I both love and hate the Fall TV season. As a kid, new Fall TV was the perfect counterbalance to the doldrums of back-to-school season. We were about to get bombarded with homework and tests, but gosh darn it, new episodes of The X-Files and The Simpsons would be there to ease the pain. Yes, I was one of those kids who poured over the TV Guide Fall Preview issue every year and dutifully determined which of the new Fall shows I'd try out. Oh, how things were simpler back then. If a show was on FOX's Sunday night lineup, I'd give it a look. If a show was sci-fi or bore some similarity to my then-fave X-Files, I'd probably also check it out. Once in a while, I'd get sucked into the odd family drama (hello, Party of Five). Whitebread comedies about priveleged yuppies? Pass (although subversive comedies that *mock* whitebread yuppies, ala Arrested Development? Yes, please). Anything on geriatric CBS? Definitely pass (and with rare exceptions that still holds true today - except for the underrated Swingtown from a few years back, which I still don't think got a fair shake). Today, things are more complicated. Part of me wants to watch anything and everything, but part of me doesn't want to devote the time to all of these shows just for the sake of being in the loop. At the same time, it's so easy to miss some of the good stuff. There's just too much good TV out there for any one person to watch, and it's easy to suddenly realize that there's some apparently-amazing show called Mad Men that everyone seems to be watching except you. F/X now has multiple great shows. AMC as well. HBO seems to be back in top form, and Showtime is getting up there, even Starz (I still need to see Spartacus). There's too much, and no person not named Matt Roush could ever hope to watch it all.
That's why - and I hate to admit it - but I'm often secretly hoping that new TV shows will suck. Nowadays, when a new show has a great pilot, I'm often simultaneously excited and annoyed. Excited that the show was top-notch, annoyed that here is yet another potential time-waster. I just felt that way this past week while watching the pilot of TERRIERS, from F/X. I watched it on a whim, curious because of F/X's great track record of late and because I'm a fan of star Donal Logue. Turns out, the show had a damn good pilot that got me intrigued for episodes to come. And yet, part of me wanted to just ditch the show. It was extremely well done, yes, but was it essential viewing? Hard to say at this point, but I now feel semi-obligated to give it a chance to prove itself. Then again, there are some shows that are just plain no-brainers. In the case of AMC's upcoming WALKING DEAD series, that's true in more ways than one (bwahaha). What I mean is, there's no way in hell that I'm going to miss that one. Frank Darabount adapting the best serialized comic book in existence? I'm onboard, no questions asked.
Part of what's so interesting about AMC's The Walking Dead, however, is that it's truly something we've never seen on TV before. I feel like so many TV shows historically play it safe and basically just recycle elements we've already seen a million times. But, that is starting to change. A couple years ago, I never would have thought that a TV show about the zombie apocalypse would make it to air. And indeed, I don't think many within the industry thought that such a concept was commercially viable. But now, experiment-inclined networks like AMC are taking a chance, and the results should be really, really interesting. And I guess that's why, in comparison, a lot of the same-old, same-old stuff just doesn't tickle my fancy like it used to. Again, so many recycled concepts: Hawaii Five-O - seriously? Who was clamoring for that? The new show is getting good buzz, but I just don't quite get the appeal of a fairly blah concept being dragged out from the dustballs for no apparent reason. And hey, I enjoyed the Nikita pilot, but it's not something that even needed to be called Nikita. Why not be original and create the NEXT great spy franchise, not recycle something that's already been done and done well.
At the same time though, I do think there is a growing sense of ambition in the TV industry, at least in some respects - and maybe it's partly born out of desperation, I don't know. I mean, just this past week, NBC Universal announced a hugely ambitious plan to turn Stephen King's THE DARK TOWER series of books into a multimedia film and TV franchise, with a slew of films accompanied by a TV series that would closely tie-in with the movies, with Ron Howard directing / executive-producing. Now that's raising the bar in terms of scale. At the same time, there are all kinds of similarly-exciting projects in the pipeline, projects that really have no precedent in television. From Steven Spielberg's dinosaur adventure Terra Nova on FOX to HBO's fantasy epic Game of Thrones - both coming in 2011 - there's some really interesting, unprecedented stuff coming to TV in the next year or so. It's encouraging, I think, to know that even though we still have a glut of reality, the networks and HBO and others are putting some substantial cash into big, unique, scripted projects to distinguish themselves from the E!'s and VH1's of the world.
