For Better or Worse, Television Schedules Are Recovering from COVID

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  • The Cleaning Lady. Fox. Monday, January 3, 9 p.m.
  • Good Sam. CBS. Wednesday, January 5, 10 p.m.

Television, at least in an arithmetical sense, may finally be clawing its way back to pre-plague levels. The broadcast networks premiered two new series in December, and five more are scheduled for January, none of them reality shows or cheapie remake piffle, which may not sound too impressive until you remember that there were only a dozen new ones during the ballyhooed 2021 fall season.

But remember also that “normal” in television includes a generous helping of mediocrity. None of January’s TV offerings are going to make you forget Seinfeld or even The Ugliest Girl in Town. (Which, I swear it, was an actual ABC sitcom in 1968.) The only thing really noteworthy about this week’s premieres is that they exist at all after two years of COVID-related havoc on production schedules.

The moderately-more interesting of this week’s new shows is Fox’s The Cleaning Lady, based on an Argentine narconovela called La Chica Que Limpia. Elodie Yung (The Defenders, Daredevil) stars as Thony De La Rosa, an illegal immigrant working as a janitor in Los Angeles while waiting for specialized medical treatment for her ailing son. While sweeping out a warehouse one night, she inadvertently witnesses a Mexican cartel murder.

The bad news is that Thony gets assigned clean-up duties on all the splattered blood and brains; the good news is that a trafficker (Adan Canto, The Following) with an elevated class consciousness who sees narco-assassins and undocumented cleaning ladies as fellow victims of the vast American conspiracy against immigration takes a shine to her. When the work is done, Thony isn’t bumped off but put in charge of tidying up the cartel’s mutilated corpses, of which—it soon becomes apparent—there are many.

But at least there’s an interesting and socially fulfilling crowd at the office, including Armenian gun-runners, hot-tempered trophy wives, money launderers, rogue FBI agents and others with at least a passing interest in killing her. Or vice-versa; when she criticizes co-workers’ devotion to the job, Thony quickly discovers that the cartel HR department is, well, harsh.

For the most part, The Cleaning Lady follows the broad and predictable contours of other Hollywood tales of comely young women caught up in and corrupted by the drug trade, including Queen of the South and Maria Full of Grace. But the show has a few interesting tics, including the cartel’s lethal chess match with FBI moles. And The Cleaning Lady has a genuine note of diversity—Thony is not Hispanic but Cambodian, as is Yung, the actress who plays her. Perhaps Killing Fields flashback would correct Hollywood’s certainty that narcotraffickers are the only merchants of death.

CBS’ Good Sam, on the other hand, is an over-emotive hospital soap opera that’s even more slavishly bound by the conventions of its genre. Cue crusty old heart surgeon browbeating the members of his young medical team. (“Pathlogically arrogant, profoundly insecure, emotionally unpredictable, and excessively vain!”) Cue loathsome disease you never heard of but will suffer nightmares about for the next six months. (An infection triggered by a Latin American insect that bites hard, then defecates inside the wound.) Cue turgid dialogue about wild sexual promiscuity. (“We have always been straight with each other!” “That was before you slept with my father!”) Repeat for 42 minutes.

When it drifts away from gerontological sex and insect defecation, Good Sam concerns a couple of arrogant heart surgeons, Robert Griffith (Jason Isaacs, Star Trek: Discovery) and his daughter Sam (Sophia Bush, the various Chicago shows). He’s her nasty boss and she’s his bitchy underling. Griffith falls into a coma for six months, and when he emerges, the poles have been reversed: She’s his bitchy boss and he’s her nasty underling. The insects and promiscuity are largely unaffected. And  Dr. Kildare and Ben Casey are still spinning in their graves.

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