Gary Unmarried, General Hospital: Night Shift, Cougar Town, and Raising the Bar: The Complete First Seasons (April 3/10)
With nothing connecting them aside from their parent company, Disney, Gary Unmarried, General Hospital: Night Shift, Cougar Town, and Raising the Bar certainly represent the myriad of options that are available to viewers at any given time on any given station. And although none of these shows have been particularly successful either in terms of their ratings or their critical reaction, all four certainly possess more than enough attributes to win over the very specific audiences that they've each been geared towards.
Gary Unmarried casts Jay Mohr as Gary Brooks, a recently-divorced painting contractor who attempts to balance his relationships with both his volatile ex-wife (Paula Marshall's Allison) and his new girlfriend (Jaime King's Vanessa). Series creator Ed Yeager is clearly not trying to revolutionize the sitcom with Gary Unmarried, as the program generally comes off as an almost prototypical example of the genre due to its emphasis on eye-rollingly silly punchlines, hoary situations, and larger-than-life performances. Still, Gary Unmarried is surprisingly watchable on an impressively regular basis - with Mohr's winning turn as the title character certainly playing an instrumental role in cementing the show's mild success.
Far less successful, however, is General Hospital: Night Shift. The series, which follows the nurses and doctors from General Hospital during the nightly rounds, is sporadically entertaining in a decidedly trashy manner, yet it's clear right from the get-go that the show has been designed to appeal primarily to fans of its daytime counterpart. The performances are a mixed bag, as some of the actors are admittedly quite talented (Kimberly McCullough, for example, is surprisingly good as the HIV-positive Robin Scorpio) while others seem like they'd be more at home within community theater. The inclusion of a few shocking twists and turns generally compensates for the low-rent atmosphere, although, in the end, General Hospital: Night Shift is unlikely to win over newcomers to the long-running franchise.
Cougar Town marks the latest effort from Spin City and Scrubs creator Bill Lawrence, and it's clear right from the pilot that the show is just as silly and irreverent as his previous endeavors. The series follows recently divorced 40-year-old Jules Cobb (Courteney Cox) as she attempts to navigate the treacherous waters of middle age, with her day-to-day exploits mirrored by a strong supporting cast that includes Busy Philipps' Laurie, Brian Van Holt's Bobby, and Dan Byrd's Travis. Though the first few episodes emphasize Cox's character, Cougar Town eventually morphs into a satisfyingly broad ensemble comedy that remains quite watchable despite its consistent lack of laughs.
Finally, Raising the Bar proves that there's still a place for good old-fashioned legal dramas on the airwaves - as the show, created by Steven Bochco and David Feige, stands as one of the most entertaining examples of the genre to come around in quite some time. This is despite a rather rocky start, however, with the show's far-from-subtle treatment of Mark-Paul Gosselaar's idealistic Jerry Kellerman ensuring that character initially comes off as a caricature (ie he often seems a hair away from breaking down in tears when something doesn't go his way). It's the efforts of a uniformly strong ensemble cast, coupled with cases that are genuinely interesting, that confirms Raising the Bar's place as a promising legal drama, and it's certainly a testament to the show's strength that the first season's 10 episodes just fly by.