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FX, HBO duking it out this summer
By ERIC DEGGANS, Times TV/Media Critic
Published June 11, 2007
You may not notice, but there's a conflict brewing on your TV dial this summer. It's centered on the high-stakes world of edgy, adult-oriented drama.
And the best battle may be the one breaking out this week: FX vs. HBO.
In one corner, there's FX's Rescue Me, an almost perfect distillation of comedy, drama and debauchery set in the travails of Denis Leary's monumentally dysfunctional firefighter, Tommy Gavin. For years, FX has built up its rep doing what HBO used to; offering creative, explicit subversions of typical TV show formulas such as the cop drama (The Shield), medical soap opera (Nip/Tuck) and, in July, a legal drama (Glenn Close's Damages).
But in the other corner stands HBO, newly vulnerable after losing both The Sopranos and visionary CEO Chris Albrecht, who was forced to resign after police charged him with beating up his girlfriend last month.
This week, two of its riskiest ventures hit the screen: the second season of its drama about a polygamist family, Big Love, and the glorious mess that is John From Cincinnati.
Rescue Me comes out swinging Wednesday, kicking off its third season with a typically powerful story line. The fire that closed last season, ravaging the house bought by Gavin's girlfriend, didn't kill him - though it has convinced authorities he is an arsonist.
The thrill of Rescue Me is watching Leary and producer pal Peter Tolan hitch up an array of compelling side plots, like a glittering lineup of bitter Christmas ornaments.
There's Lt. Kenny Shea (John Scurti), dating a former nun who also happens to be a sex addict with a penchant for churches. Gavin's crazy sister Maggie (Tatum O'Neal) is struggling with her new husband's demand that she throw out all her, um, visual marital aids.
There's a different battle of the sexes brewing in HBO's Big Love, a drama about polygamy that starts its second season tonight. The good news: it's progressed beyond the sprawling boredom of last year, now centered on the struggle by first wife Barbara Henrickson (Jeanne Tripplehorn) to reclaim some independence in a family of three wives and seven children quartered in three houses.
Then there's the mess that is John From Cincinnati. Unveiled Sunday as the brainchild of Deadwood creator David Milch, Cincinnati strands a quality cast in an obtuse story about a struggling, multigenerational family of surfers who are visited by an odd stranger with seemingly supernatural abilities.
Circular and ambling, filled with notables such as Luke Perry and Rebecca De Mornay, Cincinnati amplifies all the biggest problems HBO faces. Focused on creating uniquely hip vehicles for auteurs such as Milch and Sopranos creator David Chase, sometimes the premium cable giant forgets to be entertaining. Or comprehensible.
That's a dangerous mistake when you've got stuff like Rescue Me nipping at your heels.
Fortunately, we all get to enjoy the best result of a fight like this one: channels filled with risky, innovative entertainment during a long, hot summer.
Big Love returns for its second season at 9 tonight on HBO. Grade: B+. Rating: TV-MA (mature audiences).
Rescue Me returns for its third season at 10 p.m. Wednesday on FX. Grade: A+. Rating: TV-MA.
Flip to cable
Here's a short list of way cool stuff coming on cable. Set the TiVo and enjoy:
Meadowlands: Debuts 10 p.m. Sunday, Showtime. Don't let the British accents or convoluted storytelling spook you. This forboding drama about a family in witness protection plopped inside a prisoner-style housing community is bizarre, confusing, compelling and surprising.
The 4400: Debuts fourth season at 9 p.m. Sunday, USA Network. Sister show The Dead Zone gets more attention, but this sci-fi series about a group of 4, 400 people given powers by futuristic rebels fighting a coming dictatorship mashes elements of the X-Files and the X-Men films. Bonus: hunky Billy Campbell as an L. Ron Hubbard-style visionary with a Messiah complex.
Entourage: Debuts at 10 p.m. Sunday, HBO. Tired as we are of showbiz satires, this signature series returns for its fourth season with a twist - illuminating the train wreck of an indie film that star Vince (Adrian Grenier) is making with his buddies about the Medellin crime cartel via a documentary crew shadowing the production's self-destructive director.
[Last modified June 12, 2007, 16:17:31]
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