Police work -- particularly the undercover variety, in which the wrong word or an ill-timed flinch can put lives at risk -- is a deadly serious business. There's no margin for error, and no time for tomfoolery.

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Police work -- particularly the undercover variety, in which the wrong word or an ill-timed flinch can put lives at risk -- is a deadly serious business. There's no margin for error, and no time for tomfoolery.

A TV show about undercover police work, however... well, something like that ought to be at least a little bit of fun.

And it's that aspect of the entertainment equation CTV's newest cop-show creation, Played, has seemingly failed to grasp. It's a show that takes itself so seriously it might leave folks who tune in feeling suffocated by its relentlessly sombre tone and smug, unsmiling characters.

Played is a shot-in-Toronto drama that focuses on the crime-busting exploits of the fictional Covert Investigations Unit, a small, elite team of operatives that uses undercover techniques and con-game tactics to infiltrate and bring down criminal enterprises.

The series première focuses on Det. John Moreland (Vincent Walsh), who is facing suspension after assaulting his drug-squad boss during an undercover sting operation. But instead of disciplinary action, he is instead handed an invitation to join CIU and direct his combative energies toward bigger, more dangerous cases.

The head of the newly formed CIU is Det. Sgt. Rebecca Ellis (Chandra West), and she doesn't just want Walsh -- she wants to recruit his entire cloak-and-dagger team to join her unit. What the former vice operatives find at CIU is an opportunity to use the latest high-tech gadgetry and a small but committed support staff to help take down criminals who have eluded justice for years.

In the series opener, the target is a high-profile drug kingpin who sits atop Walsh's personal most-wanted list. In order to get him, Walsh goes undercover, posing as a guy with serious gambling debts who's willing to transport drugs in order to make some fast money. It's an intriguing -- though in no way innovative -- storyline, but it never gains any dramatic momentum because the "acting" -- the brooding, stiff-lipped delivery of often-clunky dialogue -- gets in the way of the action.

The series' second episode is similarly disappointing, suggesting Played may be stuck in a self-defeating rut from which it cannot escape. And if that's the case, it'll be a big letdown for CTV, which has enjoyed significant success with homegrown series such as Flashpoint and, more recently, Motive.

Simply put, Played doesn't meet the standard set by its Canuck predecessors.

 

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A Welcome addition: With big-name stars like Robin Williams, Michael J. Fox and Sean Hayes bringing new sitcoms to prime time this fall, it has become nearly impossible for rookie comedies without major star power to get noticed.

NBC's Welcome to the Family has received little fanfare or promotional support, but it really deserves to be seen. This single-camera family comedy brings a welcome dose of charm, wit and smarts to the fall lineup.

Anchored by Mike O'Malley (Glee, Justified) and Ricardo Chavira (Desperate Housewives) as two dads who can't abide the notion of their families being brought together by a teen-pregnancy-inspired marriage, Welcome to the Family's pilot offers a storyline with long-term potential, characters that feel worthy of an ongoing emotional investment and, most importantly, numerous moments of genuine sitcom amusement.

Those might sound like the basic requirements for a TV comedy, but a quick look at the rest of the new crop reveals many shows sadly lacking in all those areas. Welcome to the Family is worth a look.

 

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Nothing refreshing about this Miller time: There's nothing more maddening, in tube-watching terms, than a waste of acting talent. And among this fall's new arrivals, The Millers might be the very worst offender.

The cast of this painfully unfunny CBS effort is led by comedy veteran Will Arnett (Arrested Development, Up All Night), Hollywood mainstay Beau Bridges and beloved character actress Margo Martindale (Justified, The Americans), all of whom have shown they can make the most of pretty much any material they're given.

With The Millers, they're given essentially nothing. Actually, less than nothing, because a steady stream of laugh-track-enhanced jokes about flatulence and masturbation must surely tip the content scale into the negative.

Arnett plays Nathan Miller, a TV news reporter who's just split up with his wife. He's scared to tell his meddlesome parents (Martindale, Bridges), and with good reason -- when his sister lets the secret slip, Nathan's dad decides it's time for him to exit his loveless marriage, too. Dad walks out, and Mom announces she's moving in with her son.

What follows is supposed to be cheeky and hilarious. Instead, it's just sad, uncomfortable and annoying.

What a waste.

brad.oswald@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @BradOswald

Brad Oswald

Brad Oswald
Perspectives editor

After three decades spent writing stories, columns and opinion pieces about television, comedy and other pop-culture topics in the paper’s entertainment section, Brad Oswald shifted his focus to the deep-thoughts portion of the Free Press’s daily operation.

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