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Picks and Pans Main: TV

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The New Normal

NBC, Sept. 11, 9:30 p.m. ET/PT |


Ryan Murphy’s talents as a creator/producer of hour-long series are considerable and instantly recognizable-he’s a pop brand. From Glee to American Horror Story, he knows how to goose a story: The color, pace and performances are vibrant, often crazily so. Apply all of this to a 20-minute sitcom pilot and you get an overexcited puppy that, one hopes, will grow up into a delightful, well-trained dog (like the one pictured above). I don’t mean the show is a dog, only that it’s pretty good and has real potential. An affluent L.A. gay couple (Justin Bartha and Andrew Rannells) want to father a baby by surrogate. Their ultimate choice, named Goldie (Georgia King), is still living out in the Midwest. She already has a young daughter, as well as a mother who’s one tough cookie and (because she’s played by Ellen Barkin) a knockout. Uniting these characters requires a lot of furniture moving, and the dialogue is often too strident, emphatic and broad. What matters is that an essential silly sweetness smiles through, particularly thanks to King and Rannells, both as pleasantly soft as marshmallows. You won’t ever get that from the formidable Barkin: When she’s on-camera, everyone falls away like the Red Sea before Moses.


PBS, check local listings |


When last we saw Kenneth Branagh, he was proudly striding around London’s Olympic Stadium in a top hat, watching smokestacks rise into the sky. I prefer him as Masterpiece Mysteries’ Kurt Wallander, the rumpled, sad Swedish detective. These three cases find Wallander unable to live contentedly in his new country house, as death keeps turning up, often literally, on his doorstep. (There’s one gorgeous moment with swans. Then someone sets them on fire.) Branagh is very fine as Wallander: The man would sink into despair over the world’s evils if he didn’t have the wits to combat them.


BBC America, Sundays, 10 p.m. ET/PT |


BBC America’s first original scripted series-a disappointment-is Law & Order in the age of Gangs of New York. It’s 1864, and Irish immigrant cop Kevin Corcoran (Tom Weston-Jones) and partner Francis Maguire (Kevin Ryan) work the neighborhood of Five Points, a place of filth and gloom. If only everyone knew The Lion King would open in 133 years! The first episodes saw “Corky” venture into the homes of the wealthy on the trail of a pedophile, yet no matter where he goes, Copper lacks the brains or kick to lift it above being a period piece. It’s listless. A New York minute must have come later.


NBC, Mondays, 10 p.m. ET/PT |


Like ABC’s Once Upon a Time, Grimm, which just launched season 2, is an example of how untethered fantasy can be successfully mixed in with TV’s duller clay. Detective Nick Burkhardt (David Giuntoli) is also a Grimm, a human with the ability to perceive (and duty to destroy) fairy-tale beasts. They wander around in human disguise, much like space aliens or communists in the 1950s. The fairy-tale borrowings are clever-Nick’s girlfriend, put in a coma by a hexed cat and awoken by a sinister sort of prince, served as Sleeping Beauty-and the overall mythology is sprouting nicely thorny tendrils.