Sunday, May 22, 2011

My premature, mostly uninformed, picks for the best new network shows

Being a "small media outlet" (i.e. me and a laptop in the corner of my living room), I don't really have access to important events like the TV upfronts held last week. For those who might not know, upfronts are events where the networks show trailers of their new fall lineups to potential advertisers (and members of the media).
I might not have attended, but, thankfully, we live in an age where the majority of these trailers are posted online where anyone can access them.
So, of course, I spent over an hour yesterday looking at these trailers, trying to get a sense for the new season. It wasn't pretty. Most of the comedies seem, at best, a little too broad and, at worst, a waste of beloved talent.
Now, the trailers aren't always a good indicator of what a show will be like. A good pilot might not necessarily provide fodder for a good trailer. Likewise, an exciting trailer might simply be an artful combination of the sole strong moments of what is otherwise a weak show. But, with few exceptions, the trailers do usually give a good sense of the general feel of a season. And, so far, the season ahead looks bleak.
However, a few shows did look promising, if not a perfect. One or two of the comedy trailers did actually make me laugh, and there was at least one drama (unfortunately, a midseason one) that looks really interest. After the break, my picks for the shows to watch in the 2011-2012 season.

"Up All Night," NBC

Though Will Arnett bombed out last season with the wacky Fox vehicle "Running Wilde" (which I actually kind of liked), NBC is taking a chance on the polarizing performer with this sitcom, in which he and Christina Applegate play new parents. Yes, the trailer relies on jokes about lack of sleep and other "being a new parent is hard" tropes. But the good news is that Arnett, for the first time I can remember, appears to be playing a recognizable human being as opposing to doing his "un-self aware buffoon" schtick. Also, Applegate is always likable and the show also features "Saturday Night Live" vet Maya Rupolph in a seemingly fitting role as Applegate's wacky boss. It has possibilities.

"Apartment 23B," ABC
One of two ABC pilots that originally had a naughty word in its title (the other was "Good Christian Belles." The original title for that used a B-word other than "Belles."), "Apartment 23B" features wide-eyed Dreama Walker ("The Good Wife," "Gossip Girl") as, shockingly, a wide-eyed girl who moves to big city and needs a roommate. She finds one in Krysten Ritter, who turns out to not be a nice girl. Ritter, like Will Arnett, can either be likable or grating. This very brief clip seems to find her in the "vaguely caustic but still intriguing" mode she used to great effect in "Breaking Bad," which is encouraging. Also, former teen heartthrob James van der Beek pops up playing himself, which could be fun.

"How to be a Gentleman," CBS
OK, admittedly, this looks kind of dumb and the premise is really dated. A columnist for a magazine balks when his magazine is sold and his employer responds, not by firing him, but by having him change his style to something more "manly." Hmm. First of all, unless the magazine's new owner is taking it digital, this series obviously doesn't exist in reality. Second, this is actually, an "odd couple" premise, in which the prim columnist consults a bawdy high school classmate for tips on manliness. But I have some hope for this show, mainly because of the cast. The columnist is played by David Hornsby, very funny as the unfortunate Cricket on "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia." The macho man he turns to for guidance is played by Kevin "Johnny Drama" Dillon. The rest of the cast is made of extremely likable comic characters, including Dave Foley, Rhys Darby and Mary-Lynn Rajskub. Oh, and Darby's line about the eyeball in the following "behind the scenes" clip package marked the only time I laughed out loud at a comedy show preview.

"Alcatraz," Fox
Hey look -- It's another J.J. Abrams-affiliated show! And it looks strange and mysterious and impenetrable! Um, yay? Well, "Alcatraz" -- in which all the inmates of the famous prison disappear and reappear in present day -- does look kind of intriguing. I'm not sure what's happening here, but Sam Neill is appropriately hammy and Jorge Garcia (of Abrams's "Lost") pops up to lend the trailer his trademark likability. So it could be fun and intriguing. Worth a look, at least.

"Awake," NBC
Here's the mid-season drama that caught my attention. In "Awake," Jason Isaacs plays a cop who gets into a tragic accident. After that, his reality appears to split. In one, his wife survived the crash and his son died. In the other, his son is alive and his wife was killed in the crash. Are both realities "real"? Is one a dream? If so, which one? The trailer is really fascinating and moving, and this might be the only series I'm excited about without caveats. So why is NBC holding it for mid-season?

OK, with the good (or potentially good) stuff out of the way, allow me to present some of the more disheartening entries. I'm keeping these to a minimum, as I don't want to depress. And, the reality is, most of the new shows don't look bad, per se. They just look kind of flat and uninspiring. But some do look really, really bad. For instance...

"Grimm," NBC:
A cop turns out to be related to the Grimm family, of the fairy tale Grimms. He has the gift of recognizing fairy tale monsters hiding out in modern day. Not to be confused with ABC's "Once Upon A Time," which also deals with fairy tale characters (and looks marginally better), "Grimm" seems silly, cheaply produced and very missable. But I could be wrong.

"I Hate My Teenage Daughter," Fox
You know what? I think I also hate your teenage daughter! This sitcom features Jaime Pressly and Katie Finneran as two moms raising horrific, undisciplined teen girls. It looks grating, stupid and a total waste of its two talented leading ladies. Oof.

"Work It," ABC
Perhaps the only TV show trailer I saw that actually invoked the word "mind-boggling" -- and not in a good way. This comedy deals with two unemployed men who, frustrated with the job search, happen upon a solution to their employment woes -- cross dressing! Really. This is a show about cross-dressing. And it stars two guys who do not look remotely believable as women. And neither of them is Tom Hanks.
Ladies and gentleman, I bring you the leading candidate to be this season's "Cavemen":

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