Fall TV: Thrills, but few laughs

Friday September 7, 2012

Television will do its best to scare, unnerve and cliffhang this fall.

With the rare exception, the dramas look much more promising than the comedies. A range of old dramatic genres and types -- the lawman, the superhero, the arch villain, the detective, the catfight -- are getting modern updates.

The comedic offerings for fall are a middling bunch, although history suggests some comedies take time to grow into themselves. ("Modern Family" was an instant hit but "Seinfeld"and "Cheers" were famously slow starters.)

Time for a couch potato’s version of speed dating vis-a-vis the 18 new series, with premiere dates. Guess which ones will make it past Thanksgiving?

The six best

"The New Normal" (NBC)

A gay couple who want to have a child meet a single mom who wants to escape her overbearing (and hilarious) mother and start anew. Ryan Murphy ("Glee") presents a smart peek at old stereotypes and new formulations of family. Andrew Ranells and Justin Bartha are the committed couple; Georgia King is the baby mama; Ellen Barkin is the retrograde grandma, an Archie Bunker for the new millennium. Sept. 11

"Last Resort" (ABC)

A military drama from Shawn Ryan ("The Shield") that benefits from Andre Braugher’s presence, it’s another TV commentary on how humans would build a community from scratch if they had to start over. Unlike "Lost" or "Gilligan’s Island," this time a fictional U.S. sub, "Colorado," is on the run from what may be evil commanders back in Washington. Sept. 27

"Elementary" (CBS)

Jonny Lee Miller is a twitchy, moody Sherlock; his Dr. Watson is played by Lucy Liu. Together they crack the cases the NYPD can’t. The new spin on the Arthur Conan Doyle stories, set in contemporary New York, is an inventive departure. Holmes purists will scoff, but this is a fine dramatic procedural in the CBS tradition. Sept. 27

"666 Park Avenue" (ABC)

What "Revenge" did for the Hamptons, the fictional Drake should do for New York’s Upper East Side. The apartment building’s owner (played by Terry O’Quinn) and his lovely wife (Vanessa Williams) are seductive hosts: rich and powerful enough to make dreams come true. But they demand souls in return. Sept. 30

"Arrow" (CW)

The DC Comics character Green Arrow is reinvented for a new generation. Oliver Queen, played by Stephen Amell, is heir to a family fortune, recently returned after being presumed dead in a shipwreck. He’s a playboy by day, a vigilante by night, out to "right the wrongs of his family, fight the ills of society, and restore Starling City to its former glory." Oct. 10

"Nashville" (ABC)

Connie Britton and Hayden Panetierre are rival divas, singing and competing across generations in a promising music-filled drama from Callie Khouri ("Thelma & Louise"). The personality of the town shines through and the story brims with romance and a tale of political power. Powers Boothe plays the conniving political patriarch (and promises he won’t sing). Oct. 10

The worst

"Malibu Country" (ABC)

Reba McEntire deserves better and Lily Tomlin should find a new agent. A fish-out-of-water premise finds a country star leavin’ Nashville and her cheatin’ husband, and lightin’ out for the West Coast, to Malibu, with her mom (Tomlin) and kids. There she’ll try to restart her singing career amid those otherworldly, indecipherable Angelenos. Nov. 2

"The Mob Doctor" (Fox)

She’s a doctor! She’s indebted to the mob! She’s the mob doctor! Jordana Spiro ("My Boys") plays the title character in this awkward hybrid medical drama/crime show. Sounds bad, but the execution is even worse. Sept. 17

"Animal Practice" (NBC)

Crystal the capuchin monkey steals the show, which is OK the first couple of times. After that, you wish there were more of a comedy here. Justin Kirk ("Weeds") is mostly wasted; Tyler Labine has some good lines. A sitcom set in a veterinarian’s office isn’t a bad idea -- lotsa cute! -- but this one panders to the lowest level of mindlessness. Sept. 26

"Chicago Fire" (NBC)

Dick Wolf creates these urban-hero emergency dramas faster than you can watch them. In this case, the cameras follow the members of a fire department, representing a range of ethnic types. Fans of Jesse Spencer ("Grey’s Ana tomy") may be interested. "Rescue Me" got there first and went much deeper. Oct. 10

