Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Forget TV Guide, it's Danny's FALL TV PREVIEW

What's up?

So I realize my last few blog entries have sucked. And I sincerely apologize. I think it's a mix of lack of eventfull stuff to talk about and increasing anxiety that too many people out there are now reading the blog, be they at work, at home, whatever. For example, one thing I've been wanting to do for a long while is a Fall TV Preview. I've seen virtually every new pilot, and of course, have strong opinions on which shows are going to be worth checking out. Now, I decided that I am just going to go ahead and do this thing. The lucky thing for me is that, honestly, I don't have anything too negative to say about NBC's Fall lineup. In fact, I am legitimately psyched for our shows and feel that all four of our new fall dramas are really good and among some of the best on TV. Not only that, but as you'll soon see, CHUCK is probably my favorite overall new show of the fall. So without further ado:


Part 1: The MUST-SEE shows of Fall.

- To me, the best thing about this fall in terms of TV is that the nets seem to be willing, to a degree, to try something DIFFERENT. Sure, we still have cops, teens, detectives, doctors, and desperate suburbanites, but we also have ideas that in the past would only be looked at as suitable for feature films making their way to television. To me, HEROES was a big game-changer in that respect. For years, the common thought process was: "well, superheroes work on the big screen, but not on TV." Heroes is one of the first TV shows in a long while that brought the pop-culture zeitgeist to TV and made a hit out of it. Sure, the success of Heroes owes a lot to shows like Lost and Smallville for helping to pave the way, but with Heroes, I think you are now seeing high-concept ideas being brought to TV in a way that they wouldn't have before. I mean, a perfect example is FOX's The Sarah Conner Chronicles. Before Heroes, I don't know if the Terminator franchise would have been considered as a viable TV series - now it is. But even a show like ABC's Pushing Daisies, I love that it is so far removed from what we've come to expect from a TV show. When's the last time a TV series was this stylized, this artful? Sure, TV has had stylish noir-fiction like Twin Peaks and X-Files, but Pushing Daisies - a Tim Burton-esque fantasy? That's new.

The other big thing is TV shows that appeal to Gen Y. The biggest example of this, to me, is Chuck. Show Chuck to someone over 35 and the reaction may be a confused "huh?" But Chuck is one of the first shows I've seen that has characters who look and speak and act like typical twenty-something geeks. Josh Schwartz takes his knack for dialogue and humor as seen on The OC and perfectly transitions it to this adventure-comedy. I think that, the cool thing about shows that appeal to the younger generation is that we have a totally different set of expectations. We don't care if a show is animated, if it has a laugh track, if it mixes drama and humor, or if it's about superheroes, zombies, or whatever. The one problem? We don't watch as much TV as our parents did, and so a show like Family Guy, that saw so much of its success come from DVD views and whatnot, ultimately gets shortchanged in the ratings and by the network. But that is changing. Shows like The Office are getting a boost thanks to new Nielson methods that capture DVR time-shifting. DVD sales are becoming a more important factor in looking at a show's viability. And online streaming and downloading is becoming a new means for measuring a show's buzz-factor. I am very curious to see how a show like Chuck ends up doing. If it proves successful, I think it will really make networks rethink how they program their lineups. And not to toot my own horn, but I have personally been a huge supporter of Chuck since I first read the script. Again, it will be really, really interesting to see if the general audience responds to it with the same enthusiastic reception that it received at Comic-Con, where it got a standing ovation following the screening of its pilot.

And so, the Top Shows to look out for in the Fall:

1.) CHUCK (NBC) - Chuck isn't necessarily my favorite pilot of the fall, but overall it is the series that I am most excited to follow and see where it goes. I love that this show takes the geek / hipster Seth Cohen humor from The OC and transplants it into an action-spy thriller. The mix is like peanut butter and chocolate, and helps create a show that plays like The OC meets Alias. In the first episode alone, we get a reference to Zork, blonde-bombshell superspies, ninjas!, and a a hero whose vehicle of choice is one of those Best Buy Geek Squad cars.

2.) PUSHING DAISIES (ABC) - This is my favorite pilot of the fall. Now, I don't know exactly how this will work as a series, BUT, the pilot is simply great. The tone reminded me of Big Fish, whimsical and with that certain twisted fairy-tale sensibility. But the thing that clicks is the chemistry between the main actor and actress, who have a pitch perfect forbidden romance that is just the right amounts of sweet and crazy. It's hard to explain if you haven't seen. Basically, the story is about a guy who has a magical gift to bring people back from the dead by touching them, but once he does, if he touches them again, they are gone forever. If it wasn't done so well, there is surely the potential for disaster there. But Pushing Daisies' tone is spot-on, and it's one of the coolest, most artfully made shows I've seen.

