The show isn’t perfect. I love the actress Gina Torres, so kick-ass in Firefly, but her larger-than-life elegance is an odd match for the neurotic head counselor. Some voice-overs—letters home never sent—are syrupy, and there’s the occasional, overly literal musical underlines (call it the “Hey Jealousy” technique). But this is a smart show. The obvious comparison is Freaks and Geeks, but I’m also reminded of the Cosby spinoff A Different World, which revolutionized television simply by being set at a black college. Free to show more than one black kid at a time, it had no sassy sidekicks or null best friends. Instead, it had an array of buppy princesses, nerds, politicos, and so on, letting the characters be the villains and the heroes of their own stories.
And then there’s Rubicon, a new mystery-conspiracy drama on AMC—where the nerds are not angry and funny and fat, just very, very worried. A salve for those mourning Lost,Rubicon is a paranoid political thriller packed with intelligence analysts, symbolic four-leaf clovers, think tanks, code-breaking retired spies, 9/11 tragedies, sleek widows, hot secretaries, and a six-pack of mad geniuses with messy hair and intimacy issues. In theory, this should be paranoiac catnip, but we’ve been through this so many times (Twin Peaks, Alias, Lost, V, FlashForward) that it comes down to whether we can trust the puzzle-makers. So far, it’s slow going, though the Matthew Morrison–look-alike hero (played by The Pacific’s James Badge Dale) has appeal. Here’s hoping they don’t end up in purgatory.