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'The Franchise' ignites after coach proclaims his love for Fidel Castro

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The Franchise (9pm Wed, Showtime)

This series takes us behind the scenes of a sports franchise right in the middle of a season. This year it’s the Miami Marlins, who were expecting big things for 2012. They have a new stadium, a new name, new uniforms, new stars, and a new manager in the foul-mouthed Venezuelan Ozzie Guillén. Owner Jeff Loria hoped the Marlins would be the talk of baseball.

They have been, but for all the wrong reasons. In April, Guillén lived up to his unfiltered image by bluntly expressing his love for Cuba’s Fidel Castro. As a commentator points out, “He said the one thing you can’t say in this market.” We get to watch all hell break loose, with Guillén suspended, management losing its mind, and Florida fans picketing the ballpark.

Guillén is the sort of blowhard you’d avoid like the plague in real life. As the central figure in a TV series, however, he’s fascinating. I can’t wait to hear his views on Stalin and Mao as the season progresses.

Big Brother (8pm Thu, CBS)

Do we really need to watch another group of airhead exhibitionists live together in a sealed-off house sniping at one another through a series of eliminations as the cameras track their every move?

In a word, yes. Big Brother taps into our primal need to spy on people’s interactions, no matter how banal. The new season features the usual bonding and betrayal among some of the most obnoxious people on reality TV. For true hard cases, Showtime presents Big Brother: After Dark: a nightly feed with the cameras switched on from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m.

See you there.

Leverage (7pm Sun, TNT)

At the start of Season 5, Timothy Hutton’s irresistible team of grifters return from their various vacations, ready to con a new season’s worth of cartoonish bad guys on behalf of their innocent victims. While on break, gadget guru Hardison (Aldis Hodge) and master burglar Parker (Beth Riesgraf) made plans to open a brew pub, which will sell beer called Thief Juice in honor of their profession.

But in the meantime, the crew members gets to work foiling a corrupt airline owner (Carey Elwes) with an elaborate plan that involves stealing the famous Spruce Goose airplane. Throughout the season, they’ll also work their scams against a nefarious hockey team owner (Treat Williams) and a money-laundering businessman (Matthew Lillard).

I’d watch any con these guys care to try. Hell, I’d even drink Thief Juice if it ever comes on the market.

Political Animals (9pm Sun, USA)

I was excited about Political Animals. The short-run series features Sigourney Weaver as a Hillary Clinton-style Secretary of State married to a Bill Clinton-style former President (Ciarán Hinds) and hounded by a Maureen Dowd-style journalist (Carla Gugino) in search of family secrets. After HBO’s brilliant Game Change, I hoped it would offer even more insight into the power plays behind D.C.’s respectable façade.

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