Published On: December 16, 2008
As the winter shifts beyond the holiday season, the networks and cable channels roll out their new crop of television shows in what is affectionately known as the midseason. Typically starting in January and rolling through March, we the viewing audience are given numerous new and familiar properties. Out of the hundreds of potential series produced during pilot season, a scant few are picked up for an initial run. Out of those, most won’t survive the initial season. Here’s a look at what’s new, what’s returning, and what, in my opinion, is worth keeping.
The New Stuff
Leverage – TNT – Dec 7
The cable channel which seemed to specialize in Lonesome Dove made-for-tv movies spun off into producing their own content a few years ago with the Closer. Saving Grace was added to the lineup a season or two later, and this year TNT is bringing two new dramatic properties to the mix in an attempt to cement themselves as a channel with original content. The first such show is Leverage.
Flexing an ensemble cast with Academy Award winner Timothy Hutton in the principle role, the pitch is rather simple. Take the team of specialists ala Mission: Impossible (the show), add the youth of the Mod Squad (again, the television show), the A-Team’s philosophy of helping the little guy, and toss in a modern anti-corporate (or anti evil corporations) mission set, and you’ve got the gist of the show.
Leverage has the distinct advantage of being the only new series this midseason which I’ve actually seen prior to deadline, so my opinion is based on experience rather than educated speculation. And my verdict? I like it. It’s a solid show. And it has a lot of room to grow. Timothy Hutton earned my respect with his role in the woefully overlooked series Kidnapped, and he brings the same chops to Leverage.
The characters, so far, are largely foils to Hutton’s more developed mystery. Most of the crew are bringing only minor pieces of their past, typically represented through actions (a sign of strong writing), but the showrunners have given themselves strong foundations to work with. The plots have been predictable, yet enjoyable – the show provides clues in a manner that abides by its own logic – that is to say it’s not all grit and reality, but the Leverage rules agrees with the setting in which they are presented. For those who like a good mystery, you can typically predict the ending. However, the characters are presented in such a way that I found myself pulling for them.
And lest this seem like a guy’s show – the girlfriend has quickly become a fan. She joined halfway through the pilot, was interested in the second episode, and is looking forward to the third tonight. This ranks as one of the few shows that we can watch together and both enjoy.
Verdict – Set the season to record.
Lie to Me – Fox – Jan 21
It’s CSI minus blood splatters and LVPD plus private contractors times behavioral analysis. And I’m probably not going to watch it. While the premise seems to such metaphorical concepts such as “truth”, I have a strong feeling that this series is going to be a reskinned House or Bones. Or, to put it another way, it’s a formula.
Verdict – I like Timothy Roth, so I might do an episode or two. Who knows, maybe Fox can commit to an actual serial drama other than 24…
Trust Me – TNT – Jan 26
TNT’s second new property this year stars Tom Cavanagh and Eric McCormack (the guy from Ed and the guy from Will and Grace, respectively) star as two best friends who work at a high power Chicago advertising agency. The play is that McCormack is the workaholic familyman art director and Cavanagh is the creative, single, and likely manic copywriter. Despite being friends, they are an obvious odd couple, and those odds come to a head when McCormack gets a promotion that makes him his Cavanagh’s boss.
Labeling itself as a drama filled with witty banter, this looks like it’s going to be a more modern version of Mad Men, and walks a tough path in that shadow. I’m forced to wonder how the series will do without the booze, broads, and smokes that made advertising seem interesting in the 1950s. Though, Cavanagh did impress me with his work on the failed CBS vehicle Love Monkey, and the two characters he played bear a strong resemblance on paper. If we’re in for a repeat performance, this show could have me watching religiously.
Verdict: I’m in for at least the first three episodes.
Dollhouse – Fox – Feb 13
For a show that’s still two months out, this one has been garnering a lot of buzz. And with a name like Joss Whedon prominently attached, there’s a reason why. Whedon has fans by the bucket after creating properties like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Firefox. His fans might not be the biggest in number, but they are very, very vocal. And they’re mad about the show being given a dead slot – Friday evening. They have reason to be, given the networks’ reliance on the very flawed Neilson rating system. However, this is the age of the DVR.
The plot of the Dollhouse is similar to a point to the recently pulled NBC drama My Own Worst Enemy in that it follows a set of agents (Actives or “Dolls”) who have their minds wiped and imprinted with mission critical materials. The drama comes into play when the protagonist, Echo (Eliza Dushku), starts to become self aware. The Dolls operate off the radar and are supposedly being hunted by a Federal Agent.
The plot itself holds a lot of merit, and like Whedon’s prior properties, this one has real potential for a balance of character and action. The real make-or-break for this show will be whether it drifts into cheesy territory, and whether Fox wrests creative control away from Whedon and Co like they did with Firefox.
Verdict: I’m watching, though with some reservations. If the plot or dialogue drifts towards high school, I’ll likely leave.
Kings – NBC – Mar 19
Although NBC’s promotional department is playing this one close to their chests, it has attracted Deadwood noteable Ian McShane as the titular King. Set in a modern, or slightly futurist setting, the story is supposed to focus on the story of a small town boy who somehow get’s mixed with the ruling powers of a totalitarian state. It doesn’t sound simple, and the plot get’s even more convoluted when you factor in that the pilot was written by Heroes vet Michael Green and is a loose retelling of the Biblical story of David. Whether we’re getting David vs. Goliath, or David as Badass King, isn’t yet known. Here’s a video, so you can start to piece together your own conclusions.
