If there were a special Emmy award for Acting That Is Much Better Than the Series Being Acted In, there would be some excellent entries this season. Fox’s Bones, which debuted last night, is an inexcusably cheesy CSI ripoff. But Emily Deschanel gives an unnecessarily honest, striking performance as a brusque scientist who is great dealing with human remains, not so great dealing with humans. Plenty of procedurals might give her some lame, cursory backstory, but Deschanel actually convinces you that she’s damaged.
Tonight, she gets competition from Adam Goldberg, who costars with Chris "Robin" O’Donnell in the comedy-drama Head Cases (Fox, 9 p.m. E.T.). They play two lawyers, on release from a mental-health facility, who team up to start a practice. O’Donnell is an uptight, panic-attack suffering former big-firm lawyer, while Goldberg suffers from a Tourette’s-like tendency to explode verbally and physically. I know: they’re the 1,000,000th "original odd couple" ever to appear on TV. (And The WB has a similar concept, also with lawyers, coming up in the drama Just Legal.) But Goldberg is impossible not to watch, a seething ball of tics, comic outbursts and mile-a-second riffs–he’s like a double shot of espresso just before bedtime.
Goldberg is filling an old role here: the quirky, expressive Jew, who helps the repressed Gentile get in touch with his emotions while providing a comic foil. (Not that the religion/ethnicity angle gets played up in the series — it doesn’t come up at all — but then again, when you pair Goldberg with an actor as ham-on-white as O’Donnell, it hardly needs to.) It’s not a new position for Goldberg: he was outstanding, for instance, in Relativity, one of the best Jewish-Christian culture-clash shows on TV. But he gives this character type a vitality it usually lacks. He’s voluble, but not nebbishy; he’s explosive, not cringing. Give him a hard time, and he doesn’t go whining to his therapist. He whaps you upside the head with a law book.
Leave it to the actor who played "The Hebrew Hammer" in the movies to infuse a stereotypically nerdy-Jewish-guy role with virility. (This is an encouraging trend in TV in general. On The O.C., Adam Brody’s Seth Cohen has many nebbishy traits — the self-consciousness, the stammering — but he also gets the girl.) Head Cases is no work of genius, but at least it lets Goldberg transform the Neurotic Jew into the Psychotic Jew. That may not be too much progress, but I’ll take it.