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.

Advertisement

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.

Troy Patterson Troy Patterson

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

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.

TODAY IN SLATE

The World

The Budget Disaster that Sabotaged the WHO’s Response to Ebola

Are the Attacks in Canada a Sign of ISIS on the Rise in the West?

PowerPoint Is the Worst, and Now It’s the Latest Way to Hack Into Your Computer

Is It Offensive When Kids Use Bad Words for Good Causes?

Fascinating Maps Based on Reddit, Craigslist, and OkCupid Data

Culturebox

The Real Secret of Serial

What reporter Sarah Koenig actually believes.

Culturebox

The Actual World

“Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.

In Praise of 13th Grade: Why a Fifth Year of High School Is a Great Idea

Can Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu Pull Off One More Louisiana Miracle?

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 23 2014 3:55 PM Panda Sluggers Democrats are in trouble. Time to bash China.
  Business
Business Insider
Oct. 23 2014 2:36 PM Take a Rare Peek Inside the Massive Data Centers That Power Google
  Life
Outward
Oct. 23 2014 5:08 PM Why Is an Obscure 1968 Documentary in the Opening Credits of Transparent?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 23 2014 11:33 AM Watch Little Princesses Curse for the Feminist Cause
  Slate Plus
Working
Oct. 23 2014 11:28 AM Slate’s Working Podcast: Episode 2 Transcript Read what David Plotz asked Dr. Meri Kolbrener about her workday.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 23 2014 5:08 PM What Happens When You Serve McDonald’s to Food Snobs and Tell Them It’s Organic
  Technology
Technology
Oct. 23 2014 4:36 PM Vampire Porn Mindgeek is a cautionary tale of consolidating production and distribution in a single, monopolistic owner.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 23 2014 7:30 AM Our Solar System and Galaxy … Seen by an Astronaut
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.