Midseason scheduling can be so confusing. If I had a dollar for every reader e-mail wondering where the heck Vegas disappeared to - the answer: It's off for two weeks to allow the new Golden Boy to benefit from an NCIS lead-in, but will return next Tuesday - I could afford another vacation. Which is where I was when Golden Boy premiered, so here are a few thoughts on the second episode (10/9c) before the show moves to its regular Friday time period (9/8c) this weekend.
As in the pilot, the strength of CBS' latest police drama lies not in the generic meat-and-potatoes crime-solving but in the buddy dynamics between Theo James, as the charismatic but cocky rising star Detective Walter Clark (who will need only seven years to vault the career ladder to police commissioner), and the great Chi McBride as his partner/mentor/moral compass, veteran Detective Don Owen. "I always did the actual learning the hard way," Clark reflects in this episode's bookend-from-the-future, as he attends the funeral of a CI (confidential informant: the things we learn from TV) because Owen always told him, "They deserve our attention."
So does Golden Boy, up to a point. The influence of NYPD Blue (where co-creator/executive producer Nicholas Wootten's career first took off) can be felt in the grittiness of the workplace tension within the precinct as alpha males clash. "There's a time and a place for flexing your muscles and pumping your chest, and this ain't it," Owen cautions his young ambitious upstart of a partner, as Clark's rivalry with the territorial and devious Arroyo (Kevin Alejandro) escalates. When a young informant is ensnared in their macho-posturing crossfire, it's hardly a surprise when she favors "the one with the eyebrows." (That would be Clark, who could moonlight as a model between shifts.) I've grown quickly attached to the supporting cast, including NYPD Blue veteran Bonnie Somerville as Arroyo's no-nonsense partner and Holt McCallany (FX's Lights Out) as a comic-relief cop with a sideline of scoring hot tickets for anyone who'll make his job easier.
If some of Owen's life lessons seem a bit obvious - "It you do it for the glory, you're going to get burned every time" - McBride brings a level of amused, weary authority to this man who, until being paired with Clark, had been able to fly under the political radar. Those days are over, as he is continually challenged to keep this media-star prodigy focused on the job, while guarding the kid against myriad pitfalls and the payback of envious rivals. It's a solid set-up for a solid if so far unremarkable tour of duty.
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SO MUCH DRAMA: After last week's bloodbath on FX's Justified (10/9c), including the shocking death of Raylan's jailbird dad Arlo, it's a bit of a relief when Constable Bob's (the hilarious Patton Oswalt) latest surveillance assignment turns into one of the funniest, though still harrowing, shootouts in recent memory. Just one of the many highlights of an eventful episode in which Raylan enrages his boss Art by escorting his father's murderer to Super Max prison. There are detours along the way, naturally, as Raylan uses the opportunity to keep trying to smoke out the truth about the enigmatic Drew Thompson's identity. (Even if you see the reveal coming, it's very satisfying.) Boyd Crowder is on his own hunt for Drew, which includes house-hunting in posh Clover Hill which hits home for Ava, but they get distracted when a familiar visitor suggests Ellen May is still alive and a threat to their well-being, which could present a problem for druggie loose-cannon Colt's long-term future. Plenty of tense moments along the way, but Justified has a way of brightening even the darkest moments with flashes of humor and wit.
Another high-stakes caper, this time set amid the highest reaches of the Empire State Building, brings the fourth season of USA Network's breezily escapist White Collar (10/9c) to a tense and twisty close. This season's "MacGuffin," an evidence box that could clear Neal's dad (Treat Williams) and bring down the evil Senator Pratt (Titus Welliver), is hidden somewhere within the skyscraper's 50th floor. The race is on to find it first, between the FBI team now supervised by the shady Amanda Callaway (Emily Procter), and Neal's crew, which includes the lovely Sara (Hilarie Burton) as romantic distraction. "We specialize in crazy," Neal warns his dad, while Peter - Neal's true father figure - is trapped in the treacherous middle, trying covertly to slow down his co-workers' search while helping Neal on the sly. As Peter's exiled boss reminds the fed about bending the rules, "Sometimes you have to redraw those lines to stay in them." Who takes the fall when the dust settles? The answer to that is why there will be a fifth season, coming your way this summer.
It's a busy night for Tim DeKay (White Collar's Peter), competing against himself in a far less sympathetic guest role on a wild episode of ABC's Body of Proof (10/9c), which opens with the ghastly death of a 17-year-old whose violently hallucinatory death throes (including breaking her own arm) suggest an extreme version of a meth overdose. DeKay plays the victim's rigidly moralizing father, who insists, "It was the devil" who possessed and killed his daughter. Reliably skeptical Dr. Megan Hunt (Dana Delany) isn't buying that story, but can they save the victim's sister from a similar fate without calling in an exorcist?
IDOL GOES LIVE: From Las Vegas, as Fox's American Idol (8/7c) expands to three nights of semi-finals this week, finally letting the audience vote for their favorites, narrowing the field from 20 to a Top 10 by the end of Thursday's show. The girls (the stronger group) perform first, the guys step up on Wednesday, but much of the attention is likely to focus as usual on the judges' chemistry, and now that it's live we'll see if Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey will ever look at or engage each other. How Randy Jackson, who serves as a wall between the divas, manages to make it through a session without donning a jacket against the chill is an ongoing mystery. Keith Urban, on the other hand, is breaking through as the panel's most eager and articulate judge, warmly supportive and appreciative and never losing his considerable cool.
THE TUESDAY GUIDE: Chris O'Donnell directs CBS' NCIS: LA (9/8c), which features Aunjanue Ellis as Sam's wife Michelle, who's forced to adopt her former CIA cover. ... Olympic gold medalist Missy Franklin meets Emily on ABC Family's Pretty Little Liars (9/8c), but where's Spencer disappeared to? ... Sean Hayes and Hairspray's Nikki Blonsky guest on NBC's Smash (10/9), where the main event is the first reading of Jimmy and Kyle's musical "Hit List" - which, sadly, doesn't sound like something Smash is qualified to be on this season. ... From the reality aisle: Avatar producer Jon Landau is guest judge for Syfy's terrific Face Off (9/8c), presiding over a double elimination in which the contestants create bioluminescent creatures with two layers of paint, one of which can only be seen with a black light. ... CNBC enters the reality game with two new series: Treasure Detectives (9/8c), where a team led by art expert Curtis Dowling analyzes antiques and collectibles to gauge their authenticity or lack thereof; and The Car Chasers (10/9c), about two buds who buy and sell classic cars, hoping for a profit. ... VH1 counts down 100 Sexiest Artists (9/8c) in nightly specials through Friday, ranking the hottest music acts. We're betting TV Guide Magazine's "Hot List" cover guy Adam Levine will fare very well.
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