What to do without me Downton Abbey? Well, MAD MEN is on the way, and, believe it or not, there ARE some intriguing shows on cable and even network tv. For starters, THE GOOD WIFE remains the smartest, most character-driven series on tv. It's a clever brew of past popular genres: family feuds, legal feuds, and office politics. At the center Julianna Margulies (remember her from the first two seasons of ER, eons ago?) plays lawyer and sometime mother of two bright, media-obsessed teens Alicia Forrick. She still loves her unfaithful husband (a perfectly cast Chris Noth, half charm, half sleaze) but is drawn to the co-head of her law firm played by Josh Charles. The supporting cast is terrific in creating multifaceted characters. For example, Alan Cumming, the terrific Scottish actor, loses all trace of accent and creates a cunning, sometimes comic campaign manager, while Archie Panjabi plays a bisexual detective for the firm, whose own story rivals Alicia's in intensity.
Another top-rated CBS show, PERSON OF INTEREST, has a hook that is beginning to tire, but the two leads are such intriguing characters that it doesn't matter. Michael Emerson, bringing his unique otherness from LOST, plays a multimillionaire genius who has invented a machine that finds people in jeopardy. He partners with a former CIA agent turned rogue who does the physical work (fighting, martial arts, bleeding, etc.). He's played perfectly by Jim Caviezel, whose dark, swarthy looks convey a world of pain and menace.
Recently a new show from the Sundance Channel has caused a stir among mystery fans who relished the strange darkness of THE KILLING and TWIN PEAKS. Elizabeth Moss (Peggy of MAD MEN) stars as a detective home on vacation in a remote lake area in New Zealand. And this is not your Tolkien New Zealand. It's full of down under rednecks who'd rather kill you than argue about it, a group of desperate women who have formed a commune to get away from such men, and a strange half-breed 12 year old girl who is pregnant and goes missing early in the story. Atmosphere is a dominating factor here, but the story has its own peculiar pull, and the acting is some of the best I have seen on tv in some time.