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Arts & Culture

Fall TV: Good News, Bad News

Julianna Margulies backs up Chris Noth in CBS's "The Good Wife," airing Tuesdays.
Julianna Margulies backs up Chris Noth in CBS's "The Good Wife," airing Tuesdays.

Some disclosure here: I generally don’t sit still for sitcoms, reality shows, vampires and bad writing; I have reached my limit for police procedurals and Jerry Bruckheimer; and I hate being grossed out. So what have I got to look forward to this fall on commercial network television? Well, there are one or two things out there, but none promises to be an unalloyed pleasure.

Take the new NBC series "Trauma" (Mondays). "Trauma" is a perfect example of the condition of primetime drama on commercial television. It's about a group of EMTs in San Francisco, a city dubbed “Bagdad (sic) by the Bay” decades ago by a rhapsodizing newspaper columnist. The producers of “Trauma” make it literal and current, as stuff blows up all the time. I would probably pass it by, but the series comes from the producers of "Friday Night Lights," a much-acclaimed and very real family drama. Plus, at least three of the stars are pretty interesting. The first is Derek Luke. I loved Luke’s performance in "Antwone Fisher," Denzel Washington’s gut-wrenching film about a young navy seaman’s search for his family. Luke was a thing of beauty: enraged, restrained and, finally, incredibly poignant. "Trauma" also stars Cliff Curtis as a helicopter pilot with a dangerously underdeveloped instinct for self-preservation. Curtis, a New Zealand native of Maori descent, has played Arabs, LA gang-bangers, Indians, and even the occasional Maori ("Whale Rider"). It’ll be a treat to see him in a staring role. And finally, there’s Jamey Sheridan, a fine actor, veteran of countless series, specials and films. "Trauma" publicity photos show him without the eye patch he wore for "Law and Order: Criminal Intent," so one hopes he is over his bout with Bell’s Palsy. Given its cast and pedigree, "Trauma" just may be worth watching.

"The Good Wife" (CBS Tuesday) is a better bet, both because of the premise and the cast. The starting point -- a politician caught in a call-girl scandal – is depressingly timely. But "The Good Wife" is really about what happens afterward when Alicia Florrick’s husband lands in prison and she has to go back to work. Juliana Margulies (nurse Carol Hathaway of "ER") is Alicia, and Chris Noth plays the (ahem) Big, bad husband. Margulies has always seemed one of the most intelligent actresses around, and Noth can make a role his own without breaking a sweat. And there’s more good news: the wonderful Christine Baranski heads the prestigious law firm where Margulies goes back to work and where she also finds the talented Matt Czuchry, rich kid of "The Gilmore Girls." Best of all, Josh Charles, who has survived his emotional sessions "In Treatment" has gone into the law. So although it’s too bad that Alicia went to law school instead of cooking school (or any other school), it’s mostly good news for "The Good Wife."


Three other casting choices are worth mentioning here, although I doubt they will help their respective series much. I would have to be bribed into watching "Flash Forward" (ABC, Thursdays), a kind of sci-fi, conspiracy, armageddon-meets-"24" series. But – a big but -- it has cast Joseph Fiennes as its star. Joseph Fiennes, people! "Shakespeare in Love"! "Elizabeth"! Ralph’s brother! If I can bring myself to tune-in, there’s also Courtney B. Vance, refugee from "Law and Order: Criminal Intent" and absolute master of smoldering bemusement and quiet threats. And finally, the "NCIS" spin-off (CBS Tuesdays) features Linda Hunt. I might watch it just to see her serious little face and hear her fabulous voice, if it weren’t for the violence, body parts and gruesome, decomposing bodies, not to mention the absurd, cutting-edge technology they want us to believe the Navy can afford.

Like I said: good news, bad news.

Next time, something completely different: "Glee" on Fox!