TV producers seem totally besotted these days with badness - prime time is veritably teeming with sarcastic comedies about men and women doing naughty things and ironic dramas about lovable villains who are all the more compelling the nastier they get.
So it's something of a shock to run across two new series that dish out straight-up earnestness. Both premiering Wednesday, Up TV's family-friendly cop drama Ties That Bind and ABC Family's somewhat racier (by comparison) sitcom Kevin from Work remind viewers it wasn't so long ago when the airwaves were defined by shows such as Dragnet and Father Knows Best.
Neither is likely to make any critic's top 10 lists this year, but they will appeal to fans looking for more uplift than titillation.
The first scripted drama from Up TV (short for Uplifting TV), Ties That Bind stars Kelli Williams (Lie to Me, Army Wives) as Allison McLean, a police detective in a small suburban community in Washington state who is trying to juggle three demanding challenges: Excel at her job, build a rewarding life with her husband and two kids, and do right by her brother's children, who are left without a guardian when their father goes to prison.
The 10-episode first season premieres at 9 p.m. Wednesday.
Created by writer-producer Sheryl J. Anderson (Charmed), Ties That Bind isn't the slickest entry on cable TV. The production values are mediocre, much of the acting rough around the edges, and some of the plotlines contrived. Its faith-based family-friendly message feels forced.
That said, there's a solid heart at the core of this drama. Maybe it's hokey, but the show grows on you.
The pilot opens in a courtroom with the conviction of Allison's brother Tim (Luke Perry) for assault. When the judge hands down a two-year prison sentence, Tim's teenage kids, Cameron (Rhys Matthew Bond) and Mariah (Matreya Scarrwener) lose all composure. Mariah weeps while Cameron all but hits Allison for sending his dad - her own brother - to jail.
The situation is bad: The two kids are left parentless.
Allison and her contractor husband, Matt (Jonathan Scarfe), who have two teens of their own, do the right thing and decide to take in Cameron and Mariah. Much of the story line is about the conflicts faced by the blended family. Grounded in solid Judeo-Christian values, Allison and Matt generally face problems with grace.
Ties That Bind doesn't exactly preach. It's far more sophisticated and intelligent than your run-of-the-mill Sunday school parable. But it falters when it comes to its depiction of Allison's job: Her cases magically mirror the issues she's facing at home.
The pilot has her on the trail of a young couple with a new baby who are committing armed robberies: It's a family in crisis. The thieves have both fallen out with their respective parents. We watch Allison as she dispenses wisdom and comfort to the two bereft couples.
Ties That Bind could do with a bit more subtlety. But it's a cut above the typical family-values drama.
The less wholesome of the two series, Kevin from Work, is a clever mix of rom-com and workplace comedy that manages to deploy post-American Pie raunchiness without coming across as too salacious.
It premieres with a double episode at 8 p.m. Wednesday on ABC Family.
Noah Reid stars as Kevin, a twentysomething office drone at a food supply company who lands his dream job in Italy. Before leaving, he writes a rather moving, poetic love letter to his coworker Audrey (Paige Spara). Read aloud in the closing minutes of the pilot, the letter tells Audrey of Kevin's unrequited love and his inability to muster the courage to ask her out while he worked with her.
When the new job falls through, Kevin tries to retrieve the letter in a series of very funny escapades. In one early scene, he goes all Don Quixote, charging at a street corner mailbox in the hopes of toppling it so he can grab the letter.
He never gets the letter back, which means he has to find a way to return to the office and face Audrey.
Kevin from Work, also starring Jordan Hinson as Kevin's sexually liberated baby sister and roomie, Roxie; and Matt Murray as his BFF, Brian, has a lot of heart. The post-letter scenes between Kevin and Audrey are really quite lovely.
It's a moving program when it's in rom-com mode, but the series is weak as a workplace story, with too many stock characters and lame jokes.
Critics were given access to the first two episodes that all but resolve the story line over the letter. It's difficult to guess where the plot will take us. Hopefully, the budding love story between Kevin and Audrey can carry the series and make up for the weaker parts.
Kevin from Work
Premieres 8 p.m. Wednesday on ABC Family.
Ties That Bind
Premieres 9 p.m. Wednesday on Up TV.EndText