Painful viewing: When good TV shows take a wrong turn

Tampa Bay TimesNovember 29, 2012 

The Good Wife

Marc Warren is Nick, Kalinda's manipulative and dangerous estranged husband on The Good Wife. Somebody please snuff him.


About this time every year, my email in-box begins to fill with messages from TV fans, ready to give up on their favorite show because it has taken a turn for the absurd.

My counsel is free and easy to digest: It's near the midpoint of the season's start for most scripted TV shows. It's about time for some dud episodes.

Just do the math. Network TV series crank out 22 to 25 episodes in a year, cable series are closer to 13. As the season winds out, there are bound to be some episodes that feel like the plot is running in place, storylines that didn't quite work or characters who grate a little.

Still, even with that understanding, it's obvious that some of TV's most acclaimed shows have hit rough patches this season.

With an eye toward easing your pain with a little communal complaining — and the distant hope that a producer or TV executive somewhere might actually be paying attention — here's my list of the Worst Mistakes Currently Airing on the Best TV Shows.

Kalinda's creepy ex-husband on The Good Wife: Job one for a popular, critically-lauded TV show is simple: Don't mess up what's working. That's why it is so heartbreaking to see the typically ace writers on CBS's drama The Good Wife stumble so badly in creating Nick, a dangerous criminal/mooning ex-husband to Archie Panjabi's ethical and sexually ambiguous investigator Kalinda Sharma.

When he was a menacing voice on the telephone, Nick was an intriguing thought: Who could scare a woman as tough as Kalinda into nearly skipping town? But State of Play alum Marc Warren's vibe is more skeevy English street urchin than powerful criminal mastermind (my dream casting would have been Luther star Idris Elba as Nick), and he has zero chemistry with Panjabi.

At least, producers have promised they will shorten his storyline; time for an unfortunate car accident or immigration snafu to whisk Nick away before the damage is permanent.

Dexter's revelation as a secret serial killer to his sister on Dexter: I know this is something that already has happened in the novels that inspired the show. But this season's revelation to by-the-book homicide lieutenant Debra Morgan (Jennifer Carpenter) that her beloved brother Dexter is a serial killer of murderers hiding in plain sight as a police forensic technician is a final straw.

Star Michael C. Hall's real triumph was always making us believe the show's outrageous plotlines; from the long-lost brother who was also a killer to the rape victim he befriended and helped to dispatch her assailants. But watching Debra break rules and lie to co-workers to shield Dexter feels hollow and ill-prepared.

I wish producers had spent less time on the idea that she might have sexual feelings for her adoptive brother (a plotline made creepier by the fact that Carpenter and Hall were briefly married in real life) and more on developing a better explanation for Debra's willingness to turn from law enforcer to crime enabler.

TV's continued misrepresentation of middle-age women: Writer Carina Chocano broke it down mightily in The New York Times last week: Crunch U.S. Census figures for 2010 and you find females aged 10 to 39 are just under 40 percent of all women, and women older than 40 are nearly half of all women. But, as Chocano notes, quoting the documentary Miss Representation, females from pre-teen age to their 30s fill 71 percent of all TV roles, but women older than 40 are just 26 percent of females on TV. Which turns middle-age women mostly invisible, appearing on TV half as often as they do in life.

Beyond that imbalance, Chocano wrote, TV often shows women acting hysterically about their age, casting Mindy Kaling as a 31-year-old woman freaking out about her age in front of a 38-year-old guy (ex-Office co-star Ed Helms) who doesn't have a care on Fox's The Mindy Project. (On Homeland, 41-year-old male star Damian Lewis is eight years older than both his love interest/co-stars, Claire Danes and Morena Baccarin. On Dexter, 41-year-old star Hall is also eight years older than his sister/love interest Carpenter.)

All the good TV roles for women older than 40 shouldn't go to Connie Britton and Julianna Margulies; time to diversify the characters and their approach to aging.

Scheduling Last Resort at 8 p.m. Thursdays and Kelsey Grammer's Boss on Starz: This is personal. Two shows I wanted to see more of were canceled last week, in part because they aired when (and where) their natural fans might not see them.

Last Resort, a submarine-based drama starring Andre Braugher, aired at 8 p.m. Thursdays on ABC, a network known these days for female-skewing hits such as Grey's Anatomy and Revenge. Leading off the night with a show aimed away from ABC's target audience was just too high a hurdle.

Grammer's Boss had a simpler problem: It aired on a pay cable network no one is watching. The salty, complex tale of a Chicago mayor with a degenerative neurological disorder should have been on HBO or Showtime; Starz just couldn't get enough people in front of the TV.

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