Television networks are notorious for heavily advertising a slew of new shows in September, many of which barely make it to their second episode. It’s that time again, and here are some pilots I’m looking forward to or, at the very least, show some promise.
Once Upon a Time (ABC)
This shadowy fantasy combines the real world and the fairy-tale world, so that Emma, a young woman who seems connected to both worlds, mixes it up with Snow White and Rumpelstiltskin. I’m hopeful that this will be a fun one, though it seems to stick to the darker nature of the tales. Or it could just be another outlet for the Disney brand. NBC also offers a fairy-tale world in its new show “Grimm,” but it’s not getting great reviews.
Person of Interest (CBS)
Jim Caviezel, the actor who portrayed Jesus in The Passion of the Christ, plays a former CIA hit man who joins forces with a scientist (Michael Emerson from “Lost”) to prevent crime. It looks like an odd combination of violence and a wish for no violence. The show comes from producer J.J. Abrams (“Lost,” Super 8) and creator/writer Jonathan Nolan (The Dark Knight).
Prime Suspect (NBC)
Helen Mirren was fantastic in the gritty British miniseries of the same name, so I hope for the best. Early reviews give kudos to Maria Bello in the revamped starring role but are less enthusiastic about the rest of the show.
Terra Nova (FOX)
The world’s future isn’t working out so well, so a family is sent back to resettle the human race in prehistoric times. As it boasts time travel, a dystopian future, dinosaurs, and Steven Spielberg as an executive producer, I can’t help but be curious!
One show that has a good chance of making it is “New Girl” (FOX). This new comedy is getting a lot of buzz. Zooey Deschanel, the It girl of the indies, stars as Jess, a sweet, vulnerable, and quirky young woman recovering from a breakup and looking for a place to live. She ends up rooming with three men who quickly discover those quirks. The show has a warm undercurrent, but the whole pilot is vulgar from start to finish. I’d like to see it grow up, but that’s not likely.
Every year a few trends show up, and trends often produce bad television. This year there seems to be a male identity crisis, judging by the excess of comedies about men being “men” (thank you, Charlie Sheen), and none of them look very funny. “Last Man Standing” (ABC) is probably the best of them, featuring Tim Allen barely holding onto his manhood as he is surrounded by a household full of women. “Man Up!” (ABC) gives us three fully grown boy-men who want to be manlier. In “How to Be a Gentleman” (CBS), we find an intelligent, over-polite man who is being coached into being more masculine by a crude personal trainer.
Also in the lineup are some “Mad Men” knockoffs. “Pan Am” (ABC) is a soapy period drama starring Christina Ricci living the glamorous jet-set life of a 1960s stewardess. And we can all thank NBC for bringing us “The Playboy Club,” which has been protested by conservatives and feminists alike. For all the uproar, it’s not likely to last long because it is, according to critics, just plain boring.
It’s funny how, in the search for original programming, the networks jump on the copycat train. “Mad Men” is not the only show being mimicked. The success of “Glee” likely inspired the upcoming midseason entry of “Smash” (NBC). Debra Messing reappears in this musical show about the world of Broadway. And in territory once tread by Tom Hanks in the old “Bosom Buddies” series, ABC will freshen up midseason with “Work It,” a comedy about two unemployed men who dress as women in order to get jobs. And, of course, who can forget the upcoming rehash of “Charlie’s Angels”?
Supernatural experiences and unusual gifts continue as strong trends. In “A Gifted Man,” a successful, ambitious doctor is visited by his late, passionately altruistic ex-wife. Might be a new twist on “The Ghost Whisperer,” or it could be, as one reviewer put it, “‘House’ meets ‘Touched by an Angel.’” I’m going to check it out, mainly because Jennifer Ehle (Elizabeth Bennet in the classic 1995 BBC “Pride and Prejudice” miniseries) plays his ex-wife.
Continuing the unusual-gift theme, “Awake” (NBC) will come later in the season, and I’ll definitely be watching. A detective has survived a car crash. He now finds himself alternating between two different realities: one in which his wife is alive and his son is gone, and another in which the opposite is true. He has to work between them, and he might have to choose one. In “Unforgettable,” apparently taking cues from a multitude of shows (“Psych,” “Monk,” “The Profiler,” “Crossing Jordan” to name a few), the talented Poppy Montgomery stars as a former detective who has the gift and curse of remembering everything. The sexed-up pilot leads to another police-drama ending in which an experienced law-enforcement officer intentionally challenges the suspect alone in a dark place.
Most good television finds a way, even in the most outlandish premise, to connect to viewers’ lives or emotional experiences. Frankly, it’s a rare show where I can find some common ground. There are sure to be more misses than hits, but I’ll be looking for one or two bright spots along the way. Let us know what you think—what will you be watching?