Screen Savor: Quick Hits

I was talking to my sister last night about how solid
CSI has been despite its cast turnover. New blood is necessary to the survival of most long-running series — If it works for Law and Order, why not CBS's crime procedurals? — and you can mark me down as happy that Gil Grissom & Sara Sidle reunited, much as I'll miss both of them.

Lauren Lee Smith had been back-burned for a spell until her strong turn in last Thursday's hostage situation, but the low-key cheekiness in her early episodes was compelling. Just as much so is Lawrence Fishburne's portrayal of a smart, capable man making a career change to the forensics lab, where despite his wealth of medical and academic experience he's an eager student. And we've seen some interesting narrative twists that operate as more than simple gimmicks, keeping this a show a favorite of mine.

Reaper is a fun diversion (with an ugly logo) that may get a longer review soon. Bret Harrison plays Sam, a slacker who learns at 21 that his parents sold his soul to Satan — who might even be his real father. He's promptly drafted into hunting down escaped demons and sending them back to Hell with help from his buds and fellow big-box employees Sock and Ben. It's no Buffy or even Supernatural, and it doesn't always live up to its premise. But it's trying to build a mythology, and Ray Wise as the Devil is pitch-perfect delivering lines like this one from the recent Season Two premiere, as Sam tries to summon him: "I just wanted to tell you that your pentagram is actually a Star of David. Mazel tov!" You had to be there, perhaps. The show airs at 8 p.m. Tuesdays on the tee-vee, with back episodes online here.

As the laid-back protagonists of Reaper toil away at the fictional Work Bench, which sells whatever the plot demands but mostly looks like a Lowe's or Home Depot, the title character of NBC's Chuck is part of the Nerd Herd at the Best Buy proxy Buy More.

Zachary Levi plays a poor guy who inadvertently downloaded a supercomputer's worth of government intelligence into his brain and periodically "flashes" on places and things that provide the springboards for each week's adventure. Yvonne Strahovski and Adam Baldwin are the undercover agents for the CIA and NSA charged with protecting him, posing as his girlfriend and neighbor. Chuck's a fine show on the whole, from the theme music (a slice of Cake's "Short Skirt/Long Jacket") to the generally seamless blend of humor, romance, and action... when it focuses on the field missions. I've actually started to fast-forward through the B-story antics at Buy More, which, trust me, is saying something. It certainly merits another season more than the floundering Heroes, which follows it on Monday nights, and prime-time real estate on NBC is scarcer with Jay Leno scheduled at 10 p.m. five nights a week.

I'm sorry to hear that
Life on Mars won't be returning next season, but at least it wasn't canceled and yanked immediately. ABC was apparently mindful of how viewers complained when Eli Stone and Pushing Daisies weren't allowed to wrap up their high-concept storylines satisfactorily. The network gave Mars producers a long enough lead time to reveal by season's end just how police detective Sam Tyler ended up in 1973 after being struck by a car in 2008.

We knew how the BBC series on which it's based turned out even before this incarnation hit the air, but an exec producer recently told TV Guide that the Stateside version won't lead to the same conclusion; it looks like the explanation will involve actual time-traveling. I don't think the show could've run indefinitely, but it's good enough that I'd have liked to see pieces of the puzzle revealed more gradually than will now be case, and I'll miss Jason O'Mara's chemistry with Gretchen Mol.

Two episodes into the long-awaited second season of AMC's
Breaking Bad, which airs at 10 p.m Sundays and repeats throughout the week, I'm convinced that the movie channel should stick with alliterative series. It's already brought us two rounds of the stellar Mad Men, and you don't fix what ain't broke; maybe they should rename their upcoming version of The Prisoner since remaking it is heretical to many already.

Bryan Cranston deservedly won an Emmy last year for his turn as Bad's Walter White, a 50ish high-school chemistry teacher with inoperable cancer who — unbeknownst to his pregnant wife, teenaged son, and DEA-agent brother-in-law — has partnered with a former student to cook up meth for sale on the street in hopes of leaving his family a comfortable nest egg. Cranston directed the excellent season opener, available here or via On Demand, and tonight's episode was just as good; both feature mesmerizing turns by Raymond Cruz as drug lord Tuco. I won't pretend that the show isn't brutal in its depictions of violence or the downward spiral in which Walt finds himself, but it's damn good television.

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