USA Network Swings For The Fences Tonight With Premiere Of 'Satisfaction'

It’s always interesting when a basic cable network adds a new series to its schedule that does not readily resemble the kind of programming for which said network is known. This has been a big week for such swings with the premieres of the reality series with the self-explanatory title “Virgin Territory” on MTV, the boundary-pushing reality series (also with a self-explanatory title) “Dating Naked” on VH1, the relationship comedy “Married” on FX, the scripted drama “The Divide” on WE TV and, tonight, the debut of a show that one might describe as a powerful, profound psychological drama, “Satisfaction,” on USA Network.

What’s so powerful about it? Well, there aren’t many things more dramatically intense in life than a husband and wife undergoing significant midlife crises that appear to be destroying their marriage, and that’s the basic premise of the show. Neil (Matt Passmore) is a businessman as unfulfilled with his job as he is with his marriage. Grace (Stephanie Szostak), his wife, has big issues too, and her means of escaping her misery eventually prompt (or, perhaps, inspire) Neil to take very specific dramatic action of his own.

More than any series in its history, including “Suits,” “Necessary Roughness” and “Graceland,” “Satisfaction” represents a significant effort on the part of USA to compete with some of the more adult cable fare that has proven so popular and award-worthy on FX and AMC. Frankly, I think future episodes of “Satisfaction” are going to have to be even more provocative than the pilot if it is ever to be spoken of in the same conversation as the hot shows on those networks. But it’s off to a great start.

“Satisfaction” is not an easy show to categorize; nor is it an easy fit into USA’s original programming brand. It certainly isn’t a “blue sky” show, as so many USA series have been called. It’s not primarily about doctors or lawyers or detectives or secret agents. It’s about two desperately unhappy people who could be described as ordinary if they weren’t as wealthy and upscale as they are who begin making choices that are decidedly out of their comfort zones.

The pilot is definitely satisfying, and even somewhat tantalizing, because by its end it is not readily clear where the narrative is going to go, especially because it never goes exactly where one is led to believe it will throughout the first episode. It’s one of those rare pilots that leave viewers curious to see more. I have one quibble with it: There is a narrative-disrupting, life-changing event early in the pilot that would in real life become a major national or international news story, the fallout from which would probably prevent certain events in the pilot from happening, at least so shortly after said event. It doesn’t actually compromise the show, but it is difficult to get past the way that the creative team behind this show handles it. You’ll know it when you see it.

“Satisfaction” is one of two new series USA will debut tonight. The other is “Rush,” a gritty but ultimately less tantalizing drama about a Los Angeles doctor who makes a very good if somewhat dangerous living as a medical “fixer” for elite and shady clientele, including some very dangerous criminals. Certain elements of this show evoke slight comparisons to Showtime’s “Ray Donovan,” even if the two shows are nothing alike.

“Rush,” which is probably closer in tone to “Graceland” than to anything else on the network, isn’t as bold a choice as “Satisfaction” for USA, but one big swing at a time is more than enough. The pilot seems to have generated mixed reactions from critics. I think its success or failure will rest squarely on the shoulders of its star, Tom Ellis. If the audience takes to him, USA will likely have another long-running hit on its schedule
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