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TV Picks: 'Crisis,' 'Doll & Em,' 'Episodes'

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"Crisis": With a busload of kidnapped high school students, a flock of powerful parents and a smattering of high-caliber stars, NBC seems prepared to do what CBS couldn't with "Hostages"--create a high-octane, character-driven suspense drama that is both familiar (newbie FBI agent up against emotionally charged odds) and unexpected (the point of the abduction is not at all clear.)  

As with "Hostages," the president is involved as well as a political vendetta of sorts, but creator Rand Ravich ("Life") has given himself a lot more room to move. Heading off for a field trip from their prestigious private school, a group of disparate teenagers (including the president's son) is taken hostage. Only one gets away, through the super-cop effort of Secret Service agent Marcus Finley (Lance Gross), who is having a very bad first day on the job.    

Back at command, agent Susie Dunn ("666 Park Avenue's" Rachael Taylor) becomes the FBI's point person, even though her niece, Amber (Halston Fitch) is one of the hostages. That conflict is outweighed by the fact that Amber's mother, and Susie's sister, Meg, is the influential head of "an international IT corporation" and also played by Gillian Anderson.  Meg gives Susie entree into the entitled world of Power Parents and the series' emotional central conflict -- Meg and Susie do not get along.   

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The action moves back and forth between the taken (who include a parent played by Dermot Mulroney, so it's no spoiler to say he will be central to the action), the authorities and the parents, who are soon issued separate, and very alarming, ransom demands.  The D.C. milieu allows for ramped-up stakes, the economic disparity among the kids adds an element of social commentary, and Gillian Anderson is always reason enough to watch just about anything. But it's the twists of plot that will make or break this show--in the first two episodes, story lines turned and turned again in a most satisfying way.  A break in filming last year sent rumors flying, but if Ravich can keep the show steady on this switchback track, NBC will have another hit on its hands. NBC, Sundays, 10 p.m.

"Doll & Em": #ILoveEmilyMortimer, and for those who feel the same, catching her new six-episode comedy series on HBO is a no-brainer. Especially since she plays a version of herself. 

Written by Mortimer ("The Newsroom"), her best friend, actress Dolly Wells, and Azazel Jacobs (who also directs) "Doll & Em" imagines a world in which Em, a rich and famous actress, invites her heartbroken and distraught best friend, played by Wells, to leave London for Los Angeles, where she can work as Em's personal assistant.  

Which, as anyone who has ever hired a friend to do just about anything will tell you, is not such a great idea.   

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There is, of course, the obligatory send-up of Los Angeles, tricked out here with appearances by the likes of Susan Sarandon, Bradley Cooper, Chloe Sevigny and John Cusack. But the focus is smartly, and at times hilariously, kept on the friendship and the revelation a working relationship can bring. Doll is surprised by Em's passive/aggressive sense of entitlement and vice versa (an early scene involving the serving of ice cream is priceless.)

Although much of the action here is particular to the Hollywood life--"Episodes" meets "All About Eve"--many of the moments transcend Industry trappings. The bonds we form in childhood may be strong but they are based on earlier versions of ourselves. Watching as Em and Doll resume old habits, including and especially personal, competitiveness reminds us why some long-term friendships fare best long-distance. Not that the real Emily Mortimer could ever be anything like this. HBO, Wednesdays, 10 p.m.

"Episodes":  As one Hollywood send-up begins, another ends; This Sunday is the season finale of Showtime's "Episodes." For three years, British couple/writing team Beverly (Tamsin Greig) and Sean (Stephen Mangan) have struggled to make the American version of their boarding-school-centric show, "Lyman's Boys," which is almost immediately changed to a low-brow comedy called "Pucks" starring Matt LeBlanc (Matt LeBlanc) as a dense hockey coach.

Now with "Pucks" finally coming to an end, the three must decide what their next steps will be--Showtime has, fortunately, renewed "Episodes" for a fourth season. It's silly and soapy and only occasionally scathing but the four leads (Kathleen Rose Perkins often steals the show as TV executive Carol Rance) are terrific, and there's something oddly endearing about a television show about making a television show. Showtime, Sunday, 10:30 p.m.

 

An earlier version of this story neglected to mention Azazel Jacobs as a co-writer of "Doll and Em." 

ALSO:

Gillian Anderson Comes to Crisis

Newsroom Gets Third Season

Showtime Orders Fourth "Episodes"

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