She sees dead people

NBC's "Medium" is back, one of those off-the-radar bubble shows that quietly earns ratings and repeatedly (and rather surprisingly) squeaks by with a network renewal. It's an odd show. Especially stuck as it is in a marketplace packed full of homogeneous product that's often either A) dour police/forensic procedurals or B) snarky reality competitions.

"Medium" shares the basic premise of Jennifer Love Hewitt's "Ghost Whisperer," (cute psychic solves mysteries) but without the cheese and overwrought melodrama. In fact, strange as it sounds, what makes "Medium" so compelling is that so much of it seems so ordinary.

Yes, the show presents each week a grisly crime that would fit right in on "CSI," committed by the most diabolical and shameless characters the world has to offer, although all of them commit their misdeeds in the confines of sunny Phoenix, Arizona. And yes, there is a tired formula to the crime-solving thread of the show: psychic protagonist has dreams about the crime, misunderstands the dreams and begins to think she's Got It All Wrong, but in the end at the last minute realizes her dreams were right and uses them to help catch the bad guy. And her batting average is so high that it often feels very phony to witness her time and again face doubt and resistance among her police colleagues. Then again, it's also pretty phony to see how an ostensible jury consultant to the D.A.'s office is frequenty allowed to help question suspects.

But right alongside all that detective work and criminal mayhem is the suburban, middle-class existence of psychic mom (Patricia Arquette), mortal dad (Jake Weber), and their three blonde psychic daughters. But it's not a high-concept family out of Marvel Comics. This is a family struggling with bills, constantly making meals and washing the dishes, driving around in a beat-up Volvo, coping with the father's layoff, and - oh yeah - facing the inevitable fallout and stress caused by psychic mom's visions. And all of it with the charming crackle of writing you'd expect from Glenn Gordon Caron, the showrunner who also brought you the late, great 80s dramedy "Moonlighting." The casual, sexy chemistry between Arquette and Weber is particularly appealing, the most realistic and loving married couple on television now, second only perhaps to the Taylors on "Friday Night Lights." This is the kind of thing you just don't get on network television, where flirty coworkers is about as serious a relationship as viewers are typically allowed.

There's also a sense that because the show isn't a trendy, supersized hit the producers can take certain creative risks. They throw a lot at the wall to see what sticks. Many of the psychic visions are chilling and visual in striking ways, oftentimes with a genuine sense of poetry.

It's good stuff.

The two most recent episodes can be found at Hulu. The ending of "Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead" is especially satisfying.

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