Monday, September 18, 2006

Fall TV Preview

Well, the new season of television programs is starting up. I've seen pilots for quite a few of the shows the networks are offering, and here are some of the best and worst. Chances are that at least half of these will be cancelled by November.

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip: Unwieldy title aside (the next six shows are all single-word titles), this show has a great cast. And Aaron Sorkin writing and Thomas Schlamme directing, just like the good seasons of The West Wing. The pilot is all about establishing the premise, and anyone who thought The West Wing was too preachy might want to skip Judd Hirsch's ranting monologue (and watch Peter Finch in Network instead) about the evils of corporate television which sets the stage. It's a little weird that hugely hyped stars Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford don't appear until about halfway through. Nobody really shines much in the pilot (Perry comes closest) but I'm hoping that once it gets rolling, it might have some of the charm of Sorkin's two previous series. NBC, Mondays.

Smith: A caper series with movie style production values. Stars Ray Liotta as the leader of a band of thieves. The entire show seems to rest on Liotta's performance, with the filmy look coming in second. Much of the cast, excellent in other projects, are given nothing to do. Another one I hope will get better once it goes to series, but that happens pretty rarely. CBS, Tuesdays.

Kidnapped: Well, it's by far the best pilot about missing people of the bunch, a category which also includes Vanished and Runaways. Smart and interesting pilot, with solid acting from a cast that includes Jeremy Sisto, Timothy Hutton, Delroy Lindo and Dana Delaney. Plenty of room for this one to go all sorts of places, and they've created characters we might actually want to follow for a whole season. NBC, Wednesdays.

Heroes: The pilot is a little slow, but pretty intirguing. Premise is that a bunch of normal people start to develop superpowers, but they're keeping things squarely on the drama side of the line. Originally, buzz had it that the pilot was a two hour premeire, so maybe the story starts in the second half. NBC, Mondays.

Jericho: About people in a small town following a catastrophic event, it looks as though it may end up trying too hard for a Lost feel. Still, that would be better than the confused feel the pilot has. Expect someone to learn a lesson about what's really important every week. CBS, Wednesdays, until cancelled.

Standoff: Easily the best of Fox's new programs, but they only put up five. Kind of formulaic, but Ron Livingston is always fun to watch, and the attempt at Moonlighting style banter isn't completely unsuccessful. Sadly the best parts of this show are before and after the inevitable hostage negotiation that eats up most of the show. Actually, the best part of the show is the hour before it starts: House. The premise stretches credulity quite a bit, as in the first two episodes the hostage takers are: a celebrity, the son of a Senator, and an air-traffic controller who takes all of his colleagues hostage after a mistake at work. Which kind of kills the suspense, since there's no way Fox was gonna let anyone die in a domestic airplane crash in an episode which aired September 12. Fox, Tuesdays.

: James Woods as a sleazy attorney trying to get less sleazy. Woods isn't the type of actor you want to see every week, but he's magnetic enough to catch this show occasionally. This is one of at least two new shows which promises to "do for lawyers what House did for doctors." Tom Shales recently mentioned CBS' "
marching robotic army of slick crime shows," and while I suspect he was speaking of the CSI Borg, I see no reason no to lump this in there as well. CBS, Thursdays.

The Nine: Centers on a group of people (I can't recall how many. Maybe nine?) taken hostage during a bank robbery. This show (along with ) seems to have been developed as an answer to a network honcho demanding another Lost. They skipped most of what happened inside the bank during the two-day standoff, but will dribble out little bits each week, like the flashbacks on Lost. Some pretty good stuff in the pilot, but within an hour, some of the characters were already starting to get on my nerves, which doesn't bode well. ABC, Wednesdays.

Men In Trees:
Imagine a group of people brainstorming a pilot. At some point, lacking ideas, they start thinking about shows they wish they'd created. "Gilmore Girls," says one. "Northern Exposure," says another. By this point they're grabbing pens and starting to write Men In Trees, a smug, derivative crapfest which hamstrings its own premise before it even gets started. Anne Heche is a romance self-help author whose relationship (and apparently, therefore, life) falls apart. Finding herself booked to lecture about her books in an Alaskan town with virtually no women, she decides to stay and rebuild her life by learning to be alone. Or at least that's what the narration tells us, since they sure do waste an awful lot of time setting up the obvious future love interest as one of the reasons she decides to stay. ABC, Fridays until cancelled.

The Knights of Prosperity
: Originally titled Let's Rob Mick Jagger, this show centers on a group of the downtrodden planning a heist on...well, Mick Jagger. Donal Logue is pretty good in a script with a lot of potential, but most of the rest of the cast (especially Jagger, who cameos as himself on a Cribs type program) are trying way too hard. ABC, Tuesdays.

You probably shouldn't bother with: 'Til Death, Vanished, Justice, and Runaway.

I have not yet seen 30 Rock, Ugly Betty, Brothers and Sisters, 20 Good Years, and 6°. 30 Rock is from SNL's Tina Fey, and looks promising. Ugly Betty is getting a lot of great buzz. 20 Good Years could go either way, but since Jeffrey Tambor was great in both Arrested Development and The Larry Sanders Show, I have high hopes.

My pick for the first show to be dumped this fall is Happy Hour, on Fox. Absolutely terrible.

The alternative, of course, is to read books, listen to music, and read my blog. Entirely up to you.

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