with Yvonne Lai
Musing on the origins of romance, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle once wrote: 'You know how easily and suddenly these things happen, beginning in playful teasing and ending in something a little warmer than friendship.' The description could fit the addiction experienced by first-time readers of Conan Doyle's Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Or, the impact of a clever television marketing exercise.
The folks at Fox have saved the launch of their most noteworthy new series for the tail end of a month-long free-viewing promotion for Now TV subscribers. In the past couple of weeks, we've had a taste of Mad Men, The Riches and Californication (all on FX).
This week, crime and investigation dramas rule the roost. Offbeat spy series Burn Notice (Fox Crime; Mondays at 10pm) makes its debut just before free-viewing privileges are taken away, on Tuesday. The title of the show refers to a notice issued by one intelligence agency to another stating that an individual or group is no longer deemed reliable. Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan; Crossing Jordan) is one such agent who has been 'burned', having been blacklisted in the middle of a covert operation. Wanted by Nigerian gunmen and cut off from all central support, Westen barely makes it back to his hometown of Miami, Florida, where he scrapes together a living with low-grade intelligence jobs. Ex-girlfriend and explosives specialist Fiona Glenanne (a leggy Gabrielle Anwar; Scent of a Woman; pictured right with Donovan) and boozy semi-retired operative Sam Axe (Bruce Campbell; Evil Dead) are Westen's only allies in his ongoing quest to find the reason for his exile from the spook world.
The pilot episode serves as a tutorial on surviving a burn notice, with voice-over instruction from Westen on issues such as how to use the hard surfaces of a public toilet during a fist-fight and how to get someone to call you back by sending a fake bomb to his office. The modern-day sleuth's investigations are often interrupted by calls from his chain-smoking, hypochondriac mother and cutaways to sun-soaked Miami's bikinied beach babes. Elementary eye-candy, Watson.
Alas, those interested in Saving Grace (FX; Thursdays at 11pm) will have to sign up for the channel - the show premieres two days after the promotion ends. Not your average law-enforcement officer, pint-size Oklahoma City detective Grace Hanadarko (Oscar-winning actress Holly Hunter; The Piano) is good at her job but bad at life. She binge-drinks, sleeps around and is headed for hell, or so says her 'last-chance angel', named Earl, unless she cleans up her act and rediscovers her faith. While a particularly gruesome 'wake-up call' in the pilot sends Hanadarko into shock, she is back to her old self the next day with her angry atheist dukes up. Earl has his work cut out for him.