Monday, October 01, 2012

Why my DVR has been working overtime.... 

TV Review: Prime Time Network New Fall Shows, 2012

It's that time of year again. Actually, the new fall season started quite early, and the debuting shows are spread out over a longer span of time, making a review of them all in one article somewhat impractical for someone who does not get to see them in advance of their air date. As I am part of the regular home viewing audience, I will focus here on the shows that began in the month of September. I will do another article in a few weeks featuring the programs that start in October.

For fall 2012, the emphasis seems to be on the resurgence of the half-hour sitcom. Hour-long dramas, while potentially more engaging, are also more expensive to produce and thus are more of a gamble on the part of the networks. NBC in particular has had several of their dramas of past seasons fail to attract a sufficient audience, and as a result, they have made the most changes in their lineup. I did not see any new reality shows on the major networks, which I hope means viewers are finally becoming bored or at least over-saturated with the genre.

All times listed below are Eastern.

Go On, 9pm Tuesdays, NBC. A preview of this show first aired during the Olympics, but I didn't see it until it was re-broadcast on September 10. I also caught the second episode the following night. "Go On" stars Matthew Perry of "Friends" fame as a recently bereaved sportscaster who is required by his employer to go to group therapy. Perry's character is rude and doesn't know how to deal with the world except through denial and sports. This is a comedy, but it also tries to be sweet. Unfortunately, I didn't think it managed to do both at the same time. It was like watching someone drive a manual transmission car for the first time - the way it lurched between comedy and drama, you could almost hear the gears grinding. Perhaps in time this show will decide on a tone, but its debut just didn't work for me.

The New Normal, 9:30pm Tuesdays, NBC. This was another early bird, with the preview episode on September 10. This half-hour comedy comes from Ryan Murphy, the man behind both "Glee" and "American Horror Story". The premise here is that Bryan and David, a couple wanting a child, meet Goldie, a newly separated woman who already has a nine-year-old daughter. Goldie agrees to be a surrogate for Bryan and David over the strident objections of Goldie's bigoted grandmother (played by Ellen Barkin). "The New Normal" contains the humor of "Glee" without all that pesky singing. Some people will likely find Jane, the grandmother, offensive. She is basically Archie Bunker in high heels. But I found the show to be outrageously hilarious, and while I was laughing, I found myself caring about what happened to the characters. This is my favorite comedy of the new season so far.

Guys with Kids, 8:30pm Wednesdays, NBC. Another half-hour comedy, this debuted on September 12. The co-creator is Jimmy Fallon, but he does not appear in it. You can pretty much sum up the entire show with the title. It's about three men who are friends, and each of them has at least one child. Tempestt Bledsoe from "The Cosby Show" appears as the wife of the guy who has four kids. I found the first episode to be the equivalent of hitting the same note on a piano over and over, rather predictable except for one scene toward the end where I actually did chuckle. Maybe this will appeal more to actual guys with kids.

Revolution, 10pm Mondays, NBC.
This began on September 17 and has as one of the executive producers J.J. Abrams, who brought us "Lost" and "Fringe". Like those shows, this one is easier to watch than explain. The setting is what was once the United States, 15 years after all electric and battery power inexplicably ceased to function. Medication is scarce, transportation is either via foot or horseback, and food is whatever you can grow or hunt. Charlie, a teenage girl handy with a crossbow, goes on a cross country search for her uncle (Billy Burke of the "Twilight" films) after her father is killed and her brother is kidnapped by the new regime's militia. Elizabeth Mitchell from "Lost" and "V" appears in flashback's as Charlie's mom. If you can buy the premise, you are rewarded with a mash-up of genres, as though everything old were new again. Without the ability to use tanks, bombs or airplanes, the law is enforced with a cavalry of gunmen; some carry swords like samurai warriors. Greenery gains a foothold as technology no longer encroaches on forests or pollutes the air with toxic chemicals. The shells of empty vehicles and businesses create a new kind of ghost town. I don't know if this series will be able to hold my interest long-term, but I was impressed by the first couple of episodes.

Partners, 8:30pm Mondays, CBS. I thought this sitcom might have potential as it came from David Kohan and Max Mutchnick, the creative minds behind "Will and Grace". In "Partners", best friends Louis (Michael Urie of "Ugly Betty") and Joe find their relationship strained when Joe gets engaged. Oddly, the fact that Louis has a boyfriend (Brandon Routh) doesn't seem to matter to Joe. The Louis character is rather narcissistic and whiny. The writing wasn't nearly what I was hoping for. The actors were good, but they deserved better dialogue.

Ben and Kate, 8:30pm Tuesdays, Fox. A half-hour comedy featuring Dakota Johnson, daughter of Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith, as Kate. She plays a single mom of an adorable five-year-old. Kate's emotionally immature brother, Ben, waltzes in and out of her life according to his own whims, but when his ex-girlfriend marries someone else, he opts to move in with Kate and help her with her daughter. The character of Ben is based on the executive producer's own brother, which makes him pretty believable. Most of us have at least one relative like Ben who is exasperating yet lovable. And Kate's attempts to re-enter the dating world after five years are hilarious. I was amused and charmed by this show and plan to keep watching it.

