Ghosted.Fox. Sunday, October 1, 8:30 p.m.
- Ten Days in the Valley. ABC. Sunday, October 1, 8:30 p.m.
- Wisdom of the Crowd. CBS. Sunday, October 1, 8:30 p.m.
As we hit the two-thirds mark of the roll-out of an amazingly drab fall television season, it's only fair to note that a major blow has been struck for TV diversity: Fox's Ghosted features a character crippled by the dread but unspoken condition anatidaephobia. This clears the way for TV to move ahead and attack the taboo on mention of the even more fearful omphalophobia.
The FCC public service requirements for this review thus satisfied, we can get about discussing the shows, which range from Ten Days in the Valley, one of the new season's better ones (much less of an achievement than you might think), to Wisdom of the Crowd, which will probably win an Emmy for sheer idiocy for its idee fixe of contracting out the criminal justice system to Twitter.
Ten Days in the Valley is not, on the face of it, terribly different than the crime-conspiracy thrillers like Secrets and Lies and American Crime that ABC has been using as fun and forgettable summertime popcorn fodder the past few years. A pretty girl or maybe even a little kid gets murdered; everybody in the cast is revealed to be a creep or nut case with the motive—but not, it eventually turns out, the means—to do the killing; and in the end, the least likely suspect is the guilty one.
The trigger mechanism in the case of Ten Days is the kidnapping of the little daughter of frazzled single mom Jane Sadler, a TV producer whose bosses think nothing of calling her up in the middle of the night to churn 30 pages of new scenes by the time of a 4 a.m. shooting call.
Sticking to the formula, Sadler's producer, sister, drug dealer, ex-husband, personal assistant, and gardener all turn out to hate her for one reason or another. And why not? She's a heedless hophead who, it turns out, lost track of her daughter while on an Ambien-and-chardonnay bender.
Even the seemingly decent LAPD detective John Bird assigned to the kidnapping has to be considered a suspect (by the viewer if not the authorities) because the TV show for which she writes is a sleazy roman-a-clef drawn from secret scandals within the police force, which has everybody in the department worried that he or she will be the next to be fingered.
That's the little twist of Ten Days—that the narrator is not only unreliable but actively detestable. If that seems like an unpromising premise for a TV series, you've got to see the intensity of Kyra Sedgwick as Jane Sadler, juggling ignominy, scandal, and disaster—not to mention the life of her missing daughter—as she tap-dances along the edge of an abyss, wondering if she's already toppled over the side and doesn't know it.
If Ten Days seems familiar but intense, Ghosted seems about 15 years too late. A wacky sitcom in which two investigators, one a cynical skeptic and the other a true believer, pursue space aliens and psychic phenomena? What's next? A searing social satire in which in-bred Appalachian moonshiners move to Bel Air and mock the Beverly Hills elite?
Actually, Ghosted isn't all that bad, even if satirizing The X-Files feels a little bit wet-noodley at this point. Adam Scott (Parks and Recreation) and Craig Robinson (Mr. Robinson) play a couple of lunkheads who've been recruited to help a secret government agency called the Bureau Underground look into weird doings around Los Angeles.
Scott is a former Stanford professor sacked for research into the paranormal. (Or, "fired space cadet," as the tabloids deliciously put it.) More recently, he's been trying to convince people his wife has been abducted by space aliens, though she was last seen packing her bags after a vicious marital spat.
Robinson, once the top LAPD missing-persons guy, was fired for reasons that remain unclear but may be connected to his moonstruck fear of ducks. ("Don't wanna talk about it.") Lately he's a mall rent-a-cop who specializes in keeping homeless people from peeing in the fountain.
The two share a certain lunatic energy, with a cascade of pratfalls being punctuated by arguments about stuff like which alternative universe has the best Kevin Spacey. There are more misses than hits, but in a new season mostly devoid of (intentional) laughs, this is about the best you're gonna do.
For unintentional laughs, mixed with gasps of horror, give CBS' Wisdom of the Crowd a look. It's the latest of the network's manifestos cheerleading the use of information technology for totalitarian purposes. In Person of Interest, a tech zillionaire hijacks a government computer to identify (and deal unpleasantly with) people likely to commit crimes. In Bull, a hired-gun shrink uses information culled from social media to manipulate courtroom juries. Now we've got Wisdom of the Crowd, a reverse Ox-Bow Incident in which a cell-phone app helps craft more efficient lynch mobs.
Jeremy Piven, the smarmy agent of HBO's Entourage, plays Jeffrey Tanner, a Zuckerbergian Silicon Valley plutocrat whose daughter was murdered. Inspired by an experiment conducted by the early-20th-century Francis Galton, who found that while no one person in a crowd of on-lookers was very good at estimating the weight of a crowd, but averaging the guesses produced an almost on-the-nose figure, Tanner invents software that will mine public opinion to finger the guilty.
From pacing to plotting to smirky hipster pseudowisdom ("Privacy? We gave that up a long time ago so we could watch cat videos on our cellphone"). Wisdom of the Crowd is a stylistic clone of Person of Interest and Bull. In terms of IQ points, it's the lowest yet. Twitter might do okay at guessing the weight of the average Kardashian butt; use it to average out who killed Nicole Simpson, though, and you're likely to wind up hanging Kato Kaelin rather than the actual killer. Better, I think, to arm the protagonists of Person of Interest, Bull and Wisdom of the Crowd with switchblades, then lock them in a boxcar. And when the winner emerges, shoot him in the head.