So what we're witnessing now - the relatively safe slate of new Fall TV set to premiere over the next few weeks - may just be the calm before the storm. But I do think there's a lot of give and take going on. Once upon a time, for example, all the networks were looking for the next Lost. But now that Lost is off the air, people seem to have backed off a bit. Maybe that's because of shows like ... Surface, Threshold, Invasion, The Nine, Flashforward, etc. ... whose collective failure may have scared people off of finding the next Lost. But hey, I think NBC is smart to be pushing THE EVENT as hard as they are. Speaking for myself, I am definitely going to have a void that needs filling this year sans 24 and Lost - maybe my two favorite TV shows of the last several years. Yes, FRINGE is the bomb (and I can't wait for the new season), but I may have room for one more blockbuster sci-fi serial.
Still, even as TV programmers plan some ambitious content, they're also, I think, going back to basics a bit. The reason is that the networks in particular are no longer just going after the once-coveted 18-49 demo. As much as us Gen Y-ers may hate to admit it, the nation's largest and most influential demo is still the Baby Boomers, and, guess what - the Baby Boomers are now well into their 50's and older. But, they have the money (unlike us poor twenty-somethings), and they're the ones who still watch TV the old-fashioned way - in primetime, on TV, in real-time. So, I think we're going to continue to see a selection of shows that feature older characters or more old-school elements in general. Guys like Jimmy Smits, Tom Selleck, and William Shatner - who all hold appeal with the AARP crowd, are more prominent than ever on the air, as are reimaginings of Boomer favorites like Hawaii Five-O, The Rockford Files, etc. So ... how long before Matlock gets a remake?
Suffice it to say, it's definitely an interesting time in television. Between new distribution models, new networks that are emerging as primetime players, and new genres that are crossing over from movies and games and comics to TV, change is definitely in the air (even if it's not, necessarilly, evident in the Fall TV schedule just yet).
So what new series am I most looking forward to this Fall? A quick list below:
1. THE WALKING DEAD - AMC
- Even if this was *just* your run-of-the-mill zombie apocalypse TV show, I'd probably be excited. But, this is not run-of-the-mill by any stretch. It's an adaptation of The Walking Dead comic book - maybe the single best, most riveting comic of the last five years. Creator Robert Kirkman is onboard with the show, even writing some episodes. And the show's driving creative force? Some guy named Frank Darabount. If you've read the graphic novels though, you know that the whole zombie thing is really the backdrop by which Kirkman explores the dark places of the human soul. He examnes the places that people will go when stripped of the comforts of modern society, forced to fight to simply survive. It's potent subject matter, and I have every confidence that AMC won't shy away from the edginess of the comics. Yep, this show is going to freaking rock, and it's my #1 "must-see" series of the Fall.
2. THE EVENT - NBC
- I don't know if The Event will have a great fourth episode, or a great fifth episode. And as is always the case with shows of this type, that will ultimately be what makes or breaks it. But I think the show will grab people at the outset, because I can testify that the pilot is pretty darn compelling, and sets up a lot of intriguing questions and mysteries. I'm very curious about a couple of things though. I'm wondering what this show will be like week to week - from the pilot, it's hard to get a sense of that, exactly. I'm also anxious to see if the show becomes mythology-heavy, or keeps things more self-contained. Looking at something like Fringe, I think The Event could benefit from laying its cards on the table fairly quickly and taking things up a notch from there. But the show has an excellent cast and a fun pilot. I'm excited to see how it progresses.
3. BOARDWALK EMPIRE - HBO
- I currently don't have HBO, but this show is really tempting me to subscribe. From Martin Scorcese, this prohibition-era drama stars the great Steve Buscemi, and yeah, basically looks like it will be amazing. I think just knowing that this show is on HBO, where there's free reign for it to be R-rated and adult, makes it that much more appealling. Plus, it just looks to document a fascinating time in history, and again, it's a story that we've never really seen on TV before. That's become HBO's specialty of late, and this looks to be another crown jewel in their stellar lineup.
4. LONESTAR - FOX
- I read the script for this a while back on the recommendation of my friend Abby (one of the biggest TV gurus I know), and as usual her judgement was impeccable - it was a crazy-good read, full of intrigue, double-crosses, and twists. Imagine, if you will, a drama about Sawyer from Lost's life as a con-man, pre-Island, and you might have an idea of what Lonestar is all about. Now, my main question is whether the actual pilot and subsequent episodes can capture the energy of the script's writing, and whether the cast is up to the task of pulling it all off. Also, why do Monday nights have to be so crowded this fall? Still, Lonestar will definitely be a show to sample.
