'Masterpiece' Loosens the Corset
If you're tired of those silly women on Wisteria Lane, can't stomach the creepy goings on in Bon Temps, don't like football, and have had it with solving crimes or animated dads on Sunday night, PBS is launching a new addition to its Masterpiece Theatre franchise, one that's well worth checking out. Hosted by British actor Matthew Goode (Brideshead Revisited), Masterpiece Contemporary premieres this Sunday with the five-part thriller, The Last Enemy. It will make you forget what else is on, as it sucks you into a world in the not-so-distant future, where anyone can be tracked down and monitored through a national ID system and a network of cameras with lightning-fast speed. Of course, the idea is to protect the innocent and keep those with nefarious goals under scrutiny. "The innocent have nothing to hide," series creator Peter Berry (Prime Suspect 6: The Last Witness) posits in press materials. But what happens when "the innocent have to prove they are, in fact, innocent?" Or when "ordinary citizens become the enemy?"
The series centers on Stephen Ezard (Benedict Cumberbatch), a brilliant mathematician who is summoned to London for his activist brother's funeral. Totally immersed in his work for four years, Stephen has lost touch with his brother and how the city has evolved in his absence. So when he returns to the apartment he kept in London, he's deeply disturbed to find there a dying woman being nursed by his brother's widow, a doctor named Yasim (Anamaria Marinca). Things get more distressing when he's made an offer he can't refuse to continue his research – if only he will be a public advocate for a new surveillance system called Total Information Awareness. In the meantime, an enigmatic government agent has gone rogue and has Ezard in his sights for his own personal needs.
The Last Enemy has the excitement of 24 with down-to-earth performances. A love story is a clunky addition to the mix, and only in the last episode does it make dramatic sense. But even this is easily forgiven once the series careens to its hair-raising conclusion.
The Last Enemy airs Sundays at 8pm on PBS through Nov. 2.
Many new series have already hit the airwaves. Here's a gunshot view of what's new and what's worth watching:
True Blood (HBO): Sexual energy and the dangerously erotic have long been staples of the vampire myth, but in this Southern Gothic spin from Alan Ball (Six Feet Under), the sexuality leans heavily toward the sleazy. I want to like Anna Paquin as Sookie, the "just a waitress" protagonist who, in this rendition of the TV vampire series, has a low-wattage super power in her ability to hear what people are thinking, but her wide-eyed innocence is a touch too precious. The subplot of the vampires coming out in the open and seeking their rights is interesting, but with bodies dropping all over town, the series has turned into a murder-mystery that happens to have vampires attached. The verdict: still watching. Airs Sundays at 8pm.
Fringe (Fox): This X-Files wannabe from J.J. Abrams and company had a stylish season opener. Now it's down to business as another police procedural with a paranormal twist. John Noble steals the show as the mad scientist, Dr. Walter Bishop. How he manages to be sad, kooky, and a little creepy all at once is fascinating. And I'm always happy to see The Wire's Lance Reddick, here as a Homeland Security agent who seeks to find out what unexplained phenomena known as the pattern all add up to – catastrophe or merely an enormous pain in the backside? The verdict: still watching. Airs Tuesdays at 8pm.
Gary Unmarried (CBS): Jay Mohr stars as recently divorced Gary Brooks, trying to navigate single life (i.e., getting some) while still dealing with his ex-wife and their preteen kids. Full of gotcha zingers, which the network apparently thinks are the heart and soul of comedy, as they've devoted a whole page of the series' website to them. The verdict: One episode was more than enough. Airs Wednesdays at 7:30pm.
Worst Week (CBS): Kyle Bornheimer stars as a young fiancé who can't help doing or saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. Kind of like a younger, more frenetic Larry David (Curb Your Enthusiasm), only a lot cuddlier. The verdict: might watch again. Airs Mondays at 7:30pm.
The Mentalist (CBS): Simon Baker's charm is wasted in this new procedural featuring another quirky character who can solve crimes. The verdict: I like Baker, but I think I've seen enough. Airs Tuesdays at 8pm.
As always, stay tuned.
E-mail Belinda Acosta at firstname.lastname@example.org.