3.) ALIENS IN AMERICA (CW) - I had pretty much no expectations for this show, but I was really, pleasantly surprised by what I saw. It reminded me of vintage Malcolm in the Middle, with a really smart, unique perspective on high school life. Now, this show has a lot of humor centered on one of its main characters, a transfer student from Pakistan. In less capable hands, that could spell disaster. But lo and behold, the jokes usually hit the mark, and we actually get a pretty spot-on satire of American xenophobia in the post-9/11 age. I am really curious about the recasting of the dad, now played by Luke from Gilmore Girls. I really liked the dad in the original version of the pilot, so I'm wondering how the casting change will affect things. But right now, I'm really looking forward to seeing more of this show.

4.) JOURNEYMAN (NBC) - While Bionic Woman is getting a lot of NBC's hype, Journeyman to me may have even more potential. The key here is the lead actor, Kevin McKidd, of HBO's Rome. McKidd plain and simply elevates this show, and I think he'll be as crucial to Journeyman as Kiefer Sutherland is to 24. Journeyman is kind of a more serious-minded version of Quantum Leap, with a heavy empahasis on romance as well. But fear not, guys, McKidd brings the badassery to his role as a time-traveler, with ample dosage of gravitas. Wait until you see the climactic ending of the pilot ep. This is def one to watch.

5.) BIONIC WOMAN (NBC) - The biggest geekasm moment of the new falls season is in the pilot of the Bionic Woman. As rain pours down in the night sky, the fledgling Bionic Woman meets a deadly assassin, precariously posed on a rooftop. Our hero flings a steel pipe at her attacker, only for it to be deflected with a loud, bionic "clang.""Who are you?" the newly-christened Bionic Woman asks of the blonde femme fatale, who fans will recognize as Katie Sakhoff of Battlestar fame. "I'm the original Bionic Woman," says the Amazonian villain in full-on bad-ass mode. And with that, a potential new cult hit is born. Sure, there are a few issues with plotting and some young actors who will need to prove themselves over the course of the first season, but there is a huge spark of potential here.

6.) MISS/GUIDED (ABC) - Here's another one that COULD have been a pretty generic sitcom, but is instead vastly better than most comedies out there thanks to its supremely talented leading lady, the hilarious Judy Greer. Greer, who had a small but awesome role on Arrested Development ("Girls With Low Self Esteem!") brings just the right amount of quirkiness to the role of a high school wallflower who returns to her old stomping grounds to become a guidance counsellor. Sounds like a standard sitcom premise, but Greer makes it work, with a Ricky Gervais-like mix of awkwardness, self-loathing, and ego-boosting. Too bad this one isn't coming until mid-season ...

7.) GOSSIP GIRL (CW) - I have never been into the WB / CW crop of teen soaps - the One Tree Hills, the Seventh Heavens, or the Everwoods. But Gossip Girl is different. It's a teen soap that will draw in even the most cynical anti-soap snob. Why? Well, it boasts a great cast. One of those casts where just about every player has "future star" written all over them. Not to mention, the characters are all instantly interesting. Sure, a few fall into typical teen soap cliches, but most are actually three dimensional and multi-faceted. But man, is this show juicy. I know, it sounds lame, but this is soapy at its best, in a way that may even rival The OC's first season. Trust me, watch the pilot about these over-priveleged Manahattan teens, and prepare to be sucked in.

8.) SAMANTHA WHO? (ABC) - Christina Applegate is always great, and she's once again really good here as a woman who wakes up from a coma and realizes that she can't remember anything about who she is. I stil ldon't get quite how she wakes up with a totally different personality than when she drifted into coma-land, but I guess you just have to run with it. But, anyways, Applegate is really good with the offbeat humor, and the show is pretty clever and a lot of fun. It will be interesting to see how it holds up after a few episodes.

9.) REAPER (CW) - This is another one of those shows, that, like Chuck, would probably not have made it onto the air a few years ago. Full of geeky / slacker humor mixed with zany scifi (think Bill and Ted by way of Kevin Smith), Reaper is an entertaining show that is anchored by the always-funny Brett Harrison (Grounded For Life, The Loop), as a guy who finds out that his parents sold his soul to the devil, and in exchange he must serve as Satan's personal jail-keeper, hunting down hell's escaped souls and return them to the underworld. The pilot, directed by Kevin Smith, is a lot of fun, especially when Ray Wise shows up as the wise-cracking Satan. It has a bit of a Kevin Smith-lite feel though, a little watered down, a little less witty than it should be. However, it's still a fun show with a cool sensibility to it, so I am curious to see how it develops.

