I want to try something different this week, and dedicate this column to a friend of mine. I've met strong women in my life, but she's the most resilient of them all, whether it's being a mom or moving her way up the ladder with her work.
I'm making this dedication for no particular reason except that I don't think I've ever explained to her how inspirational she is to me. Watching her navigate her daily stresses and struggles reminds me that I need to find some of that strength of character she's loaded with. So, with her in mind, I am going to a) keep trying to not curl into a throw pillow-sized ball whenever I hear the word "no" in any context whatsoever and b) offer up this look at some of the toughest and/or funniest females on TV this week.
I'm sure there are a few I missed while growing up, but my memory of watching TV as a kid was that there were very butt-kicking female heroes on TV. There were the occasional Girl From U*N*C*L*E, Police Woman or Christie Love. As a young and hormonal male, I loved watching these spies and cops and lawyers get tough and look good every week. Many Xena's and Dana Scully's later, though, television has adopted an Equal Rights Amendment of its own. Which brings us to the return of two very different types of female crime fighters.
The first is U.S. Marshall Mary Shannon (Mary McCormack), back for her final season on In Plain Sight. This has always been one of USA's most underrated series, maybe because it's a bit more procedural and by-the-book than its other cop and legal shows. And as it nears the end, it's working harder to get more personal with Marshall Mary. This season, in addition to cleaning up crime, she'll be cleaning up spittle from her newborn baby. The addition of a child could easily seem like a gimmick rather than a legit plot turn, but judging at least by this week's season premiere, there's a nice balance between Mary's life as a mom and her life tracking down bad guys out to kill witnesses to major crimes.
Mary is the one who comes across as one of the boys, all dry, witty comebacks and scowling swagger. Meanwhile, Fairly Legal's Kate Reed (Sarah Shahi) is a completely different kind of tough. She's a former attorney who used to work at her father's firm but opted to become a mediator instead, and is as high-strung and cooperative as Mary is bitter and distrustful. That makes the show lighter and less crime-and-punishment than Sight but Kate is equally entertaining and compelling in her own quirky, cute way. Not all strong women have to carry a gun. Some can just carry the sort of wit that can strike people down from a block away. It's an important weapon Kate and Mary can agree on (and, actually, the aforementioned friend).
GCB, ABC, Sundays, 10 p.m./9 p.m. CT
Trust me, I can be as snarky as anyone. There are times I've had people assume my major in college was Advanced Sarcasm. And wise-ass-ery is no stranger to network television, going back to the advent of Seinfeld and Friends. Getting used to this new nighttime soap - whose name is an abbreviation for "Good Christian (Rhymes With Riches)" - takes primetime put-downs to a whole new level. Not everyone's cup of bitters, yet if you like Desperate Housewives but wish they'd be just a little meaner, GCB is for you. It also helps if you went to Sunday School a lot as a kid, but only went because of the cute college guys/gals who taught the classes.
Here's the story. A Malibu mom (Leslie Bibb) whose husband went Bernie Madoff behind her back and died while running off with his mistress is left penniless. So, to toughen up and get her life and those of her kids back on, she does what any similar TV character would do - she moves home to Dallas to live with the mom (Annie Potts) she never got along with. Thus, must now confront the women she was nasty to in high school and who have become equally nasty themselves in their (slightly) older age.
Think a grown-up Mean Girls, and you get the idea. All the soapy details you expect are here, from cheating spouses to plastic people, so GCB is fun from that standpoint. It'd just be nice if the show didn't make all its religious characters out to be self-involved dolts. Everybody deserves a little sarcasm every once and a while, but the targets seem awfully easy.
Smash, NBC, Mondays, 10 p.m./9 p.m. CT
I admit right up front that I do not have the musical gene. The few times I've been to watch one, I just kept wondering why people felt the need to burst into song every five minutes since that seldom happens in real life. Hence, I figured I was the least likely person to enjoy Smash, this Steven Spielberg-produced series about the making of a Broadway musical. And yet....I've slowly and surely been sucked into its world.
It's not because of the central story - two tough young actresses (Megan Hilty, Katharine McPhee) battling each other and their demons to win the starring role in a show about Marilyn Monroe. Rather, there's something about all the other characters' cheating and scheming and relationships that are as dishy as what goes in GCB but with a veneer of Upper East Side Manhattan slickness that turn Smash into one of TV's upper-classiest soap operas. It's almost enough to make me learn a showtune other than studying up for my daughter's starring role at school in Guys and Dolls this year. That counts, right?
Cougar Town, ABC, Tuesdays, 8:30 p.m./7:30 p.m. CT
I look at this more like a public service announcement than a TV review. One of TV's funniest shows will be going away without your help. So won't you give your time to help Cougar Town stay on the air? This Courteney Cox vehicle is finally back for a third season but judging by how the ratings have been, it's not long for this world. Too bad because any series that can have a man say, "As soon as you give your heart to someone, they just pull away. It's like I've learned nothing from Katherine Heigl movies" is well worth keeping on the air.
I know I've said this before but considering the dire circumstances for the show, it's worth saying again. Cougar Town may have started out as a show about a 40something divorced mom coming to terms with her newfound singleness, but it's evolved into an ensemble comedy that not only makes you laugh week after week. It also makes you extremely jealous because the show's central group of friends is exactly what you wish you had in your life. They all pick on each other with frightening regularity (as well as frightening wit). They all truly do care about each other. And they all seem to have endless supplies or really good red wine in their homes.
Breaking In, Fox, Tuesdays, 9:30 p.m./8:30 p.m. CT
So it appears that strong women have some pull when it comes to TV comedies. When this show premiered last year, it was riding on the strength of its star, Christian Slater. He was trying network comedy for the first time, playing the head of a questionable high-tech security firm. It was a decent enough series, but one that went nowhere with viewers and was as good as gone. And then, it was resurrected thanks to one of television's funniest women, Megan Mullally.
The former Will & Grace star signed on to play Slater's new boss, someone who is either incredibly shrewd or incredibly incompetent (it's quite a skill to live your life so nobody can tell the difference). And her presence has given the show some comedic life it would not otherwise have had. Mulllally breeze through her scenes with such an odd yet irresistible flair that this seems like a completely different series now. I know it's not always easy for women to take over for men in the workplace but in this case, it's working out just fine.