A car is more than a mere mode of transport in Los Angeles (or Hong Kong, for that matter); it's an extension of its driver's social standing. Television producers are expert users of the concept; and this week, we can see it play out in not one but three shows set in the urban sprawl of LA-la-land.
Fans of Californication (FX; Mondays at 11pm) will be familiar with a certain Porsche 964 convertible missing a headlight and in need of a serious wax job. Like its owner, the speedster is unkempt, black clad and rude in its bohemian-bourgeois pretension. This damaged chick-magnet heralds the return of Hank Moody (David Duchovny; The X-Files), TV's most infuriatingly entertaining equal-opportunity lover of the female sex.
Season three finds Moody in charge of his increasingly rebellious daughter after paramour Karen van der Beek (Natascha McElhone; The Truman Show) escapes to New York. With his writer's block still intact and his agent, Charlie Runkle (Evan Handler; Sex and the City), trapped in publishing Siberia with a nymphomaniac boss (played by a statuesque Kathleen Turner), Moody takes on a teaching gig at a local college teeming with luscious learners, to make ends meet. Uh-oh.
This time the heartbreak belongs in a love triangle made up of Runkle, his soon-to-be-ex-wife and Rick Springfield (playing an X-rated version of himself). Stacy Koons (Peter Gallagher; The OC) plays the dean and straight man to Moody's philandering professor. Wit and wickedness propel the gang into a Midsummer Night's Dream-like climax that makes this the most debauched season yet.
Revving into the week's action we also have a Dodge Challenger, on NCIS: Los Angeles (AXN; Tuesdays at 11pm), the preferred ride of agents of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service's Office of Special Projects, it would seem.
In real life, this gas-guzzler boasts a 6.1-litre V8 Hemi with 425 horsepower, off the rack; but the fictional needs of agents G. Callen (Chris O'Donnell, who can be seen in upcoming film Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore) and Sam Hanna (below; LL Cool J; Ridikulous from 30 Rock) call for some serious crime-fighting modifications.
As a spin-off (of NCIS) of a spin-off (of JAG), NCIS: Los Angeles presents nothing original. If you like: a) procedural dramas based on undercover missions full of techy gadgets; b) O'Donnell looking tough yet soulful; c) LL Cool J looking too cool for school behind the wheel of the ultimate muscle car; d) scenic shots of LA; or e) all of the above, this show is a no-brainer.
Finally, we would like to introduce a zero-emissions vehicle to the streets of LA: the supermarket trolley. Any development that reduces a Californian to this set of wheels would be dire indeed; The Colony (above; Discovery Channel, Wednesdays at 10pm), a reality-TV series, explores a post-apocalyptic scenario. With no society to speak of, a trolley driver's aspirations towards status would be to, well, continue to have one.
The Colony consists of the few peo- ple not driven away or wiped out by an imagined virulent epidemic. The programme studies the everyman's ability to survive post-disaster, using existing but damaged infrastructure.
Ten volunteers are corralled for 10 weeks into a giant warehouse with no electricity or water, except for access to the banks of a heavily polluted section of the Los Angeles River (lugging buckets to and fro is where the trolley comes in handy). These strangers (supposedly chosen to reflect a cross-section of society, although the high number of science and engineering professionals in the group is a bit suspicious) are expected to live and work together to secure survival basics such as food, water and safe shelter (against marauders), and perhaps move on to building livelihoods from the rubble.
Hardly airtight from a scientific point of view, the experiment is nevertheless fascinating and entertaining - from the immediate gender division in chore assignment to individual reactions to the discovery of a packet of coffee beans - and not just for those with survivalist fantasies.
Fasten your seatbelts; what will you be driving this week?