Let's talk about some of the new series arriving almost daily now. In particular, let's look at how familiar templates or conventional themes are handled. In one case, handled badly and, in the second case, with enough shrewdness to make the very ordinary very entertaining.
The trick is to make feel-good TV feel sharp, noisily charming and funny.
Kevin (Probably) Saves the World (Tuesday, ABC, CTV, 10 p.m.) is not the disaster one expects. A person could expect it to be awful because it is such a familiar premise – a guy who hasn't really grown up gets to remake his life and transcend his self-created crises. There are lots of show about guys like Kevin.
Here, Jason Ritter stars as Kevin, an unkempt misanthrope who returns home to crash with his sister Amy (JoAnna Garcia Swisher) after a hellish breakup and a half-hearted suicide attempt that resulted from a moment of, "What am I doing with my life?" Amy is nice about it all, but her husband died recently and her feelings are raw. Her teen daughter Reese (Chloe East) thinks Kevin is an ass.
Next thing, a meteor crash-lands nearby, Kevin touches it and is transformed. A "warrior for God" named Yvette (Kimberly Hebert Gregory), appears and tells Kevin he is now a "righteous soul" who can transform others with a simple hug. Kevin wants nothing to do with this. He doesn't like all this niceness. It freaks him out.
One thing leads to another and the series is promptly lacing its themes of goodness and morality with acid humour. What is presented as souped-up self-help bromides is constantly undercut. Ritter is excellent as the slacker who'd rather stew is his own melancholy than see the beauty around him and, at times, the show feels like a satire of its very premise. For as long as that recipe is intact, the show – which has a terrible title – is refreshingly, madly entertaining.
The Good Doctor (Monday, ABC, CTV 10 p.m.) is ludicrously bad. The doctor of the title is Dr. Shaun Murphy (Freddie Highmore), a young surgeon with both autism and savant syndrome. You know, your genius who must manoeuvre a landscape of awkward social interactions and a workplace where experienced staff are very wary of him.
In the pilot episode, Shaun was hired at St. Bonaventure Hospital after much fuss, hand-wringing and people in authority making florid speeches. That is, when they weren't doing the things that usually happen at a hospital on a network series – flirtations, hook-ups and ooh-la-la carry-on. Everybody's way hot so, of course, they can't keep their hands off each other.
The illustration of Shaun's condition is bewildering – his genius skills are illustrated with wild visual abandon, but don't illuminate how he's a remarkable surgeon. The flashback scenes, in which his background is explained, seem to be from another show. They are ludicrously stiff and flat.
What is peculiar, but typical of mediocre network dramas, is the misuse of a strong lead actor. Young English actor Highmore was exceptionally good in Bates Motel as the tortured, sinister young Norman Bates. He has depth, he has formidable skills. Yet, here he is, required to looked stunned most of the time and deliver lines that sink like a stone. Obviously the idea is to illustrate how the young man can spook others, but it all feels creaky. Perhaps the point is to suggest how unknowable a person on the spectrum is to others, but this method doesn't click.
Another typical network ploy is used – good character actors are there to bolster a weak premise and lend gravitas. In this instance, it's Richard Schiff as Shaun's mentor and hospital boss, Dr. Aaron Glassman. Schiff can deliver this about Shaun with just the right amount of gravitas – "He sees things and analyzes things in ways that are just remarkable, in ways that we can't even begin to understand!"
In the end, though, Shaun is a sort-of superhero with magical powers and, of course, he is a very, very good person.
The Good Doctor was created by David Shore, who also created House. That show's tension and wit came from Dr. House's almost barbaric, caustic wit and lack of social skills. There is no tension or wit in The Good Doctor. The show takes itself very seriously and Kevin (Probably) Saves the World doesn't, to its credit.