CBS's new man shows.

What you're watching.
Sept. 22 2006 5:47 PM

The Man Shows

The heroes of Smith, Jericho, and Shark—and the women who love them.

Ray Liotta and Virginia Madsen in Smith 
Click image to expand.
Ray Liotta and Virginia Madsen in Smith 

What hath Marg Helgenberger wrought? Each of the three new dramas on CBS this fall features a blonde fashioned, almost successfully, in the image of the CSI star. I am not speaking of Virginia Madsen, who plays Ray Liotta's wife on the serviceable heist drama Smith (Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET) and is easily the best thing about the show. Madsen has a curly mane, an attractively beaky nose, a spectral languor, and an undeniably forceful screen presence. Though she is a blonde with a new CBS show, these attributes disqualify her as a new CBS blonde.

No, on Smith, our gal is Annie (Amy Smart), one of Liotta's worker bees, a Vegas showgirl whose interests extend to credit-card fraud and art thievery. On the terror-exploitation drama Jericho (Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET), she takes the form of Emily Sullivan (Ashley Scott), the hero's old high-school sweetheart. On the legal procedural Shark (Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET), she is district attorney Jessica Devlin (Jeri Ryan), the former nemesis and current boss of James Woods' greaseball savant. All three have straight hair, strict posture, narrowly set eyes, a hard gaze, and a slightly pinched face peaking in a retroussé nose. Such is the new CBS blonde, a haunting presence in the life of the new CBS man—a trophy he's striving for, maybe, like a gold watch with nice teeth.

On Smith, Ray Liotta plays Bobby Stevens, a professional thief. Given his attitude and circumstances, you could almost call him a corporate thief. His job involves all the hassles of a business drone's, and even his cover—working in "Midwest sales" for a place that sells cups—is aggressively mundane. And while Bobby gets to steal Rembrandts and blow up stuff, he doesn't seem terribly excited about it. (Perhaps he's acutely aware, as so many of us are, that he's living a kind of cliché.) Liotta really puts his muscle into it only when roughing up a gambling-addicted subordinate who's planning to spend too much too conspicuously—his character perhaps learned a lesson from that movie about the Lufthansa heist—and telling off his nominal boss at the cup company. This edition of the new CBS man is reticent and explosive, with a gothic Batman quality. (His blonde, thus far, is a glamorous accessory.)

Skeet Ulrich and Ashley Scott in Jericho 
Click image to expand.
Skeet Ulrich and Ashley Scott in Jericho 

Onward to Jericho. Last winter, back when TV producers were casting pilots, Sam Schechner wrote a Wall Street Journal piece headlined "The Hunk Shortage." He explained therein that sexy male actors who actually know how to act were a commodity in short supply: "The scuffles can become so fierce that executives are making snap decisions to lock in even relatively unknown actors before losing them to another network." I'm mentioning my friend's article by way of explaining that the star of Jericho is Skeet Ulrich.

Skeet, best known for his turn in Scream, is now charged with defending the homeland. His character, Jake Green, is a prodigal son returning home to Jericho, Kan., after many mysterious years away. Jake wants to tap into the trust fund set up for him by Granpappy. Dad, the town's mayor, is not having it. But then there are mushroom clouds in many distant cities and bad juju in the neighborly streets, and Jake must rescue a school bus's worth of adorably stupid children from extreme inconvenience. So far, it's looking good for both the homeland and for Ulrich's chances with his blonde.

James Woods in Shark 
Click image to expand.
James Woods in Shark 

On Shark, James Woods plays Sebastian Stark, a star defense attorney who has a crisis of conscience and decides to switch sides, which involves rallying a team of young prosecutors and making inappropriate remarks to his new blond boss. Stark also must endure a 16-year-old daughter who talks like a 32-year-old ex-girlfriend: "I'll be screwed up for life if I don't get some closure on you and me." The show works only because Woods is a honey-baked ham playing a character who lives to be a showman. Like the rest of CBS's new-school heroes, he is animated only by a certain sense of mission and the potential promise of an ice queen waiting for him, trophylike, at the end of the line.

Troy Patterson is Slate's writer at large and writes the Gentleman Scholar column.


Frame Game

Hard Knocks

I was hit by a teacher in an East Texas public school. It taught me nothing.

Chief Justice John Roberts Says $1,000 Can’t Buy Influence in Congress. Looks Like He’s Wrong.

After This Merger, One Company Could Control One-Third of the Planet's Beer Sales

Hidden Messages in Corporate Logos

If You’re Outraged by the NFL, Follow This Satirical Blowhard on Twitter

Sports Nut

Giving Up on Goodell

How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.

How Can We Investigate Potential Dangers of Fracking Without Being Alarmist?

My Year as an Abortion Doula       

  News & Politics
Sept. 15 2014 8:56 PM The Benghazi Whistleblower Who Might Have Revealed a Massive Scandal on his Poetry Blog
Sept. 15 2014 7:27 PM Could IUDs Be the Next Great Weapon in the Battle Against Poverty?
Sept. 15 2014 4:38 PM What Is Straight Ice Cream?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Sept. 15 2014 11:38 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 4  A spoiler-filled discussion of "Listen."
Brow Beat
Sept. 15 2014 8:58 PM Lorde Does an Excellent Cover of Kanye West’s “Flashing Lights”
Future Tense
Sept. 15 2014 4:49 PM Cheetah Robot Is Now Wireless and Gallivanting on MIT’s Campus
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 15 2014 11:00 AM The Comet and the Cosmic Beehive
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.