Sundays, we celebrate the invasion of British television.
Two of the night’s new shows existed abroad first.
Viva Laughlin, the musical story of a could-be casino mogul, is based on a similar miniseries from the BBC, Blackpool. (It was later renamed Viva Blackpool.) The Americanized version features more characters and a thicker plot—hey, they’d like this one to last longer than six episodes—but the same whodunit song-and-dance tricks.
Life Is Wild is based on the British show Wild at Heart. Both focus on the family of a veterinarian who relocates his family to South Africa. Of course, one family moved from Bristol, the other from New York.
Imports have worked before. The Fox ratings bonanza American Idol and NBC’s Emmy-nominated comedy The Office both started overseas.
But do you remember Coupling, another Americanized Brit-port?
CBS: Viva Laughlin, 8 p.m. Oct. 21; premieres Oct. 18
What: A would-be casino mogul gets a few lucky breaks in this musical-drama-murder mystery.
Who: Lloyd Owen, Hugh Jackman, Madchen Amick, Eric Winter, D.B. Woodside, Melanie Griffith.
Why: The British version of this show, Viva Blackpool, was quite a hit as a miniseries. Maybe the same magic will happen here, especially because it leads in to hits Cold Case and Shark.
How: Ripley Holden (Owen) has big dreams and a few investors, so he’s planning to open a casino. Assuming, that is, the investors don’t pull out and a rival casino owner doesn’t destroy him. The twist, of course, is that this is a musical. Every time a major character is introduced, a song pushes them through, whether it’s Viva Las Vegas or Sympathy for the Devil.
The show trudged along in its pilot, sometimes offering moments of glitz, glamour and energy, but faltering other times, trying to add characters and themes that just didn’t seem to fit. Owen is appropriately braggadocious as an upstart gambling man, and Jackman is a fantastic get—although he is the show’s executive producer—for his role as a sleazy casino owner. Are viewers ready for a prime-time musical that isn’t a tongue-in-cheek Scrubs version? Or is this just another Cop Rock? Here’s the test.
CW: Online Nation, 7:30 p.m., Sept. 23
What: Online video goes backward in time to TV.
Who: Stevie Ryan, Joy Leslie, Rhett McLaughlin, Link Neal.
Why: YouTube is a huge moneymaker using TV’s old bread and butter. Of course old media wants in on the action.
How: The show compiles the online clips that are making news on the Internet that week and plays them out on TV, “turning mouse potatoes into couch potatoes.” Internet personalities host the show, including Ryan, known as Little Loca to the YouTube community, and McLaughlin and Neal, the comedy duo of www.rhettandlink.com.
CW: Life Is Wild, 8 p.m., Oct. 7
What: A veterinarian moves his family to South Africa, much to the chagrin of his children and stepchildren.
Who: D.W. Moffett, Leah Pipes, Andrew St. John, Stephanie Niznik, Calvin Goldspink, Atandwa Kani.
Why: A similar British series, Wild at Heart, was a big hit; now, there’s a U.S. version.
How: Sick of New York and what it was doing to his family, Dr. Danny Clarke moved his family to South Africa. There, he could help treat an epidemic among animals, and his kids could learn more about their dead mother, who was born and raised there. Of course, he brought his new wife and her two children. The kids, the teens especially, are reeling from the social changes—life in an empty tourist lodge, school uniforms, feeding injured lions as part of their chores. The adults have their own struggles, such as bringing business back to the lodge where they live and keeping the family peaceful.
There’s an adolescent girly bent to the entire show, thanks to its narrator. Still, it seems like safe, interesting family viewing that doesn’t revolve around rich kids on a U.S. coast.
Desperate Housewives, 9 p.m.; premieres Sept. 30. ABC: The wives had quite a finale. Gabby entered a marriage with a career-obsessed politician, Mike and Susan wed secretly, Lynette accepted her loony mother into her home during her own lymphoma treatment, Bree showed up pregnant (but not really pregnant), and Edie and Carlos broke up. In the last moments, we see Edie trying to hang herself.
Brothers & Sisters, 10 p.m., Sept. 30, ABC: We were left inside the Walker family’s turmoil as Justin went to Iraq, Kitty announced she would be moving out of her mother’s house, and Uncle Saul was facing the possibility he might be gay.
Shark, 10 p.m., Sept. 23, CBS: The slimy defense attorney-turned-prosecutor put a serial killer away in a less-than-ethical way in the finale. Now he has to get his team pumped up for another season of ridding the world of bad guys.
Suggestions for how to plan your night of couch potato-ing:
Watch: The Simpsons, King of the Hill, Desperate Housewives, Brothers and Sisters.
Record: Life Is Wild, Family Guy, American Dad, Shark.
Forget: Viva Laughlin, Cold Case.