Jonathan Storm: 4 new TV shows Sunday: Here they come to save the month

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In Fox's "Bob's Burgers," a mid- season animated series about a man, his family, and their burger joint, Bob reflects on the events of a long day.

There's no stopping television.

In the olden days, the second Sunday of January might have been a pretty good time for football games, but after that, the No. 1 spot on the couch-potato hit parade was best reserved for a long winter's nap.

Not anymore. Four series premiere Sunday night, backed by some big-time talent. Evil must be conquered and an invasion addressed. Not turned away at the shore - that also would be old-fashioned - but embraced and satirized, too. And there are burgers to flip. It's not all action and light.

After struggling mightily to rekindle the low flame that accompanied the start of Heroes, NBC may finally have found a comic-book passage out of some of its ratings doldrums. The Cape unfurls at 9 p.m. under mountains of injustice, with an occasional smile.

At 9:30, Showtime's Episodes lambastes the craven Hollywood TV world that seduces innocent English artists and destroys their souls as it Americanizes their shows. Then it turns around at 10 and retools the British show Shameless, setting it in Chicago, not Manchester, and opening a window on the intriguing world of a large lower-class family in which Big Sis plays the mom, and Dad drinks. All the time.

Last and least, though palatable if you like that sort of thing, is Fox's Bob's Burgers, on Fox at 8:30 (or whatever time it settles after the Eagles-Packers game) in which yet another kooky cartoon family lamely faces the world.

"I know you'll get him, Dad," the pride-filled little boy tells his brave policeman father, who's out to stop the diabolical masked villain terrorizing Palm City.

Sorry, Mr. Bill. First, the cop sleds away unscathed on the ripped-off door from the police chief's exploding SUV. Then, he finds himself underneath one of those big pressurized railroad chemical cars when it goes sky-high.

These will be some of his less painful brushes with death as he climbs the rungs in superhero school, tutored by a wise, if criminally inclined, magical maestro of the midway at the local two-bit carnival.

David Lyons, who played one of the long line of ER doctors, Simon Brenner, is the cop who morphs into a Batman-like character called the Cape, pursuing a fiend who is not only the corrupt chief executive officer of a private security firm out to rule the world, but also a psychopath who gets weird goat eyes when he dreams up his horrible schemes.

The Cape derives his hero name (the good citizens he encounters, like us viewers, are constantly hoping he finds something better) from the powerful weapon that is his cloak. It's woven entirely of spider silk.

Lyons will be less interesting to many viewers than the female crime-fighter who sometimes assists him. Ex-Terminator girl Summer Glau is the mysterious Orwell. She knows and sees all through her holographic computer array, and shows up enough at fights in her teeny-tiny skirts that The Big Bang Theory guys, if they were real, would be tuning in every week.

They might lament the show's lack of logic. The Cape frequently confronts his archenemy face-to-face before vanishing in a puff of smoke, or, more sad, succumbing to the latest torture trick. But he is, after all, a cop. He could just shoot the dastardly demon dead, and that would be that.

Or maybe not. Still around would be such other paragons of villainy as the dreaded Dominic Raoul, who apparently has combined both Mafia and drug-cartel bile so thoroughly that he's covered in, and is known as, Scales. "Whatever you do, don't stare!" says one underling to another.

Getting viewers to stare are the combined talents of executive producers Gail Berman and Lloyd Braun, who ate NBC's lunch when they were bosses at Fox and ABC, respectively. If you can't lick 'em, hire 'em, Peacock execs seem to have decided, which may be as good a strategy as sending scoundrels spinning with your cape.

Two heroes of NBC's glory days land at Showtime Sunday. ER boss John Wells helms Shameless, and Philadelphian David Crane, cocreator of Friends, has teamed with his partner, Jeffrey Klarik, to write Episodes.

Both shows go off the beaten track, usually a good thing for a premium cable network seeking subscribers, not necessarily ratings. Showtime and Comcast are letting all Comcast cable subscribers watch for free this weekend, and a good number of them may sign up afterward for the pay service just to see one of the new shows.

Shameless putatively stars William H. Macy as the drunken dad, but it's Emmy Rossum's show. The 24-year-old actress, best known for her role as Christine in the movie version of The Phantom of the Opera, plays Fiona Gallagher, ersatz mother to five smaller Gallaghers and her dissolute dad, and budding girlfriend to boyfriend Steve. She holds the family and the show together.

Like all her siblings, except tiny toddler Liam, who everyone but the family members can see is a half-brother, she helps bring money into the house, working as a maid at a cheap motel.

The family is a cacophony of characters, and the program's style - active camera shooting from all over the place, contemporary music filling the air - reflects that perfectly. The one-hour show has as much comedy as drama, providing a satisfying and unusual viewing experience.

Episodes goes the other way round, a half-hour where the laughs frequently hide in a fascinating relationship between the writers of a successful British sitcom and their American star.

After buying the show about a lovable headmaster at a boys' boarding school, the delightful (to us in the audience) idiots at the network decide that it's too British, and that the headmaster, played by a revered elderly English actor, is too old. So they hire Matt LeBlanc, played by Matt LeBlanc, whom everybody knows as Joey from Friends.

The effect is a bit like Larry David playing a character named Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm. LeBlanc is nuanced and superb as a big-time American actor who throws his weight around, eventually transforming the show into a comedy about a hockey coach.

The husband-and-wife writing team, lured to L.A. and ensconced in a mansion recently used as home to a bunch of reality-show guinea pigs, have opposite reactions to their new situation. She hates LeBlanc and all the changes. He's infatuated with the star's life, and they wind up in a hot and heavy bromance.

British actors Stephen Mangan and Tamsin Greig, who worked together on the cult (in America) Britcom Green Wing, reunite. Greig, especially, stands out as a woman who is trying to maintain her strong marital relationship and her dignity in a Hollywood world where both seem as rare as a sunny winter's day in London.

Episodes starts as a bit of hilarious inside baseball that should make fancy restaurant reservations much easier to get on Sundays in L.A. But by the second or third episode, it evolves into another Hollywood rarity: a TV show that is truly about relationships, complex and captivating for the long haul.

 


Jonathan Storm:

Bob's Burgers

8:30 p.m. Sunday on Fox29

The Cape

9 p.m. Sunday on NBC10

Episodes

9:30 p.m. Sunday on Showtime

Shameless

10 p.m. Sunday on Showtime

 


Jonathan Storm: From the Television Critics' Press Tour

Read Inquirer television critic Jonathan Storm's dispatches from the television critics' press tour in the newspaper and on his blog,

"Eye of the Storm," at www.philly.com/philly/blogs/storm. He and Daily News critic Ellen Gray will host an online chat on Thursday at www.philly.com/tvchat.


Contact television critic Jonathan Storm at 215-854-5618 or jstorm@phillynews.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/ jonathanstorm.