So, fall is here. Well, calendar-wise anyway. And with it comes that which the wistful side of my TV-writing ambitious brain gets to sample the new fruits of the small screen. As always (at least for as long as I’ve been following it, which is to say about 5 or 6 years), there is a lineup full of ups and downs. I’ve actually gone about catching most (if not quite all) of the new shows on offer this year, taking at least the pilot of more than half for sure, maybe as many as 2/3, which is still pretty good, all things considered, and here we have my roundup of what is worth your time, and what to pass on by, maybe even with some personal recommendations for folks I know.
Let’s go in descending order of quality, shall we?
ABC, Tuesdays at 8 (on CTV)/Wednesdays at 8
Far and away the best new show of the fall. Bryan Fuller (creator of Dead Like Me, Wonderfalls, writer of the best of Heroes, and of some decent Star Treks even) finally hits it big and brings his best series yet. In short, a pie-maker can bring back the dead for 60 seconds with a touch (he then has to redead them with a second touch before the minute is up or else someone else nearby dies), an ability he uses in partnership with a private eye to solve recent murders and collect the reward, a scam which is complicated when he undeads the long-lost love of his life. Oh yeah, and he can never touch her again, lest she redead forever. Whimsical, fantastic (in both senses), bright, airy, gorgeous, meaningful, dense, funny, sweet, stylized, and even sporting a bit of an edge, it is a modern-day fairy tale the likes of which you have never seen before on TV or pretty much anywhere else. Just flat out watch it. You will smile, or you have no pulse.
A bit behind the best:
NBC, Mondays at 8
A delightful little mashup of Alias and a slacker comedy, Josh Schwartz (creator of The O.C.) basically lifts a Seth Cohen-type nerd out of his previous show’s setting and dumps him into the middle of a turf war between American intelligence agencies predicated on the massive glut of government secrets that on old college buddy of Chuck’s sent directly into his brain before being shot. Action, great humour, very nice performances (Zachary Levi in titular role understands modern nerds perfectly, Adam Baldwin of Firefly fame is hilarious as the gruff NSA agent who’s in no mood to coddle Chuck), and a nice light tone.
ABC, Tuesday at 8
Yeah, I’m as surprised as anyone about this one. Universally panned beforehand (though to be fair, the original pilot sent to critics was apparently nothing like the one that aired), I found it to actually be a really smart and observant comedy that clearly flies over the head of anyone who decided ahead of time that it was an offensive racist sitcom. It is completely absurd, yet engaging, and really, really smart. The ‘cavemen’ are essentially normal guys, in a nice apartment, writing dissertations and cruising for women, but dealing with moronic stereotypes put on their kind. I laughed way, way more than I ever expected, and I will continue to tune in. Colour me shocked.
The CW, Tuesdays at 8
Slacker comedy meets Buffy, a dude finds out his parents sold his soul to the devil before he was born, and he is recruited on this 21st birthday to retrieve escaped souls from hell. The pilot was stronger than the second episode, which already started to show signs of a formula that could wear a little thin, but the three leads are all strong, with the sidekick in particular (fat guy from Breaker High) striking the right note of ingratiating and loud without being irritating. Ray Wise is also great as Satan himself.
Aliens in America
The CW, Mondays at 8:30
Fun fish-out-of-water comedy that is smart and engaging, and pretty smart, perhaps even a tad too smart for the target audience. Paired with Everybody Hates Chris, it might find the niche it needs.
NBC, Mondays at 10
Quantum Leap-lite with the enjoyable Kevin McKidd (Rome) as the Sam Beckett role, sans Scottish accent. Dude finds himself tripping through time, writing wrongs, changing lives. Decent, well-crafted, doesn’t try to be more than it is. Mythology seems fun, could get better if it’s allowed to develop.
NBC, Wednesdays at 9
Lightning did not strike twice for David Eick (producer of Galactica) with a second 70s sci-fi remake. The pilot was kinda boring, and really gave no compelling reason why we should care about Jamie Sommers, the new Bionic Woman. Acting was mediocre all around, be it bland with the boyfriend, or over the top with Katee Sackhoff chewing the scenery.
ABC, Wednesdays at 9
Grey’s Anatomy spinoff that really wasn’t especially necessary, taking one of the less compelling characters and putting her into a situation that is far less interesting than a busy hospital filled with dying people and surgeries.
The CW, Wednesdays at 9
Mediocre teen drama that either needed to go full-on Cruel Intentions evil or lighten up a little. Watched the pilot and haven’t felt compelled to go further.
NBC, Wednesdays at 10
NBC did a tortured cop show last year, and better. It was called Raines and starred Jeff Goldblum as a cop who saw dead people a la Sixth Sense. Kinda interesting for its lead character, played by Brit import Damian Lewis, who’s playing ‘tortured’ and ‘quirky’ to the hilt, having been incorrectly jailed for 12 years and then coming out all zen, but not for much else.
ABC, Tuesdays at 8:30
Truly, truly awful. I’d hoped for more from one of my beloved Kids in the Hall, but Bruce McCulloch had been famously uneven to begin with, so it isn’t totally surprising. Every single actor, minus the surprisingly excellent T.J. Miller as the very Napoleon Dynamite-ish son of one of the Carpoolers, is uniformly awful and grating, from Jerry O’Connell as the requisite sleaze, to Fred Goss (of the terrible Sons & Daughters from last season, a really cheap Arrested Development ripoff) as the mild-mannered schlep, to two other guys so non-memorable that I can’t recall their characters and don’t care to look up their names. A mean, mysoginistic, grating, irritating, boring, cliched, stupid, terrible mistake of a sitcom. Did I mention I didn’t like it?
I’ve got Moonlight, the vampire detective show that ISN’T based on Angel or Forever Knight, somehow, on the PVR, but I’m not really in a huge hurry to check it out.
As for people who need to see various shows above, I think everyone I know who likes good TV needs to check out Pushing Daisies, or just everyone in the whole world. Julia, Dart, Shaan, TLo and Jon in particular need to see it, if you haven’t already.
Dart, you’d enjoy Reaper.
Travis and Julia, you may hate me for it, but I think you need to check out Cavemen. It really isn’t terrible, I swear.
So, that’s my take. It was long, but hopefully informative.