October 6, 2008

New Series Are All About Time

By Frazier Moore

As you sample the new TV series arriving in the next week, you might find that no matter how widely they vary otherwise, they share a common link: All of them are playing with time.

"Valentine," a romantic fantasy on CW, plucks Aphrodite, goddess of love, from ancient mythology and establishes her in the modern Hollywood Hills to help make love bloom between predestined partners. Assisting her (here known as Grace Valentine) are her son Danny (aka Eros), Leo (aka Hercules) and Phoebe, who deals with the Oracle not in Delphi but swirling in a pool at their mansion.

But all is not well with their mission.

"The world has been changing around us year after year," Grace worries, "yet we stay the same."

They need to add the human touch, so Grace enlists a mortal L.A. woman -- a romance novelist.

Premiering at 8 p.m. today, "Valentine" is "Love Boat" by way of "Pushing Daisies," silly but engaging, with Grace played by British enchantress Jaime Murray (a sensation last season on "Dexter"). All this is reason enough to check it out, though -- truth be told -- the rest of the cast is pretty second-rate. Too bad. On a TV series, love isn't all you need.

Acting chops aren't a problem for the odd but oddly endearing CW drama at 9 p.m. Sunday. "Easy Money" has a solid ensemble headed up by Laurie Metcalf ("Desperate Housewives,""Roseanne") as Bobette Buffkin, the tough matriarch of the family-owned Prestige Payday Loans.

Loan sharks?!

"We help people," Bobette argues with sugary persuasiveness. "People that the banks don't think are good enough, they come to us in their hours of need and we help them."

This is a show where time is at a premium, with the interest rate something like 25 percent a week.

Extortion? "What are charge cards up to now?" counters Bobette.

Of course, MasterCard wouldn't rely on physical abuse as a collection technique, which is one reason that Morgan, Bobette's favored son, is thinking he doesn't belong in this profession. Still, the pull of family, even a family where he somehow senses he's a misfit, can be hard to escape. No wonder Morgan feels time weighing on him.

Time is an even more explicit element in ABC's mystical cop show, "Life on Mars," premiering at 10 p.m. Thursday. An NYPD detective is hurled back to circa-1973 Manhattan, where -- along with trying to figure how he got there and how to return to 2008 -- he must try to save his girlfriend's life 35 years in advance.

Based on the BBC hit, "Life on Mars" has a fascinating two- pronged premise: old-school cop procedural and cosmic mystery. Its strong cast includes Jason O'Mara as the man from the "future," and Michael Imperioli, Gretchen Mol and Harvey Keitel as squad members of the 125th Precinct back when Richard Nixon was president and a cell was just something scientists study under microscopes.

Also premiering at 10 p.m. Thursday -- and also based on a British TV show -- CBS' "Eleventh Hour" actually puts time in the title. Except it's figurative (and cliche): Biophysicist brainiac Dr. Jacob Hood gets called in at the eleventh hour as the last line of defense against scientifically based crimes that threaten society. (In the premiere, young boys in a Southern town are dropping dead from heart attacks.)

With his piercing eyes and breathy delivery, Rufus Sewell plays Dr. Hood as TV's sexiest nerd. He seems to know everything and never falters at each problem-solving step.

"Rachel? I'm gonna need some buff-tail bumblebees," he says matter-of-factly.

Rachel is FBI Special Agent Rachel Young, who's assigned to keep Hood safe. As she puts it, he's "a high-priority asset." Rachel (co- star Marley Shelton) is a knockout, of course. That's one of the job requirements for a TV crime procedural.

In short, "Eleventh Hour" is a formulaic mix of murder, mayhem and "Bill Nye the Science Guy." You've seen it a thousand times. If you're ready for 1,001, this is your show.

Somewhere at the other end of the IQ scale from Dr. Hood, look for the mother-and-daughter team on "Kath & Kim." They, as Kim would put it, "aren't exactly rocket surgeons."

In this NBC comedy, which premieres 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Molly Shannon plays tacky suburbanite Kath, whose life-begins-at-40 plans are dashed when Kim moves back home after six weeks of marriage.

"I'm a trophy wife," Kim pouts. "I didn't sign up for cooking dinner, or being interested in how anyone's day was."

Kim (masterfully embodied by Selma Blair) is spoiled, petulant and manipulative. Kath is desperately cheery and overeager. They're diametric opposites who, nonetheless, share a riotous fashion sense and a fascination with celebs like Britney Spears. They're best friends stuck together in a time warp of arrested adolescence. They're happy there. And very funny.

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