The Mindy Project, 9:30 Tuesdays, Fox. Mindy Kaling, who acted and wrote for "The Office", is now the executive producer and writer of the first few episodes of her own show. It is a comedy, but not a spin-off of any kind. Kaling stars as Mindy Lahiri, an ob-gyn who is successful professionally but not personally, at least in her own mind. She delivers babies by day and parties to excess by night when she is not obsessing over rom coms. She wants to reform, but she practically guarantees failure by her all-or-nothing approach. This show is creative and unusual, but I'm not completely convinced it is my cup of tea. I do think it is worth seeing at least once, though. I am willing to watch another episode before I decide whether it's for me.

Vegas, 10pm Tuesdays, CBS. One of the tried-and-true CBS formula of crime dramas, and yet it's not. This is set in 1960, back when the Mob ran the casinos and cattle ranches were just outside the Vegas Strip. The writer is Nicholas Pileggi of "Good Fellas" and "Casino" fame. It's based on the real-life story of a rancher named Ralph Lamb who became sheriff and tried to keep order in the face of the rampant corruption in Sin City. The show is well cast with Dennis Quaid as Lamb, Michael Chiklis as mob boss Vincent Savino, and Carrie-Anne Moss as the assistant district attorney. The dialogue is believable and the setting historically interesting, with an Old West meets Chicago gangster vibe. This was not something I was expecting to enjoy, and yet, I did. My husband was intrigued too. We're going to tune in to at least one more episode to see how it goes.

Animal Practice, 8pm Wednesdays, NBC. As you might guess from the name, this sitcom is set in an animal hospital. The main character, George, is a sourpuss veterinarian who must work for his bubbly ex, Dorothy. The rest of the staff are various shades of wacky. The real star, though, is a monkey who wears a white coat, paints, mugs for the camera and gets all the laughs. If only the humans were as consistently amusing. I must confess it is tempting to watch it just for the monkey though.

The Neighbors, 8:30pm Wednesdays, ABC. The show is funny, in this case meaning strange, very strange indeed. A group of aliens from another planet live undisturbed in a gated community for a decade until one family defects and puts their condo up for sale. The unsuspecting buyers are a stereotypical American family of four who think they're going to be living the dream. Interplanetary culture clash ensues. Is "Neighbors" trying to be the next "3rd Rock from the Sun"? Yes, and no. The aliens here, in trying to assimilate Earth culture, have got the concept of diversity down, even within each family unit. The alien leader and his family have named themselves after sports heroes, with father Larry Bird, mother Jackie Joyner-Kersee, elder son Reggie Jackson and younger son Dick Butkus. But all this weirdness did have me laughing quite a bit. I don't know if I want to commit to an entire season, but I'll commit to another week and go from there.

Last Resort, 8pm Thursdays, ABC. A truly original premise: an American nuclear submarine, the USS Colorado, is patrolling the Indian Ocean when it gets orders from a questionable source to bomb Pakistan. They nearly comply, then decide to get confirmation first. While they are attempting to do so, another American sub bombs the Colorado and temporarily sinks it. The Colorado finds refuge on the nearest island while the media are erroneously reporting that Pakistan sank the sub. America retaliates by destroying Pakistan. Andre Braugher plays the sub's captain who must decide between blind patriotism and conscientious disobedience. While the plot may seem a tad outlandish, I couldn't help thinking how easily a nuclear war could escalate based upon misinformation and what that might look like. I am generally not fond of war themes, but even so, I have to admit this show was unusually intense and well-executed. I believe "Last Resort" will find a loyal audience.

Made in Jersey, 9pm Thursdays, CBS. When CBS isn't airing detective dramas, it's usually airing legal dramas. The angle of this one is that Martina, fresh out of Trenton and law school, tries to compete with the big fish in a New York law firm. Martina looks like Fran Drescher during "The Nanny" years; her ginormous hair complete with pouf is distracting. Fortunately, she doesn't quite sound like Drescher. Kyle McLachlan, most recently of "Desperate Housewives", plays the boss who realizes that his young employee's street smarts can be used to the firm's advantage. "Jersey" isn't as dreadful as I'd been fearing, but there's nothing particularly special about it either, pouf notwithstanding.

Elementary, 10pm Thursdays, CBS. It seems Sherlock Holmes will never go out of style. Not surprisingly, this present-day take on fiction's most popular detective comes courtesy of CBS. British actor Jonny Lee Miller ditches the pipe and funky hat for a black jacket and plaid scarf but keeps the London slang. Just out of rehab and seeking an outlet for his obsessive mind, Holmes goes to work as a consultant for the police force in New York. The biggest surprise of "Elementary" is the casting of Watson: Lucy Liu. She plays Joan Watson, a former surgeon who is basically baby-sitting Holmes to make sure he stays clean. She is bitten by the crime-solving bug too. The dynamic between Holmes and Watson is engaging, the mystery solving and dialogue are fast-paced, and the potential for an interesting series is somewhat high. My husband and I will be tuning in next week.

666 Park Avenue, 10pm Sundays, ABC. Terry O'Quinn of "Lost" and "Hawaii Five-O" and Vanessa Williams of "Desperate Housewives" and "Ugly Betty" have a new address - Park Avenue in New York. They are the owners of the Drake, a ritzy apartment building where odd things happen. They hire a nice young couple to manage the property, but the wife might be too nosy about the goings-on at the Drake for her own good. O'Quinn and Williams are excellent at being pleasant on the surface but creepy behind their smiles. I will grant this one future viewings.

That's a lot of new television for a three week period! And some are still to come in October and even November. If you want to catch up on any of these new shows, check iTunes, Hulu, and the network's own websites for download availability. Happy viewing!

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