Lucky Stiffs

Viva Las Veags: A scene from Push, Nevada.

A”push,” in gambling, means nobody wins, not even bookies. The Jets, favored by six, win by six. The spread, which was notional, turns out to be exactly the same as the score, which is actual. This, according to the third law of psychodynamics, is a “push.” So are ABC and executive producers Ben Affleck, Sean Bailey, Matt Damon, and Chris Moore trying to tell us that nobody wins in Push, Nevada? The whole town is either sworn to secrecy or afraid to speak a discouraging word, even to an agent of the Internal Revenue Service. And since the name of that agent is Prufrock, from T. S. Eliot’s “Love Song,” we have to assume that he’s a loser: I should have been a pair of ragged claws / Scuttling across the floors of silent seas. On the other hand, according to the same poem, Oh, do not ask, “What is it?” / Let us go and make our visit.

Prufrock (Derek Cecil) will only visit Push because, by accident or not, his office receives a fax alluding to an accounting error at the Versailles Casino so huge as to suggest embezzlement. And then the casino honcho (Jon Polito) tells him on the phone to mind his own business. You don’t tell a straight arrow who combines the awesome powers of the IRS with the Dudley Do-Righteousness of a Royal Canadian Mountie to mind his own business. He leaves immediately for the desert, where, in a slow-dance bar called Sloman’s, he meets a slinky femme fatale named Mary (Scarlett Chorvat). She, too, tells him to get lost, but it’s much more existential. Meanwhile, all over Push at precisely 9:15 each evening, there is synchronized sex. We don’t know why, any more than we know who is watching every move Prufrock makes on surveillance cameras as ubiquitous as London’s.

Obviously, Push is a sort of Potemkin village, a front for something else. If you haven’t already been reminded of Twin Peaks, not to mention Northern Exposure and Picket Fences, you don’t watch much television. Small Town Weird is practically its own genre, and Synchronized Secrecy is its favorite sport. What Push, Nevada adds to this familiar mix is an interactive gimmick. Each week for the first thirteen, there are clues all over the show, pointing viewers toward the whereabouts of the missing money. There is also a Website, like an agora. I’ll pass. When I watch TV, I want to be passive. Otherwise, I have a life. Let’s just hope that Affleck, Damon, et al. don’t get as bored with their creation and as contemptuous of their audience as David Lynch and Mark Frost eventually did.

So far, the only episode of CSI: Miami that CBS has let critics see is the same one everybody else saw last season when we tuned in for the usual dose of Las Vegas and got a kidnapping that took us instead across country with Marg Helgenberger to spend quality time in a Florida swamp with David Caruso. We have since heard that network folks were worried about a lack of “chemistry” between Caruso and Emily Procter, the blonde right-wing cutie pie they borrowed from The West Wing to play forensic science with him. I admit I didn’t notice this, because any show that has Helgenberger on it has enough chemistry to cure warts. But Kim Delaney was available after the cancellation of her Philly series. So now we can expect the odd concatenation of early (Caruso) and late (Delaney) NYPD Blues–iness. And the formula – process! How-to! – seems unbeatable. Still, if I were Caruso, I’d keep an eye on Delaney for more than the obvious reasons. Aren’t both Bobby and Danny dead?

Because I love Buffy, I’m giving Joss Whedon the benefit of a month or two of doubt. There is apparently a two-hour pilot for Firefly in which everything – how come, 800 years or so from now, these hard-bodies are spacing around in a freighter when once upon a time they’d been rebels against an evil Alliance of Superpowers – was explained instead of assumed. But we get instead an hour of intergalactic cowboys from the middle of the journey, and it’s incoherent.

8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter
(Tuesdays, starting September 17; 8 to 8:30 p.m.; ABC) reminds us once again of John Ritter’s exquisite comic timing, once again in the service of not much.

Life With Bonnie
(Tuesday, September 17 at 8:30 p.m.; Tuesdays, 9 to 9:30 p.m. thereafter; ABC), with Bonnie Hunt as a harried mother who also hosts an early-morning live Chicago TV show, debuts with an Italian-cooking segment so out-of-control you will be inclined to forgive the clichés that led up to and follow upon such hilarity.

LaLee’s Kin: The Legacy of Cotton
(September 18; 7:30 to 9 p.m.; HBO) spends time with the matriarch of a family of Mississippi sharecroppers for whom slavery seems never to have ended.

(Wednesdays, starting september 18; 9 to 10 p.m.; Fox) is Starsky and Hutch being Fast and Furious in the first series since Miami Vice where cars and people have the same attitude.

The Twilight Zone
(Wednesdays, starting September 18; 9 to 10 p.m.; UPN), with Forest Whitaker standing in for Rod Serling, brings back the anthology series with paired half-hour dramas, each with a twist. Don’t miss “Evergreen,” with the ultimate solution to the teenager problem.

Hughes’ Dream Harlem
(September 20; 8 to 9 p.m.; Black Starz!) is a documentary tribute to Langston Hughes, with Don Cogsville Jr. as the poet; Ossie Davis and Jad Joseph as the narrators; original poetry by Sonia Sanchez, Amiri Baraka, and many others; and original music by Charles Mack and Tevin Thomas.

When I Was a Girl
(September 22; 10 to 11 p.m.; WE), executive-produced by Linda Ellerbee and narrated by Kristin Davis, this week features candid interviews with Kelly Preston, Cynthia Nixon, Ann Curry, and Jamie-Lynn Sigler. Next week, they actually talk to a writer, Sue Grafton.

Push, Nevada
Tuesday, September 17; Thursdays thereafter; 9 to 10 p.m.; ABC.
CSI: Miami
Mondays, starting September 23; 10 to 11 p.m.; CBS.
Fridays, starting September 20; 8 to 9 p.m.; Fox.

Lucky Stiffs