5. NIKITA - CW
- I was very much prepared to hate this show, but I admit to being pretty impressed with the pilot, which had some cool action, some interesting setup, and a damn good twist at the end that I wasn't expecting. It's still hard for me to accept yet another take on the La Femme Nikita mythos, especially being a huge fan of the 90's USA series. But I at least appreciate that this new version picks up at a later point in the story, rather than just being another retread of the tried-and-true origin story. After the pilot though, I'm definitely in for a while longer.
6. TERRIERS - F/X
- Here's another show that I really had zero expectations for. But I was really surprised by the pilot, to the point where I may be onboard for the long haul if the quality keeps up. I feel like it may be premature to invoke the late great Veronica Mars, but I definitely got a VM vibe while watching this show. There was a gritty, semi-noirish feel to the pilot, with some dark humor and quirkiness thrown in as well. And I was intrigued by the mix of standalone cases mixed in with an ongoing plotline of corruption and greed in a SoCal beach town - a formula that worked well for shows like VM and later Justified. Definitely a lot of promise here.
7. RUNNING WILDE / INCREASINGLY POOR DECISIONS OF TODD MARGARET - FOX / IFC
- Random tangent: can we please get a moratorium on show's with titles that incorporate the character's pun-er-ific last name? I mean, how many characters need to have conveniently kewl-sounding names like Hope, Caine, Wilde, etc. just for the sake of an artificially catchy-seeming title? Enough already. Anyways, Arrested Development fans rejoice. There's a new show on FOX called Running Wilde, and it's from AD creator Mitch Hurvitz and it stars Will Arnett! Meanwhile, IFC has a new comedy, The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret (whew!), that stars David Cross! And, David Cross is also a recurring guest star on Running Wilde! Now, will either of these shows be any good? We can only hope. Running Wilde seemed like a sure bet, but early reviews have been very, very mixed. So we'll have to wait and see. Todd Margaret looks super quirky but potentially awesome. IFC has no real track record to speak of though, so it's also something of an unknown quantity. Either way, it's hard to imagine that Will Arnett and David Cross on TV will be a bad thing.
8. NO ORDINARY FAMILY - ABC
- I'm somewhat surprised that ABC has no real heir apparent to Lost on its Fall schedule, but they do have a show that looks like it borrows a lot from Heroes, The Incredibles, and The Fantastic Four - No Ordinary Family. I watched this pilot a while back, and had mixed feelings. On one hand, the show looked and felt top-notch, production-wise. Movie-caliber f/x and a great cast were some of the highlights. But, it also was a little too light and bouncy and cheesy for my tastes, more ABC Family or Disney Channel-ish than anything else. Still, if subsequent episodes give us a little more to sink our teeth into - some meatier plots, villains, etc. - this could really be one to watch.
9. UNDERCOVERS - NBC
- Undercovers has a lot going for it. If nothing else, it's the new show from JJ Abrams, and given his track record I think a lot of people will a.) check it out, and b.) be willing to invest some time in it to see how it shapes up. However, I think fans of Alias, Lost, and Fringe will likely have to resign themselves to the fact that Undercovers is not going to be a big, mythology-heavy show like Abrams' other recent projects. At least at first. It's a lot lighter than those shows, and I'm curious if it will stay that way or evolve into something with a bit more bite to it. That said, it's JJ Abrams doing a spy show, so you know you're going to get interesting characters, bigtime action, and plenty of cool visuals.
10. MY GENERATION - ABC
- I read the pilot script to this one a while back, and enjoyed it - and now I'm very curious to see how it translates to the screen. I can't help but get a kick out of the fact that the show is all about a group of people exactly my age - it chronicles a group of young adults who graduated high school in 2000, and intercuts between their time as seniors and their current lives ten years later. I really hope that the show turns out to be more than just a series of cliches, and that the characters end up feeling authentic. I'll be watching this one closely though, and I do think it could be a sleeper.
And how about returning series? Here are my top picks for Fall:
1. FRINGE - FOX
- Last year, Fringe emerged as *the* must-see show on network TV, expanding its mythology and going full-steam-ahead into the farthest reaches of time and space. I can't wait to see where things pick up in Season 3, and I can't wait to see the too-good-for-the-Emmys John Noble back on TV as the insanely awesome Dr. Walter Bishop.
