The one thing a potential guilty pleasure can't afford to be guilty of is boredom. Just look at the current standard-bearer: ABC's outrageous Scandal, with its whiplash plotting and rat-a-tat-tat dialogue delivered at such hyperspeed you don't have time to dwell on the berserk absurdities, because you're having such a blast. NBC's tepid new mystery-soap hybrid Deception (10/9c) deceives itself if it thinks it belongs in that gonzo company. It even pales next to the diminished second season of Revenge, which needs to refocus on the Emily-vs.-Graysons dynamic and forget the Initiative - yawn - ever existed.
Imitation is the sincerest form of flat-lining in this earnest and uninspired Revenge clone. Deception introduces another fabulously rich but bitterly miserable Fortune 500 family, the Bowers, whose closeted skeletons are brought into the open by an interloper with an agenda. The traitor in their midst is Joanna (the appealing Meagan Good), who grew up amid the Bowers as the daughter of a domestic. She's now a detective recruited by her FBI ex-boyfriend (the bland Laz Alonso) to charm her way back into the family's graces. The goal: to find out who murdered her former BFF, the Bowers' party-girl heiress Vivian.
The usual suspects are mostly well cast: the ruthless pharmaceutical-king father (Victor Garber), the resentful, unhappily married older son (Tate Donovan), the handsome playboy black sheep (Wes Brown), whose development of a possibly tainted cancer drug may be behind Vivian's death. But only Katherine LaNasa as the boozy stepmom truly embraces the genre's gaudy spirit, dismissing the victim as "a drug-addicted, narcissistic black hole of need" and starting a racquetball catfight to intimidate her mousy daughter-in-law.
The pacing is sluggish, the twists telegraphed and rarely shocking, turning this whodunit into a "who cares?" Deception gets NBC's midseason off to a dreary start.
COMINGS AND GOINGS: ABC Family's two best shows return as a winning Monday combo, with Switched at Birth (8/7c) launching its second season after a marathon of repeats starting at 11 am/10c. The story picks up in the wake of the trial, with nouveau riche Angelo (Gilles Marini) confronted by a new scandal. ... Back to resume its first season is the more comedic Bunheads (9/8c), in which Michelle (the bubbly Sutton Foster) has retreated back to Nevada after the Nutcracker crack-up - turns out dancing and mace aren't the best mix - while the dance studio back in Paradise is shut down. But I'm guessing not for long in both cases. ... The course of true love rarely runs smooth, or credibly, on ABC's The Bachelor (8/7c), which is back for a 17th (!) edition, once again raking through the ashes of the broken-hearted also-rans to find the latest protagonist: Sean Lowe, rejected by Emily Maynard during the last running of The Bachelorette. I'd wish him well, but seems like an awful waste of perfectly good roses. ... The most potent reminder of what an awful fall Fox endured, the insipid The Mob Doctor, which truly was as bad as its title made it sound, airs its final episode (9:01/8:01c), titled "Life and Death," and I'm betting on the latter.
WHAT ELSE IS ON: Also back with new episodes, PBS' durably popular Antiques Roadshow (check tvguide.com listings) travels to Corpus Christi, Texas, where the highest appraisal of the season takes the form of a lost Diego Rivera painting, said to be worth up to $1 million. ... The show that had us on the edge of our seats on Monday nights for years, former Fox smash 24, begins a run on DirecTV's Audience Network, with episodes airing Monday through Thursday at 8/7c. Just thinking about that ticking clock can get the pulse racing all over again. ... It's a crowded house on ABC's Castle (10:01/9:01c) when Castle's ex-wife (Scandal's Darby Stanchfield) moves in to the apartment to tend to their ailing daughter, and circumstances force Beckett to take up residence with them as well. Three is most definitely a crowd. ... Don't be surprised if everything listed above takes a back seat in the ratings to ESPN's broadcast of the BCS Championship Game (8:30/7:30c), with undefeated Notre Dame taking on Alabama's Crimson Tide.
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