I should know more about Hunger Games than I actually do at this moment, especially given that a) every third story in the media lately seems to be about it and b) I've got a daughter in the fifth grade, prime Games territory. And yet, my definition of a hunger game is creating contests like Who'll Eat the Butter and Shredded Cheese On Hot Dog Bun Sandwiches when I forget to get to the grocery store. My only other knowledge is that the upcoming Hunger Games movie (based on a popular book series) is going to be so popular it'll make the Twilight series seem like one of those Ernest movies from the '80s.
It's highly unlikely I'll ever see this film - my hunch is they check ID at the door and anyone over 40 is banned - but I bring it up now for two reasons. First, I assume the mere mention of the phrase "hunger games" makes me seem hipper than I really am. And second, TV is "hungry" for hits since there have been precious few this season, so it's raised its....wait for it....wait for it..."game" this week by adding some new shows with familiar faces. (There you go, search engines! How ya like me now?)
Bent, NBC, Wednesdays, 9 p.m./8 p.m. CT
When it comes to television comedies, there are a few rules that are pretty much unbreakable. Next-door neighbors must be wacky. Best friends must be sassy (for women) and dopey/lusty (for men). Children of any age must speak as though they just spent a year editing the Harvard Lampoon. And, most importantly, opposites must always attract. The couple least likely to ever be together in the real world are the ones most likely to get together on a sit-com.
It's too soon to tell if the main characters in this new series about a single mom (Amanda Peet) who hires a studly slacker contractor (David Walton) to work on her kitchen will end up an item by, say, episode three. However, the groundwork is certainly laid for that in this week's premiere episode. Peet's character is well intentioned but relatively humorless, trying to start her new life and learn to understand her teen daughter all at the same time. Walton's character is the sort of dude who likes to surf, drink brews with his buds and bat his soft eyes at all nearby females in order to bed them.
There are a few tertiary characters who are entertaining, most notably Jeffrey Tambor as Walton's unemployed actor dad, but everything here is geared toward setting up the Moonlighting-style, anti-chemistry chemistry between the two leads. And to be fair, they both are awfully darn attractive and their flirty banter can be kind of amusing. It wouldn't be the worst thing in the world if the show shoved them together, once you give in to the cliché of it all. Still, seriously, if opposites really do attract, where is the funny, smart, attractive and generous woman who would then have to be out there waiting for me?
Missing, ABC, Thursdays, 8 p.m./7 p.m. CT
I have to be honest. Not once in the dozens of times I've seen all Jason Bourne movies have I ever said to myself, "These are pretty decent but what I'd really like to see is Matt Damon driving his kid to soccer practice in his mini-van before heading to the PTA meeting where he'll be taking the minutes." However, someone else apparently did say that because that's the easiest way to describe Missing.
In this new action series, Ashley Judd stars as Rebecca Winstone, the sort of content soccer mom you would ordinarily find jogging in the park or working at the local flower shop. But then, quicker than you say "Liam Neeson stars in Taken," her college-age son is kidnapped while attending school in Rome and Rebecca reverts to her secret days as a CIA spy to hunt for him throughout Europe. It may be a decade since she retired, following the mysterious death of her husband, but she clearly remembers how to punch out assassins, fire automatic weapons and break into impenetrable buildings. (I guess it's all right up there with bike riding on the list of things you never forget.)
Missing is clearly not aiming for the Antiques Roadshow crowd, so you can forgive the completely unbelievable nature of this premise. This is not a series about the subtle side of motherhood. It's a TV version of a big-screen blockbuster, with cars racing or bullets flying about every four minutes. And Judd does seem very comfortable in the role, keeping it from slipping into complete silliness and milking as many thrills as she can from this familiar set-up. You can actually start buying into the concept. Just don't watch when the commercials come on, though. Going from seeing soccer mom Judd literally kick butt to seeing an ad with a perky mom serving her family frozen waffles may well be the funniest thing I've observed on TV this year.
Touch, Fox, Thursdays, 9 p.m./8 p.m. CT
First, I commend this new Kiefer Sutherland series for keeping this week's trend of new one-word series' featuring major stars alive. And second, I commend it because at least judging by the pilot, it's one of the most complex yet rewarding shows that a network as attempted in years. (Oh Lost....I do miss you!) I shall now attempt to explain the premise but trust me, it's something you really have to see in order to understand it.
Sutherland plays widower Martin Bohm, a single dad who is as stressed out and insecure as the actor's most famous character, 24's Jack Bauer, was cool and unflappable. The source of Bohm's concerns? His 11-year-old son Jake (David Mazouz), who has never spoken a word but does things like climb dangerous cell phone towers at precisely the same time every day and scrawl entire pages full of seemingly random numbers. Dad thinks these are signs of a horrible illness. As it turns out, though, Jake is someone who uses numbers to predict the future.
I realize this description probably makes Touch seem like some sort of supernatural frightfest but in fact, it's pretty much the opposite. Which is what makes it so good. It takes an idea that seems surreal and makes it feel very normal, very real, very touching. The stories that link a down-on-his-luck lottery winner to a struggling young singer trying to make it in Ireland to a Middle Eastern kid caught up in a terrorist bomb plot are as intricately crafted as the cell phones Jake takes apart in order to highlight the clues that bring everyone together. I can't easily explain how Touch does what it does. All I can say is you feel better after watching the show do it.
Mad Men, AMC, Sundays, 9 p.m./8 p.m. CT
I admit that this series is certainly not new. It's actually entering its fifth season this week, but it's been off the air for nearly a year and a half so it kind of feels new. Which is enough reason to include it here. You can really never go wrong plugging a multiple Emmy-winning series that is as well crafted and high-minded as this one. You can like it because of the nostalgia that flows from its uncanny recreation of the early '60s. You can love it because this tale of tough, tight and ultimately very conflicted ad man Don Draper (Jon Hamm) and his agency is a perfect metaphor for how elusive and illusory the American Dream was and is. You can even fixate on it because of how damn good the entire cast looks in their period outfits.
However you get to Mad Men, just get there. The show continues to play out with the depth of the best novel you've ever read. I have no idea what will happen this season, since the plots are kept under Kremlin-like secrecy. But given that the never-impulsive Don proposed to his secretary at the end of last season, just as his ad agency was losing a major account, there is no shortage of loose ends available for tying when the series comes back Sunday. I realize that Mad Men plots tend to move along with the deliberate pace of a baseball game, which used to be frustrating until I realized that like a good ballgame, moving slowly just means there's just more to love and appreciate.