10.) BACK TO YOU (FOX) - The traditional sitcom may be on its deathbed, but Back To You is perhaps its last gasp. It plays like an all-star reunion tour of sitcoms past, with Kelsey Grammar, Patricia Heaton, and Fred Willard all starring. These guys know how to do old-school sitcoms, and so its no surprise that they actually pull this off with a lot of over the top humor and laughs that will make you have flashbacks to the days of Cheers and Taxi. Not to put this show on that level, but I was very pleasantly surprised at how tightly written it was, and it was fun to see Grammar be his usual over the top self, in a vehicle that plays to his strengths. It's funny that this show is on FOX, since it feels like a classic NBC sitcom to a large degree. But whatever, it's one that is worth checking out as a reminder of the good ol' days.


11.) THE SARAH CONNER CHRONICLES (FOX) - This one isn't until midseason either, but it actually has a decent amount of potential. It's pretty difficult to tell from the pilot how well this will work as an ongoing series, but the pilot is filled with action, and has a star-making turn from Summer Glau as a teenaged terminator whose petite exterior belies the fact that she is capable of going toe to toe with T-1000. Glau is pretty great, with a subtle hint of emotion and pathos shading her robotic persona. Meanwhile, Lena Heady is good as Sarah Conner, but it will be hard for her to step into the combat boots of Linda Hamilton. Still, I was pretty impressed with how seamlessly this fit into the Terminator mythology / timeline, and this could end up being a pretty damn good series if the momentum of the pilot is maintained and the ante upped, a la Prison Break.

12.) LIFE (NBC) - At first, I wasn't thrilled about yet another cop / detective procedural show. But Life is just quirky enough to stand out from the pack. The show has two twists that I really like. The first is that the main character is a total lunatic, which makes the show a lot more fun than it initially appears to be. As a cop who resumes his old job after being exonerated from a lengthy jail sentance, Life's hero is a zen-spouting new-agey philosopher who is grows pretty darn likable by the pilot's end. The other cool thing is that the show features a Prison Break-esque ongoing mystery regarding a conspiracy that was responsible for the title character's unjust imprisonment. The serialized subplot adds a nice layer of intrigue to the typical procedural goings-on.

And now, The Misses:

- VIVA LAUGHLIN (CBS) - The show is just all over the place, and misses the mark on almost all counts. It's a musical, but the songs are completely awkward and don't feel organic at all in the context of the show. For some reason, the actors sing the songs OVER the actual recorded versions of the music, which play in the background. So as Elvis' "Viva Las Vegas" plays, some actor is singing on top of it. Talk about awkward and lame. On top of that, the characters are uninteresting, the plot is hard to follow and not especially exciting, and basically, this one is a mess. This is my prediction for first casualty of the fall season.

- MOONLIGHT (CBS) - This might have been a cool show on FOX, but Moonlight feels like a CBS-style show about Vampires. Yawwwwwwn. The show is slow, boring, and trots out every vampire-detective cliche in the book, with zero sense of fun or excitement or atmosphere. Here's another one primed and ready for the chopping block.

- NEW AMSTERDAM (FOX) - Arrgh, what's with all these boring shows about immortal detectives this year? New Amsterdam is like Highlander stripped of everything that made Highlander cool and superimposed on a really bad detective show. This show is not destined for immortality, that's for sure.

- CAVEMEN (ABC) - Okay, I can't give a full review since the show is being reworked from the pilot I saw. But what I saw was not only bad, but almost offensive in the ham-fisted way in which it tried to use the cavemen as a means through which to channel racial humor. Just as bad though was how shockingly unfunny the show was. In making the cavemen essentially just really hairy people, otherwise no different from the average Joe, the show removed all humor from the concept. I mean, the genius of Phil Hartman and his unfrozen caveman lawyer sketches was right there, waiting to be co-opted. And yet, Cavemen manages to be one of those terrible shows that seems to signal the downfall of Western Civilization as we know it. We'l lsee if the revamped pilot is any better, but don't count me as optimistic.

- BIG SHOTS (ABC) - Even if you have only seen the ads for this show, you probably hate it already. I mean, I cringe every time I see that one guy say the show's vomit-inducing tagline "It's like, men are the new women!" Ugggggh, kill me now. And let me assure you, the show is as bad as you'd feared. It's Sex in the City, but about men and not funny or well-written, every one of whom is a gigantic, self-absorbed, pampered douchebag. So, remind me again who likes to watch a show that glorifies such characters? Women will not like it. Men will sure as hell not like it. In fact, men who watch this will be praying for Jack Bauer to swoop down and castrate these losers.

Allriiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight, I am outta here. Still to Come: My RETURNING SHOWS Preview, and my TOP MOVIES of the SUMMER.

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