Two new shows this week bear the mark of their auteurish creators: Accomplished filmmaker Edward Burns brings dramatic gravitas to the small screen with the period drama Public Morals, and stand-up comic Jerrod Carmichael manages to tackle weighty issues using a cliched sitcom format.
Cops? Just another gang
The Mad Men vibe has become the Holy Grail of TV. Every network seems desperate to match the unique texture of Matt Weiner's period drama.
Most attempts - CBS's Vegas, ABC's Pan Am, NBC's Playboy Club, and TNT's Mob City - were misfires.
Though The Astronaut Wives Club on ABC comes close, few shows are able to conjure the kind of magic that made Mad Men such a satisfying feast, including NBC's Aquarius and Showtime's Masters of Sex.
Add Public Morals to that list. The drama premieres at 10 p.m. Tuesday on TNT.
A police thriller set in the corrupt world of the New York Police Department's vice squad, or the Public Morals Division as it was known in the early 1960s, filmmaker Edward Burns' creation is rich in writing, plotting and period detail. The show features an impressive ensemble cast, including Michael Rapaport, Katrina Bowden, Keith Nobbs, Neal McDonough, Brian Dennehy and Elizabeth Masucci.
Public Morals stars Burns as Terry Muldoon, a plainclothes vice cop whose intelligence and skill have made him indispensable to the Public Morals Division, a small squad of cops that handle vice of all types, from gambling to prostitution.
Handle is the right word.
As Terry tells a newbie, Jimmy Shea (Brian Wiles), many of the laws cops enforce are outdated and unreasonable. The division doesn't try to stamp out vice.
"We do what has been done for the last 100 years. We manage it," he says sagely in one of the most eloquent defenses of police corruption. "Think of us as the landlords and if you want to be in business, you got to pay our rent."
Some will find the series, which takes a long, hard look at the uneasy partnership between organized crime and cops in Hell's Kitchen far too self-consciously cool and stylized. Burns struts his big-screen bona fides with long tracking shots and explosive set pieces out of a Scorsese picture.
Public Morals, boasting Steven Spielberg as one of its exec producers, has a slow start. Unlike most thriller pilots that slam the viewer into submission with an explosive opening, Public Morals takes its time to introduce its large cast and the twisted web that connects them to one another and to Hell's Kitchen.
Burns' drama sucked me in slowly, steadily, like a skilled mesmerist. By the fourth episode, I was hopelessly hooked.
Public Morals gets going at the end of the pilot when one of the underbosses of the Irish mob is murdered, which sparks a war between various gangs, including the cops. But the action in this drama is there to serve the characters, who are always unique and engaging.
A sitcom with brains, heart
Actor and comic Jerrod Carmichael (Neighbors, Lucas Bros Moving Co.) may have a real winner with his new sitcom, The Carmichael Show (it premieres at 9 p.m. Wednesday on NBC).The show features Carmichael as Jerrod Carmichael, an up-and-coming stand-up comic based in Charlotte, N.C., who is terrified of telling his parents he's living in sin with his girlfriend, Maxine (Amber Stevens West).
Maxine can't understand Jerrod's terror - she thinks his parents, Joe (David Alan Grier) and Cynthia (Loretta Devine), are the bee's knees.
Maxine is determined to tell the older couple the truth when she and Jerrod arrive for dinner. Jerrod continues to change the subject, drawing his parents into debate after debate about politics, race relations, taxes, Barack Obama's presidency. You name it, he throws it out there. The resulting scene contains some of the smartest riffs on race relations and politics anywhere on TV.
The Carmichael Show, which co-stars Lil Rel Howery as Jerrod's brother Bobby and Tiffany Haddish as Bobby's ex-wife, relies on far too many cliches, but Carmichael manages to take hackneyed situations and turn them into something unexpected and fresh.
Premieres at 10 p.m. Tuesday on TNT.
The Carmichael Show
Premieres at 9 p.m. Wednesday on NBC10.