2. THE OFFICE - NBC
- I have high hopes for The Office this year, Steve Carell's last on the show. I have a feeling that the show is going to going to make sure that Michael Scott goes out with a bang, and I can't wait to see the buildup towards a post-Michael Scott office. Sometimes, having a definitive endpoint is the best thing for a show creatively, and I think it's going to be exciting to see The Office march to a conclusion, of sorts, this coming year.
3. CHUCK - NBC
- Finally, Chuck is actually coming back in September with a full season of awesome. It warms my heart to know that Chuck is about to, somewhat improbably, begin its fourth season, and I can't wait to see what surprises the show has in store. One thing we do know is that there will be some great stunt casting - people like Linda Hamilton and Dolph Lungdren. Mostly though, I'm just excited to spend more time with the show's great, often hilarious cast of characters. Keep eating your Subway sandwiches, fanboys, and support Chuck!
4. SMALLVILLE - CW
- I never thought this day would come, but here we are - the tenth and FINAL season of the show that never ends - Smallville. If you've read my blog you know that I've always had very mixed feelings about the show. Its quality veers wildly from great to awful, and it just seems to meander with no signs of actual character progression - making Clark's fateful transition to Superman the slowest march to superherodom in history. But time is almost up, so I hope and pray to the gods of Krypton that this season actually brings us some real Superman-worthy moments. I want the blue, red, and yellow tights, dammit. I want huge action, great villains, and I want Clark to nut-up, and be less emo and more Superman. I've made it this far, so yeah, I'm in it 'til the end. So come on Smallville - kick some ass. I'm rootin' for ya'.
5. COMMUNITY - NBC
- Community emerged last year as perhaps the funniest show on TV, and I can't wait to see what Season 2 brings now that the show's really found its groove. And hey, Betty White is on the first few episodes. Everyone loves Betty White. And Betty White could help bring even more eyeballs to Community, which is awesome, because man, this show is hilarious. If you need proof, go back and watch the paintball episode from Season 1, and tell me it's not ridiculously funny.
6. EASTBOUND & DOWN - HBO
- Hmm, now that I think about it, this might be my #1 pick, except for that pesky no-HBO thing. That said, I am dyin', dyin' I tell you, to see Season 2 of one of the funniest series I've ever seen. All hail Danny McBride as Kenny f'n Powers. I loved Season 1 so much that I almost don't want a Season 2 - it was just so good as a self-contained thing. But at the same time, the idea of more Kenny Powers and co. is too good to say no to. My god, this show is amazing.
7. MODERN FAMILY - ABC
- Yes, I am an MF'er. I can't wait to see more Modern Family, which after only one season is already like this crazy TV comedy comfort food. The characters on this show are so great, to the point where just reading descriptions of upcoming plotlines in Entertainment Weekly made me chuckle, as I could so clearly envision how hilarity would ensue in the situations mentioned. Yes to more Modern Family.
8. GLEE - FOX
- I like Glee, but you never really know what show you're getting with this one. Dark? Light? Funny? Serious? Who knows. But I guess that's what makes the show so watchable - it's completely unpredictable episode to episode. I do feel like there could be some burnout in Season 2, but I'm also curious to see how the show will attempt to continue to keep up its momentum from Season 1. If nothing else, there's Jane Lynch, and Jane Lynch is awesome.
9. 30 ROCK - NBC
- I admit to having lost a little interest in 30 Rock last season, but with a show like this, it's such a perrenial all-star that even after a few off nights, it could still come out swinging. Who am I kidding, I love 30 Rock - it's one of the funniest shows of the last five years. I just want it to reclaim its former randomness - more silly satire and less soapy love triangles, please!
10. THE SIMPSONS - FOX
- Don't roll your eyes at me, you cynical bastards. Yes, the show is long in the tooth, and yes, it's not the same show it once was, oh, fifteen years ago. But, who knows. What if this season of The Simpsons is great? What if the return of Futurama, which came back in top form this summer, has lit a fire under the current crop of Simpsons writers and producers? What if the upcoming episode with Brett and Jermaine from Flight of the Conchords as starving artists who mentor Lisa is actually as funny as it sounds? What if can be a dangerous question, but hey, you never know.
- So, what shows are you looking forward to? Anything I left off the list? For now though, happy TV watching.