Four new scripted shows debut tonight: two dramas on USA (“Rush” at 9, “Satisfaction” at 10), two comedies on FX (“Married” at 10, “You're the Worst” at 10:30). I loved none of them, but found enough interesting ideas, and enough overlap between several of them, to consider some kind of combined review.
I could, for instance, have doubled up “Rush” and “Satisfaction” and mused for a bit about the state of the USA brand as it moves further away from the “blue skies” formula of “Burn Notice” and other shows, and how “Rush” feels like an attempt to do a darker version of one of those blue skies shows (it's “Royal Pains” meets “Ray Donovan”), while “Satisfaction” is a wild swing in a completely different direction.
Or I could have written about the very different approaches that “Satisfaction” and “Married” take to the idea of marriages curdling from over-familiarity and a lack of sex. Or I could have noted how both “Rush” and “You're the Worst” tell tales of awful human beings slowly realizing that they have to be better than they are.
Ultimately, though, I felt none was good enough to dive that deeply into. Instead, here are some brief thoughts on each:
In “Rush,” British actor Tom Ellis is Dr. William P. Rush, renegade Los Angeles doctor who lives in a hotel and works out of his vintage Mercedes, providing house calls for anyone who needs discretion – and can pay Rush's exorbitant fees in cash. He has an assistant (Sarah Habel) who keeps his life in order and tries to act as his conscience, an ex-girlfriend (Odette Annable) who reminds him of the many mistakes he's made in his life, and a straight-laced best friend (Larenz Tate) who works at a nearby ER and reluctantly helps Rush as needed.
It is, like I said, USA taking a concept it already did (and a show that is still on the air) and making it much darker to suit the network's new direction. It's as deeply cynical as its doctor anti-hero, but like Rush, it's aware of the path it's on and doesn't have the pretensions of being something it's not. (Whereas “Ray Donovan” desperately wants to be something deeper and more complex than it actually is.) And Ellis pulls off the tricky feat of being charming enough while playing a self-interested jerk – a trap that has ensnared many a TV actor over the years (including another one we'll get to in a few paragraphs). Of these four shows, it has the clearest sense of what it is and what it's good at, even if it's not one I imagine I'll watch frequently.
“Satisfaction,” on the other hand, barely even feels like a TV show. Matt Passmore from “The Glades” plays Neil Truman, wealthy, handsome investment advisor, husband to Grace (Stephanie Szostak) and proud father of Anika (Michelle DeShon). He has the American dream, but is completely miserable with it, realizing that he hates his job, feels barely connected to his wife and daughter, and can't figure out a path to true happiness. Then through a convoluted series of events, he finds himself starting up a second career as a male escort, turning “Satisfaction” into a strange remake of “Hung” where the economic imperative for becoming a prostitute is replaced by existential ennui.
This is a long pilot (with commercials, it'll run from 10 to 11:23 p.m.), and you will feel every minute of it ticking slowly by. Passmore's too bland to pull off the many dynamic emotional shifts Neil goes through, and the whole thing feels shapeless, providing little idea of how the series functions going forward. Say what you want about the formulaic nature of most of USA's other shows, but they make clear up front what you'll be getting and why you might want to stick around. “Satisfaction” feels like a misguided bid to get into the prestige drama business, only without a clear vision beyond the idea of doing away with the formula.
Oh, how I wanted to like “Married.” In Oscar Winner Nat Faxon and Judy Greer, it takes two actors who are often wasted playing the best friend and places them front and center as long-married couple Russ and Lina, and it surrounds them with additional funny supporting actors in Jenny Slate and Brett Gelman. But the whole thing is every bit as joyless, airless and uncomfortable as the marriage it's depicting – a show filled with miserable, unlikeable characters that doesn't provide them with writing remotely sharp enough to compensate. Greer in particular is asked to play such a shrill, sex-denying monster that it made me sad her career choices right now are apparently either supporting roles or something like this. The pilot is such an unpleasant disaster that FX might have been better off not airing it, not only because it will likely turn many people off, but because it could color opinions going forward; there are objective signs of improvement in the later episodes (I've seen 3 of the first 4), but not enough to overcome that horrible first impression.
“You're the Worst” also doesn't have jokes that are quite sharp enough to compensate for the awfulness of its main characters. At least here, though, the awfulness is the entire point.
Chris Geere and Aya Cash play Jimmy and Gretchen, two nasty people who meet not-so-cute at a wedding, where he's just been punched out by the groom after insulting the bride (his ex-girlfriend), while she's stolen a gift. They hook up, have a good night together – and the series features the most sexually explicit scenes (at great length) I've ever seen on basic cable – then begin pondering what it might be like if they tried to make it more than a one-nighter. After all, they wonder, if they go into things knowing that they're both horrible and don't want anything deeper than the promise of regular hook-ups, shouldn't that work out happily for all involved?
Instead, things get more complicated than that, and the notion of two superficial, emotionally stunted human beings struggling with the realization that they still have feelings is by far the most interesting premise of these four shows. But Cash is significantly more appealing than Geere (in fairness, her character is a bit less horrible than his), and the overall execution falls short of the idea.
But “You're the Worst” is the only one of these four I'm particularly interested in checking back in on, just to see if it can at some point live up to the promise of the basic concept. “Rush” is what it is, “Satisfaction” doesn't seem to be anything at all, and “Married” digs itself an incredibly deep hole with its debut episode. This one, at least, has the potential to be something more than it is at the moment.
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org