The Roush Review: The Dovekeepers, Younger, Weird Loners
Here's to the return of the classic network-TV miniseries, colorfully if rather breathlessly embodied by CBS's two-part The Dovekeepers, a tragic historical romance played out against the fabled siege of Masada in the year 70 CE. The twist here being that the story is told from the point of view of the women who endured much hardship, but also experienced great love, during the standoff of exiled Jews in a desert mountain fortress while a legion of Roman troops plotted their destruction. (A more traditional retelling of the battle, titled Masada, starring Peter O'Toole and then-reigning king of the miniseries Peter Strauss, aired on ABC in 1981 during the heyday of the network miniseries.)
Based on Alice Hoffman's female-centric novel, Dovekeepers stars NCIS's spirited fan favorite Cote de Pablo as "Witch of Moab" Shirah, whose early ill-fated liaisons with married men prompt her to disguise her beloved daughter Aziza as a boy, adopting the mantra: "At all costs, avoid love." Easier said than done, as Masada is portrayed as a hotbed of passion, with plenty of lovemaking amid the threat of war. This potboiler approach to ancient history, co-starring Manhattan's Rachel Brosnahan as fellow outcast Yael, is enjoyable in spite of, or perhaps because of, its overheated blend of sex, mysticism and climactic savagery. You may occasionally wonder why Sam Neill (as the Jewish scholar Josephus, who's recording their tale for posterity in a framing device) doesn't just urge these ladies to can the soap opera and cut to the bloody chase. But what fun would that be?
FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH: When a 40-year-old single mom wonders, "Do I really want to trade my dignity, wisdom and self-respect for another chance at my 20s?" you know the only possible answer is a resounding "Yes!" And when this 40-something is played by the winsome Sutton Foster, the Broadway star making a welcome return to TV after the too-short-lived Bunheads, you know you're more than likely to cheer her on. TV Land is clearly aiming younger, and decidedly raunchier, with Younger, a fetching new urban Cinderella fantasy sitcom from Darren Star (Sex and the City).
The high-concept premise is a reversal of those CW/ABC Family-style comedies about young girls pretending to be older to get a glamorous job in the big city. In Younger, soon-to-be-divorced Liza (Foster) from New Jersey is first seen unsuccessfully trying to re-enter New York's publishing workplace after years raising a daughter (now an exchange student in India), being interviewed by bubbleheads half her age. Solution: a makeover for this "Ruth Van Winkle," courtesy of her bohemian/lesbian BFF Maggie (Debi Mazar.) As quickly as she can swap her AOL account for Gmail, Liza is passing for 26 and lands an assistant job to an insecure dragon-lady marketing exec (Miriam Shor) who, naturally, steals all of Liza's best ideas.
If you can get past the many vagina jokes—one of which made even a jaded viewer gasp—there's a fair amount of addictive charm to Younger, especially in Foster's winning portrayal of a smart woman forced to live a silly lie, which is greatly complicated when sweetly studly tattoo artist Josh (The Following's Nico Tortorella) falls for her, and vice versa. "I love all types of old stuff," Josh tells her on an early date. (He's talking about vinyl LPs at the time, but it gives us hope for if/when he discovers the truth.) Hilary Duff also beguiles as her workplace buddy Kelsey, an ambitious editor whom we hope Liza will help see the light about her jerk boyfriend. While never likely to become as culturally resonant as the exploits of Carrie Bradshaw and her saucy posse, Younger at least doesn't make you feel like a crabby old fogey.
LOSERS: Which is more than I can say for Fox's miserable Weird Loners, the latest cynical twist on a genre we hope goes the way of this season's insta-flop romcoms: the twisted-Friends ensemble comedy (a la Happy Endings), where resemblance to actual human behavior is nearly impossible to discern. Even a sparkling talent like Ugly Betty scene-stealer Becki Newton is defeated by this unlikable, artificial set-up about four single misfits in their 30s, living in adjoining halves of a Queens townhouse. The characters are either painfully underdeveloped (Newton and her roomie, played by Meera Rohit Kumbhani) or horrendously clichéd: Endings' Zachary Knighton is an unemployed lothario who moves in to mooch off his infantile cousin (Nate Torrence), who has just lost his dad. With the exception of Torrence's pathetic simpleton, who acts out with sock puppets, everyone's a user or a loser and terribly dreary company. This show isn't weird, just sad.
The Dovekeepers premieres Tuesday-Wednesday, March 31 and April 1, 9/8c, CBS
Younger premieres Tuesday, March 31, 10/9c, TV Land
Weird Loners premieres Tuesday, March 31, 9:30/8:30c, FoxAlertMe