Idyllic small town life masking a dark secret has been the jumping off point of American fiction ranging from gothic horror (The Lottery) to melodramatic scandal (Peyton Place) to paranoid science fiction (Invasion of the Body Snatchers).   This theme has also been no stranger to television, as depicted in series like Picket Fences and made for TV movies like Doing Time On Maple Drive.  The current TV season offers two looks beneath the placid surface to reveal the rotten core waiting to jump out.

Gracepoint, The Affair

Based on the highly successful BBC series Broadchurch, Fox’s Gracepoint offers a look at a small seaside town rocked to its foundation by the murder of a local child.  A pair of at-odds police detectives (Breaking Bad’s Anna Gunn and David Tennant, reprising his role from the British series) thus set out to determine who could have done such a thing, and discover the myriad of very unpleasant secrets and scandals lurking in the shadows with the many suspects.

To further its Gracepoint successfully uses the Agatha Christie And Then There Were None format of narrowing the potential field one at a time.  But it is ultimately the secrets we discover which are not germane to the killing that fuel the story.  The murdered boy’s father (Michael Pena) was having an affair; a local boy’s club leader (Nick Nolte) is a convicted felon who did jail time.

Gracepoint, David Tennant, Nick Nolte

Everybody’s hiding something: Tennant and Nolte

This was done to absolute perfection in the British series, and I certainly have no complaints about the American version’s casting.  This is an outstanding group of actors telling a compelling story.  My biggest problem is that there is very little variation from the original series which, unlike the majority of viewers, I already saw.  Don’t let that stop you from enjoying the mystery, however.

For a more personal view of the crumbling state of morality, Showtime’s The Affair gives us a he-said, she-said account of a mismatched pair of lovers (Dominic West, Ruth Wilson) during a summer in the Hamptons.

The show’s unique bifurcated storytelling style is conducive to picking at the edges of how perspective colors reality.  West has made a career of playing not-such-nice guys, and is perfect here as a disaffected school teacher fighting male menopause and becoming infatuated with Wilson’s damaged waitress looking to feel anything again.  The show also marks the welcome return to series television of Maura Tierney, as West’s as-yet-unsuspecting wife.

The Affair, Dominic West, Ruth Wilson, Maura Tierney

First meeting: West, Wilson, Tierney

The Affair colors its story ominous by periodically reminding us that we’re watching recollections being elicited by a homicide investigator, although we have no idea, as yet, who died.   This same device has worked well for How To Get Away With Murder, although the tone is here is more muted and foreboding.

The McCarthys

If you’d rather ignore subtlety altogether, you could try The McCarthys, a bad idea of a family sitcom that’s about 5-7 years out of date but which will certainly delight anyone who thought the funniest part of Seth MacFarlane’s Ted was the incessant Boston accents.

The McCarthys is a stereotypical Irish family from Boston who discover that their black sheep son (Tyler Ritter) is gay.  Seemingly endless supply of cliched gay jokes ensues.  The gay guy doesn’t like sports (or even know the basic terminology).  Har har har.  The straight family has no trace of culture or artistic appreciation.  Ha ha ha, please stop.  No. Really.  Stop it now.  How did they get Laurie Metcalf to sign on to this shitfest?  Does she have a gambling problem or something?

The McCarthys

It’s the bad taste of 2008 that you can still enjoy today!

I figure this show has less than a month’s run time before cancellation and its a good thing.  I hear CBS has a new workplace sitcom they want to air about a place in Boston that hires a black guy.  He has nothing in common with the Irish guys who work there.  It’s hilarious!

Quick Takes

Note to every single celebrity on television.  Drawling “alright alright alright” does NOT mean you do an impression of Matthew McConaughey.  Just like me saying “Fuck You” does not mean I do an impression of Denis Leary.  OK?

Educational TV.  Things we learned from watching TV this week: 1)  You can’t just fake being in a coma to get out of things you don’t want to do (Getting On); 2) Grumpy Cat will not do litterbox humor (Jimmy Kimmel Live); 3) If your hands aren’t dirty, it means you aren’t helping (Real Time With Bill Maher).

Add one more show to the cancellation list:  CBS attempt to reinvigorate The Millers by adding Sean Hayes didn’t save the show.  Although this series was genuinely funny, it also had a lot of squirmy, uncomfortable moments and quite a few unlikeable characters.  In the end, it was funny, but it wasn’t that funny.

Looking Ahead

The series premiere of State of Affairs airs on NBC on November 17.

The midseason finales of Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and How To Get Away With Murder air on ABC on November 20.  In a related story, Shonda Rhimes has plane tickets to Hawaii on November 21.

The midseason finale of Parenthood airs on November 20 on NBC.

Guest star alert:  Carol Burnett appears on Hawaii Five O on November 21 on CBS.


TV’s a big place and I haven’t been to all of it yet.  Got a favorite show you’d like me to comment on?  Post a comment below, contact me on twitter @RobLazlo. or shoot me an
email:  I welcome your input!
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