"Beauty and the Beast" (CW)

This is the most convoluted, ill-conceived hour on the new schedule. The 1987 TV take on the classic fairy tale was so romantic and metaphoric, it’s a shame this one doesn’t just aim to replicate it. Instead, it jerks back and forth between action tale, love interest and "Incredible Hulk" in a way that doesn’t make much sense. Oct. 11

"Made in Jersey" (CBS)

Imagine The Nanny in a law firm, or Eliza Doolittle with a Jersey accent, hitting the big time. A girl from a big unpolished family does well by doing good and brings her rough-around-the-edges charm to Manhattan. Only Janet Montgomery makes it bearable. Sept. 28

The rest

"Go On" (NBC)

Imagine Matthew Perry as a sports talk-radio host, recent widower and the grudging participant in boss-mandated group therapy. The ensemble is talented, but there’s no heart. It’s the nicer version of Charlie Sheen’s "Anger Man age ment" but with a bitter aftertaste. Sept. 11

"Partners" (CBS)

The tale behind Max Mut chnick and David Kohan’s lifelong friendship and professional partnership sounds like it could be a series. One’s gay, one’s straight, they bond across the divide and across their life stages. Played by David Krumholtz and Michael Urie, respectively, the standard-issue comedy doesn’t rise to the level of must-see. Sept. 24

"Revolution" (NBC)

Great pedigree, from J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot, but curiously unfocused premise. Imagine the world without power. All technology is blacked out, cities are overgrown and dilapidated, a militia is running things and a band of survivors must re-establish democracy, the American way, and solve the mystery of why the power failed. Sept. 17

"Vegas" (CBS)

The story of the 1960s birth of modern Las Vegas is a good one. Cops, mobsters, cowboys and retro- Kennedy-era fashion and design come together, based on the true story of rodeo-cowboy-turned-Las-Vegas-sheriff Ralph Lamb. Dennis Quaid wears the white hat, Michael Chiklis wears the black as his mobbed-up nemesis. There’s a lot going on, and it feels expensive, but does it hang together? Sept. 25

"Ben & Kate" (Fox)

Odd-couple siblings cohabit and bond over their daughter/niece. Maybe they can each help the other take a step toward the middle. Writer/ executive producer Dana Fox ("New Girl") and executive producer/director Jake Kas dan ("New Girl") offer a sweet, light and good-natured comedy. That should be refreshing, but it’s not enough. Sept. 25

"Emily Owens, M.D." (CW)

A younger version of "Grey’s Anatomy" starring Meryl Streep’s daughter, Mamie Gummer ("The Good Wife"). The CW-worthy premise: Life is like high school. Specifically, being an intern at the fictional Denver Memorial Hospital is like high school for Emily (Gummer), particularly when both her high school crush and nemesis show up. Oct. 16

"The Mindy Project" (Fox)

Mindy Kaling ("The Office") stars as a smart professional woman who’s unlucky in love -- the brilliant OB/Gyn can’t navigate her personal life. It’s a time-worn formula, but at least writer-producer-actor Kaling brings her unique vision to the show. Unfortu nately, she may be a better writer than star. It’s not easy to carry a show. Sept. 25

"The Neighbors" (ABC)

Jamie Gertz and Lenny Venito are fun to watch as the couple who unwittingly move their family into a neighborhood occupied by aliens. And hearing the aliens repeatedly refer to themselves as Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Dick But kus is funny. At first blush, it’s a high-concept mess and no "3rd Rock from the Sun." But it’s in no way the worst comedy on the schedule. Sept. 26

"Guys With Kids" (NBC)

Jimmy Fallon must be in it for the money, (not the funny.) He’s producing this too-easy riff on 30-something dads, a tedious one-note throwback that stipulates a man’s most urgent role in life is to remain a dude at all costs. Why should a BabyBjorn get in the way? Gary (Anthony Anderson), Chris (Jesse Bradford) and Nick (Zach Cregger) represent various incarnations of fatherhood -- married, divorced, clueless. Sept. 26


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