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Thursday, July 10, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 55.0° F  Fair
Arts

TELEVISION

Dark Blue goes where many cop shows have gone before
Undercover, under fire

Delivering the clichés with humorless conviction.
Delivering the clichés with humorless conviction.
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Tell me if you've heard this one before: A brilliant law-enforcement type with a tragic past and perpetual stubble leads a team of extraordinary undercover operatives outside the boundaries of police jurisdiction. They plan their stings in beautifully lit interiors, where the resident techie hunches over a computer and exclaims, "I've tapped into the security camera feeds!" The team also includes a beauty with lustrous hair and a dude whose wife just doesn't approve of his dangerous work. They battle criminal masterminds given to sinister philosophical pronouncements delivered with eerie calm.

Yeah, you've heard this one before. But Dark Blue (Wednesday, 9 p.m., TNT) delivers the cop-show clichés with humorless conviction, as if the producers really thought they'd come up with a bad-ass concept. By contrast, Dylan McDermott mumbles his way through the lead role with tired eyes and messy hair; he's the only one involved who seems to realize that the series isn't even worth one quick pass with the comb.

McDermott also seems embarrassed to speak the corny lines the script puts in his mouth: "L.A.'s a big place with lots of bad people."

Lots of bad TV shows, too.

The Bill Engvall Show
Saturday, 8 pm (TBS)

In recent years, creating a good sitcom has looked harder than putting a man on the moon. The broadcast networks have tried everything they can think of, and the effort shows. They've made sitcoms that are too raunchy, too high-concept, too grotesque or too hip.

In the meantime, The Bill Engvall Show has quietly carved out a niche in a corner of basic cable. The show doesn't do anything fancy, just offers an amiable half-hour that rarely strikes a false note.

The setup couldn't be simpler: a put-upon dad (Engvall) is needled by his wife (Nancy Travis) and kids, with a wacky coworker (Tim Meadows) providing the eccentricity. But the actors have chemistry and the punchlines work. The show also generates real warmth in the family circle without getting too corny about it.

In the season premiere, Dad tries to show his daughter that he's a cool guy who understands what she's going through. "Here's a tip," she tells him. "Using the word 'hip' means you're not."

The Bill Engvall Show knows it's not hip, and that's the secret of its success.

Labor Pains
Sunday, 7 pm (ABC Family)

Lindsay Lohan must know we've all grown tired of her tabloid antics, so she took time out to make a lousy TV movie. She plays a secretary who pretends she's pregnant in order to keep her job.

Come back, tabloid antics - all is forgiven.

AFI Life Achievement Award: Michael Douglas
Sunday, 8 pm (TV Land)

Michael Douglas' tribute from the American Film Institute is packed with incident. Wife Catherine Zeta-Jones performs a song in his honor; father Kirk Douglas sings his praises; Bob Dylan makes a surprise appearance; and a former child soldier from Sierra Leone thanks him for his charitable efforts. Douglas laughs, cries and appears to have a good time, even though his femmes fatales costars Glenn Close (Fatal Attraction) and Sharon Stone (Basic Instinct) are in the audience and could kill him at any moment.

Moonshot
Monday, 7 pm (History)

This TV movie is a fine way to mark the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. Actually, the word "movie" might be stretching it. Even with actors playing astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, Moonshot is a glorified documentary, using archival NASA footage and real audio from Mission Control. The production is less concerned with dramatizing the story than with filling in the facts: how the astronauts were chosen, how they prepared, etc. In lieu of characterization, we get expository dialogue like this: "Buzz is not the easiest person to get along with." Next to The Right Stuff, Moonshot is as no-nonsense as a newsreel.

And yet, it gets the job done - kind of like the no-nonsense Apollo 11 astronauts themselves.

Dating in the Dark
Monday, 9 pm (ABC)

Just when you thought all the bad ideas had been used up for dating reality series, here comes Dating in the Dark, where singles woo each other in pitch blackness.

I like the fact that Dating in the Dark gives us nothing to see. Now if ABC removed the sound, too, it would be the best dating reality series of all time.

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