Verdict: My interest is piqued, and I’m reserving judgment until I get to see the pilot.
Beyond or Undated
Blue Blood – NBC – The true story of a Harvard educated man turned cop. Action-drama.
Courtroom K – Fox – It’s another legal show, but unlike the myriad procedural dramas out there. This one is a comedy. I guess most people are now too young to remember Night Court.
Verdict: Has some decent names attached to it. Will need more information to actually pass judgement.
Harper’s Island – CBS – Apr 9 2009 – A murder is loose on a small island near Seattle. The plot is basic, and if done with care, could provide some really intense storylines. Jeffery Bell is the showrunner (writer-producer) and he’s got a pretty decent pedigree with Alias, the X-Files and the short lived Day Break. Yes, he wrote for Angel, but I’m not going to hold that against him. Jon Turteltaub, of Jericho, is the show’s Executive producer. Hopefully CBS can bear through the initially low ratings and let these two build a good solid story.
Verdict: Looks interesting. On my “To See” list.
Man of Your Dreams – NBC – half hour comedy (we used to call them sitcoms) about a bartender dispensing love lessons. Set in Chicago, expect lots of attractive people, contrived situations, and me not to be watching. I like Michael Trucco on Battlestar, but not enough to start following a sitcom. I do not like the 22 minute canvas.
Verdict: Sorry Michael, I’m skipping this one.
Merlin – NBC – It’s Camelot, but inspired by 21st Century storytelling? Can anyone make any sense out of that? Seems to be it’s the King Arthur story meets the OC. I don’t know if I’m down for that. And NBC is playing around with the premier time, it’s slated for Sundays at 9pm. Which Sunday it starts on, well, that’s anyone’s guess.
Verdict: I’ll be surprised if this makes it to the air. And I’ll most likely skip it.
Outnumbered – Fox – In the promo material, Fox admits that the family sitcom is “staid”, and rightly so. Though in the same breath they promise that this is a new take. Their pitch is the improv of Curb Your Enthusiasm meets the life of Malcom in the Middle. And if they could pull that off, it would be great. How exactly does Fox do this? Well, they’re doing the tried and true and remaking a show from the UK.
One huge advantage that this show has? Ken fucking Marino. Yup, in the age where every comedian is pulled from the Daily Show, Fox is going old school and grabbing talent from the State. And they’re better for it. If Ken improvs a “I wanna dip my balls in it” line, I will DVR the entire season.
Verdict: I’m pulling for this show, but I don’t think the odds are too high. Even with Ken Marino.
Sit Down, Shut Up – Fox – Still under a working title, this animated project has drawn some rather large names – Will Arnett, Jason Bateman, Will Forte, Cheri Oteri, and the freaking Fonz (Henry Winkler) and that’s just for the voices. The writing is being taken up by Mitchell Hurwitz (Arrested Development) and the team of Eric and Kim Tannenbaum (Two and a Half Men). On the talent pool alone, this looks like a real winner. But Fox is quite fickle about the animation it chooses to show. Hopefully they won’t dumb this one down to keep it on the air.
The setting is a high school in a small, northeastern fishing town. Judging by the promo materials at Fox, the plots seem to be internal struggles and full of that modern insecurities and insanities that the writers are known for on their previous projects.
Verdict: It’s a keeper. Weird mix of animation on live sets aside, I am totally down for this show.
This year’s crop of television shows has some real potential, with some obvious risks being taken in the midseason that wouldn’t be done during the fall, but perhaps show too much potential for the summer. Granted, this type of scheduling is largely old hat due to the invention of the Internet. Leverage is a hands down winner, with several other shows – Dollshouse, Sit Down Shut Up, Kings, and Trust Me – showing potential. I have a strong feeling that, if allowed to grow, Harper’s Island could be a very intelligent thrill ride.
Check back tomorrow for the returning shows which have a permanent spot in my DVR, and to learn who’s on the bubble.
But wait, there’s more… here are the new shows that I will undoubtedly be skipping:
Chopping Block – NBC – Oh look, another cooking reality TV show.
The Goode Family – ABC – Mike Judge is at it again. This time he’s not lampooning Texas suburban living (King of the Hill) or teenage metal heads (Beavis and Butthead), nope, this time it’s being morally correct. The Goode Family tries to do good liberal things, but the consequences are such that comedy will certainly ensue…
The Listener – NBC – Mind-reading paramedic. Did you hear me just sigh?
Mama’s Boys – unscripted by Ryan Seacrest (I just puked in my mouth)
Salavage & Swords: Lives on the Line – both NBC – Look, I have the Discovery Channel. I have lots of Discovery Channels, in wonderful HD. Let’s leave the fishing/ocean shows there.
Superstars of Dance – NBC – While really just a mini-series-event, this is the show that’s bumping Chuck and Heroes for January. It’s supposed to be a more global version of Dancing With the Stars, what is will be is something I refuse to watch.
Top Gear – NBC – Another British important, and one that’s been on TV for 30 years. I don’t know if NBC is attempting to remake the show, or will simply begin to air the BBC series outright. Either way, I won’t be watching.
Unholy Union – ABC – okay, that’s not the name of the show, it’s a comment on the premise of what is still being billed as the “Unnamed Ashton Kutcher / Tyra Banks Project.” I think my title aptly sums up not only how I feel about the show, but also about the principles.