Fall TV Sneak Peek 2011

I know it seems odd to be talking about fall tv already. The spring tv season (with its cliffhangers and surprises) isn’t even cold in the ground yet, and summer tv (with its fluffy lightness) is still on the way. However, because all the major US networks have their upfront presentations to advertisers in May, that’s when they trot out all the new shows they are planning for fall. Thanks to the Internet, even I (a non-advertiser) get to watch some previews, and it looks like it’s going to be an interesting new season.

Comedy

This past season saw a slew of Friends ripoffs, but this fall, there are other sitcom genres being revisited. Are You There Vodka, It’s Me Chelsea (which is clearly trying to take How I Met Your Mother’s record for the longest sitcom title) is surprisingly funny, given that I am no fan of creator Chelsea Handler (who also wrote the autobiographical book of the same name). Laura Prepon (from That 70’s Show) takes the lead as Chelsea, with Handler herself dropping by for cameos playing the role of her own sister. (It looks a bit like a female Two and a Half Men, minus the half, but I won’t hold that against it.) Up All Night has echoes of Mad About You (and a half). Christina Applegate and Will Arnett play a couple struggling with new parenthood. The dialogue sounds pretty sharp, which is great for the two comedy-veteran leads. How To Be A Gentleman appears to be a redux of The Odd Couple, bringing together an uptight manners columnist with a mouth-breathing aging slacker. The promising supporting cast includes 24’s Mary Lynn Rajskub and Flight of the Conchords’s Rhys Darby. I’m giving fifty-fifty on this one. Some critics have high hopes for New Girl, featuring Zooey Deschanel as a woman who moves in with three guys, but it didn’t grab me. I am, however, anticipating Apartment 23, featuring Dreama Walker (i.e. the hated Becca from The Good Wife) in a bitch vs bitch showdown with her new roommate (plus James Van Der Beek makes an appearance as a comedic version of himself).

Supernatural Drama

After more than a year there still hasn’t been a successful quasi-supernatural drama to take the place of Lost, but it’s obvious that networks are still on the hunt. If pedigree helps, new series from Lost co-creator J.J. Abrams, Alcatraz, featuring Lost alum Jorge Garcia (aka Hurley) has got the best odds. The strange premise is that over thirty inmates vanished from Alcatraz prison at the same time. Decades later, they’re back, and there’s something strange going on with them. Jurassic Park’s Sam Neill is also along for this ride, so you know it’s going to be good. There are actually a lot of series who seem like they’d be better as movies. Awake features Jason Isaacs (aka Lucius Malfoy himself) as a guy living in two realities after an accident kills his wife and son. In one, his wife lives but not his son; in the other, his son survives but his wife doesn’t. It’s an interesting idea, but for how many episodes can they keep it going? A similar show that doesn’t look interesting to me is A Gifted Man, where Patrick Wilson plays a doctor who sees the ghost of his dead wife (been there, haunted that!) CW expands on its supernatural teen drama slate by adding The Secret Circle, which seems like a version of The Vampire Diaries (from the same teen drama maestro, Kevin Williamson) featuring witches rather than bloodsuckers. Britt Robertson (last seen on CW’s Life Unexpected) plays the heroine of the show, with Thomas Dekker (from Heroes and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles) as a love interest.

For true sci-fi, we have only Terra Nova, which features Jason O’Mara as a father who joins his family in the primeval past (apparently that’s the place to hang out if you’re originally from the not-too-distant future). Joining them is super-tough Stephen Lang in what looks to be the same hard-as-nails-marine role he played in Avatar (maybe he got bored on Pandora and decided to take an excursion). Oddly enough there are two dueling fairy-tale-themed shows coming up. Once Upon a Time stars Jennifer Morrison (aka Zoey from HIMYM), who finds herself in a town where fairy tale characters actually exist, but they don’t know who they really are. Grimm, on the other hand, features a homicide detective who learns that he can see supernatural creatures (the stuff of fairy tales) all around him because of his family heritage. Both sound like fun, but I would consider it pure magic if either lasted the season.

Not-so-supernatural Drama

In Ringer, Buffy herself (Sarah Michelle Gellar) makes a much-anticipated return to TV as an on-the-run twin who takes over the life of her rich twin after she dies. Too bad someone is after her too. Charlie’s Angels gets a much-unneeded reboot, but since it involves second-gen angel Drew Barrymore behind-the-scenes, it might actually be vapid fun. The River takes the creepy night vision cameras of Paranormal Activity and brings them along to the Amazon. A crew hunt for a lost scientist and need to prevent themselves from becoming lost in the process. (No, just because I keep using the word “lost” does not make this the Lost-successor.) Steven Spielberg executive-produces this show, which explains why it sounds like a better movie than tv series.

Since I dropped the ladies of Desperate Housewives midway through 2010’s boring season, I need a new show to satisfy my fix of cattiness and scheming. Enter Revenge, about a young woman who returns to The Hamptons to exact punishment on the privileged people who live there. Madeline Stowe and Emily Van Camp star, but this is yet another series whose concept doesn’t sound like it can last for very long. Finally, I am not so sure about Pan Am, which borrows the allure of Mad Men’s retro style and uses the same lens to examine the lives of stewardesses in the 60s (I know, I’ve often wondered about them myself…). The premise does nothing for me, but there is a hint of an espionage angle, which does intrigue (but it is so downplayed in the preview that I doubt it gets much screen time).

Overall I think there’s an interesting variety on this fall’s schedule. I look forward to a few busy busy weeks of taste-testing them all when the season starts again.

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