The question of when “ER” jumped the shark is up for debate.
But if the tired NBC medical drama plans to make it beyond Season 13, it will have to overcome a new kind of “Shark.”
“Shark” is CBS’s new legal drama that gives James Woods a chance to showcase his acting chops as a win-at-all-costs lawyer, and it premieres at 10 tonight on KIRO-TV, Channel 7.
That puts it head-to-head with the once untouchable “ER,” which airs at the same time on KING-TV, Channel 5.
Also in line to knock off “ER” is ABC’s new drama “Six Degrees” from J.J. Abrams, creator of “Lost” and “Alias.” It also premieres at 10 tonight on KOMO-TV, Channel 4.
The show follows the lives of complete strangers in New York who are connected by the proverbial six degrees of separation, but they don’t know it.
This is easily the show on which critics are most deeply divided this season. Some shudder at the underlying gimmick while others find the characters and acting interesting enough. There’s no in between, and I love it.
The premiere introduces viewers to no less than eight primary characters whose paths cross in seemingly insignificant ways, starting a pattern that will likely continue throughout the run of the show as they become more heavily involved in each other’s lives.
They’re all going through their own problems – an alcoholic photographer trying to get clean, a recently widowed woman, a young prosecutor looking for love, a young woman on the run from someone – and unwittingly help each other through their individual crises. The acting is fantastic with an ensemble cast that includes Campbell Scott, Hope Davis, Jay Hernandez and Erika Christensen.
There’s nothing mystical about their connections, although they do tend to fall into the category of “quite convenient” on the part of the writers. Still, once you get caught up in each character’s story, the fact that each of them is likely to run into one of the others becomes a secondary kind of game, an interactive experience where you’ll find yourself guessing whose life will lead into whose, and when, and why.
“Shark” is a straightforward courtroom drama where Woods plays a “Dream Team”-like defense attorney in Los Angeles whose latest case went very badly. He has an epiphany that lands him with a job in the prosecutor’s office, but he’ll find that playing for the other team doesn’t always mean playing nice.
Woods is fun to watch as he leads a young group of actors who play his minions in the District Attorney’s office. But you don’t need to see every episode of “Shark” to enjoy it on occasion.
Regardless of whether “Six Degrees” or “Shark” emerges in the time slot, the arrival of a pair of legitimate contenders speaks to the vulnerability of “ER,” which fell out of the top 30 in the Nielsen ratings last season.
Victor Balta’s column runs Mondays and Thursdays on the A&E page. Reach him at 425-339-3455 or email@example.com.
For more TV and pop culture scoop, check out Victor’s blog at heraldnet.com/blogpopculture.
“Shark,” 10 tonight, KIRO-TV, Channel 7
“Six Degrees,” 10 tonight, KOMO-TV, Channel 4
“ER,” 10 tonight, KING-TV, Channel 5