The Mick. Fox. Sunday, January 1, 8 p.m.
Ransom. CBS. Sunday, January 1, 8:30 p.m.
If you were thinking Fox's The Mick was an homage to former New York Yankee centerfielders, then congratulations, you're already achieved 2017's first big disappointment and can stop wasting time hoping that this year will somehow be better than the last. If, however, you've been wondering when the stealth obscenity "see you next Tuesday" would slip across the broadcast television DEW line, or waiting for the medium's first Rosemary Kennedy joke, then this is the year—and perhaps the show—for you.
You know you're about to watch something special when a network press release describes the lead character as "foul-mouthed [and] debaucherous." (Yeah, I didn't know it was a word, either.) That would be the title character Mick, short for McKenzie, a two-bit street hustler who makes her screen entrance by strolling through a supermarket, not just eating food off the shelves (Cheez-Whiz chased with Reddi-Whip right out of the can), but shaving under her arms and powdering her hoo-ha.
She's freshening up for a party thrown by her sister, an ex-stripper who landed a Wall Street millionaire husband through strategic birth-control failure. Mick, at the party in search of a loan to fend off a digit-collecting loan shark, winds up with a bonus: a family. "I need you to watch the kids tonight," apologizes the sister as she and her husband flee the country one step ahead of an FBI white-collar crime unit.
What follows is not some sweet seduced-by-motherhood fable, but black comedy adorned in malice and mordacity. The three kids she inherits are all, in varying degrees, menaces to society, including Sabrina (Sofia Black D'Elia, Gossip Girl), who though only 18 appears to be pursuing graduate studies in treacherous bitchery; 13-year-old Chip (Thomas Barbusa, The New Normal), a kind of Richie Rich gone bad; and Ben (newcomer Jack Stanton), a 7-year-old who's decent enough but also the sort of hopelessly dorky kid who will take a bet to lick a hot grill.
Their lupine instincts are scarcely quelled by Mick's clueless attempts at parenting, When Chip complains he's being bullied at school, Mick's post-Dr. Spock advice—pull down the mean kid's pants and laugh at his tiny penis—turns out even more disastrously than you might guess. "It was humongous!" shrieks Chip though his mass of contusions and black eyes. "I'm lucky he didn't beat me with it." Yet for all their mutual loathing, Mick and the kids are forced by circumstances to forge something vaguely resembling a family, even if it's the most dysfunctional since the one head by Charlie Manson.
If gags about sexual humiliation and weaponized genitalia don't seem to you as if they're likely to evolve into anything even remotely like The Waltons, you are beginning to grasp the hardball nature of The Mick. It's like a Child's Garden of the Crass and Brutal, including some some scenes of corporal punishment that look a bit like Tony Soprano's unfulfilled fantasies of how to get A.J. into line.
But if you ever longed for the Roadrunner to be turned into Purina Coyote Chow or those little Family Circus kids to be sold to a Honduran sweatshop, The Mick might be for you. Kaitlin Olson, no stranger to the loutish and philistine—she's about to start her 13th season on It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, the FX cable channel's sociopathic lampoon of Seinfeld—is daffily funny as Mick, the Gen X slacker gazing in queasy befuddlement at what's slouching toward Bethlehem.
Just plain daffy is the other big New Year's Day premiere, CBS' Ransom, a joint French-Canadian-American show that's the greatest argument against international comity since UN peacekeepers brought cholera to Haiti.
Ransom is supposedly based on the life of Laurent Combalbert, a French police hostage negotiator who went to work as a consultant for big international insurance companies that sell kidnapping-and-ransom policies.
These are two very different jobs. Hostage negotiators, however sympathetic they may appear when trying to talk some nutcase into putting down a gun and letting the hostages go, are still cops whose job it is to apprehend criminals. K&R consultants, on the other hand, are essentially bag men, trying to deliver cash payments with as little muss and fuss as possible. They don't care about making arrests and often work in opposition to police in the (mostly Third World) countries in which they do business.
Ransom, though, conflates the two, resulting in the most preposterous job inflation since The Night Stalker elevated newspaper reporters into full-time vampire hunters. Next time you hear of a police SWAT team taking orders from a private consultant in a Pierre Cardin suit about when to open fire, let me know.
Authenticity, however, is the least of Ransom's problems. Mostly it's just an even more egregiously boring version of all the other CBS police procedurals with their cookie-cutter characters and plots.
Luke Roberts (Black Sails) stands in for David Caruso or Mark Harmon or Scott Bakula or the gruffly pretty CBS lead of your choice as the Combalbert, barking out the same terse commands punctuated with the same weathered but compassionate stares. He did get me to smile in the pilot episode when he hired a college kid as one of his negotiators after she explained her excellent qualifications for the job: "That's all I've ever wanted to do." Hey, it worked for Ollie North.