TV Highlights, January 20-27: Numbers Doesn't Add Up

Isthmus | January 12, 2005
(Times are Central Standard.)

Angling for the title of "The Rotting Corpse Network," CBS debuts a series that rivals its "CSI" franchise for grotesquerie. "Numbers" (Friday, January 21, 9 p.m.) begins as the FBI searches for an L.A. serial killer--a search that involves way too many loving close-ups of the victims.

As in "CSI," the lion's share of dialogue goes to the coroner. "He used something to cover her face, causing asphyxiation. The marks on her wrist are from thin-gauge rope. The severe abrasions occurred shortly before death." As if that weren't graphic enough for one evening, the lead FBI agent (Rob Morrow) asks survivors for details of the killer's methods. "I'm sorry we have to ask these questions," he gently tells one weeping woman.


The twist in "Numbers" is numbers. The agent recruits his mathematical-genius brother (David Krumholtz) to help solve crimes, meaning we get lots of frantically scribbled equations on a blackboard. Tonight, for example, it's 2b-1x+y=?

Well, I'm no mathematical genius, but I do happen to know what that equation adds up to, at least in terms of audience interest:


Jane Doe

Friday, January 21, 8 pm (Hallmark Channel)

Hallmark's new movie franchise stars Lea Thompson as a suburban mom who leads a double life solving crimes for the National Security Agency. The scenario's not as exciting as it sounds, mainly because Thompson is much more convincing as a suburban mom than she is as a crime-solver. (Her steely gaze has a habit of melting into a maternal grin.)

Jane Doe is chock-full of thriller signifiers--car chases, plane crashes, helicopter landings--but somehow it never feels thrilling, thanks to a snail-like pace that puts '70s TV movies to shame. It begins as the bad guys hijack a plane carrying invaluable Defense Department software. Back at headquarters, an NSA official shouts, "The pilot is unconscious!"

By that point, so was I.


Friday, January 21, 9 pm (USA)

"Monk" begins the second half of its season without Bitty Schram, who played the obsessive-compulsive detective's assistant, Sharona. Schram was reportedly axed after asking for more money, and you might expect the show to gloss over this kind of last-minute change. That's what most series do--think of "Bewitched," which offered no explanation when a new Darrin suddenly appeared next to Samantha.

But "Monk," bless its heart, obsesses on its casting problem. Monk himself obsesses on everything, and Sharona's disappearance is no different. The nutty detective spends tonight's episode bemoaning her loss and interviewing replacements, most of whom recoil from his eccentric behavior. Finally, he finds a widow who seems levelheaded enough to keep him grounded.

Though hopefully not grounded. Who wants a well-adjusted Monk?

Hollywood Celebrates Steve Martin: An American Cinemateque Tribute

Sunday, January 23, 9 pm (AMC)

Steve Martin has made a career of lampooning our culture for taking itself too seriously. Now, the culture takes too seriously with this lifetime-achievement ceremony. If Martin accepts his award with bowed head and humble words of thanks, I'll stuff my copy of Let's Get Small in the garbage disposal.

Dirty War

Monday, January 24, 8 pm (HBO)

Earlier in the month, FX destroyed the world via smallpox; now HBO destroys it via dirty bombs. The latest terrorist-attack TV movie shows London reeling after a dose of deadly radiation, complete with dialogue like, "I can't breathe! I can't breathe!"

Does anybody really want to watch this stuff? I mean, TV's the place we go to grim reality, not wallow in it. Can't HBO produce a movie about, like, friendly dragons? Or beautiful horses running in slow motion?

Digging for Truth

Monday, January 24, 8 pm (A&E)

This new series promises to get to the bottom of archeological mysteries. First up are Egyptian pyramids, which, it turns out, aren't really Egyptian at all. At least that's what we learn from a guy named John, who claims they were built by refugees from the lost city of Atlantis. "For John, an achievement this grand required a knowledge and expertise that only the ancient Atlanteans could have possessed," says the host, who's so busy prancing around in his fussy Indiana Jones getup that he forgets to question John's, um, "theory."

That's fine, I guess, but shouldn't the show's title be changed from "Digging for Truth" to "Digging for Complete Bullcrap"?


Tuesday, January 25, 9:30 pm (Comedy Central)

Comedy Central's new game show thinks up clever ways to distract its contestants. In this week's episode, they must answer questions while drinking hot sauce, while being tossed around by enormous wrestlers, and while being caressed by scantily clad Playmates.

The premise is just bizarre enough to work. It's fun to watch people so distracted that they can't think straight, as when a woman hoisted on a wrestler's shoulders is asked to name a Midwestern city. "Texas?" she blurts helplessly. Another guy, also trapped in the wrestler's grip, is asked to name a state that the Mississippi River flows through. His frantic guess, before being slammed to the mat, is "Colorado."

Now entertainment. Indeed, I was so pleasantly distracted by "Distraction" that I forgot to think of a snide joke to end this blurb with.

Queer Eye for the Straight Girl

Wednesday, January 26, 9 pm (Bravo)

This new series takes the "Queer Eye" concept into Jump the Shark territory. "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" was fresh, funny and fabulous. The spinoff, by contrast, is just forced. The new team of "Gal Pals," who spring into action to help women in need of a lifestyle makeover, are a pale imitation of the original Fab Five. Their jokes fall flat, their "naughtiness" feels fake and their chemistry is nonexistent.

I never thought that "Queer Eye," designed to spread the gospel of taste, would itself descend into tastelessness. Perhaps the series need a "Queer Eye for the Queer Eye"?


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