll (Cavemen, Best Week Ever). Created by Dildarian and executive-produced by Tom Werner (That 70s Show, 3rd Rock from the Sun), Jimmy Miller (Talladega Nights, Borat) and Mike Clements.