Saturday, September 4, 2010

A Rough Guide to New TV: Fall 2010 Edition

I have always welcomed the beginning of September with a real tinge of excitement. As a kid, I learned quickly that September didn’t just mean going back to school: it also promised the new fall television season. At the centre of this excitement would be TV Guide’s special Fall Preview edition, its digest-sized volume extra-thick with glossy photos and enthusiastic descriptions of every new upcoming network program of the year. The photos that accompanied the shows followed a strict pattern: sitcoms all smiles or fists raised in faux conflict, cop dramas all scowls and intensity, prime-time soaps smouldering sideways glances. And I loved it all—eagerly turning back the corners of the pages of shows I would plan to watch. On those pages, all shows were equal—all promise and hope, for that spare moment, before the first episode aired.

Perhaps that palpable aura of possibility is why (no doubt to my mother’s dismay) I would dutifully collect the Fall Previews, year after year—taking care to keep them from the trash bin as the week came to an end. By the time I left for university, I probably had a dozen years’ worth tucked away on the top shelf of my closet. I have no idea where my small collection ultimately ended up, but I wish that I could flip through some of those pages now—and take another glimpse into a world where, for a brief instant, The Charmings and Manimal stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Cheers and Hill Street Blues.

It’s September again, but it doesn’t feel quite the same anymore (and not just because TV Guide let go of its digest-format back in 2005). That sense of excitement remains, but television has changed. We now have dozens of channels producing original programming, new TV series are launched year-round, and digital cable and the internet offer almost real-time access to foreign markets. For most of us, in those years before the internet and non-stop entertainment TV, the TV Guide Fall Preview was our first look at the new shows. While most networks continue to promote the majority of their new programming in the fall, by the time September rolls around, most of the new shows have been well picked over online: leaked scripts, YouTube trailers, behind the screens drama. Don’t get me wrong: for a lover of television, this is an extraordinary time. We have access to more and more thoughtful, well-written, and well-produced TV shows than ever before. The DVD market has emboldened networks and studios to invest in more ambitious and costly programs, and these shows have longer and richer lifespans than ever before. But I confess that, every September, I become a little nostalgic for that three-channel universe, back when you could exhaustively detail all upcoming new television in a magazine you could fit in your pocket without folding it.

And so, in honour of my eager, TV-obsessed younger self and his enthusiasm for the fall, today I offer a short list of the new fall shows that I’m particularly excited about.

Shows Not To Miss

Boardwalk Empire (HBO)

Boardwalk Empire (HBO) – With Sopranos veteran Terence Winter at the helm as creator and showrunner, and starring Steve Buscemi (Reservoir Dogs), Boardwalk Empire is probably the most highly anticipated show of the season. HBO’s period gangster drama, set in Prohibition-era Atlantic City, not only boasts high production value but a pilot episode directed by Martin Scorsese. Not to be missed! (Premieres Sept. 19)

The Walking Dead (AMC)

The Walking Dead (AMC) – Frank Darabont’s (The Shawshank Redemption) adaptation of Robert Kirkman’s successful comic series of the same name, The Walking Dead finally brings the pop culture zombie phenomenon to television. The plot seems essentially like 28 Days Later transplanted from the UK to Kentucky, but judging from the recently released trailer I’m happy to go along for the ride. This is only AMC’s fourth original series (following the award-winning Mad Men, the brilliant Breaking Bad and its promising new conspiracy drama Rubicon), and they haven’t disappointed yet. (Premieres Oct. 31) *Check out my subsequent review of The Walking Dead.

Terriers (FX)

Terriers (FX) – An ex-cop (the always charismatic Donal Logue, Grounded for Life) teams up with his old friend (Michael Raymond-James, True Blood) to open an unlicensed private investigation firm. Created by screenwriter Ted Griffin (Ocean's Eleven) and The Shield creator Shawn Ryan, Terriers looks like it just might be most fun hour of television this season. For maximum effect, I recommend pairing with its fellow crime-dramedy The Good Guys (FOX). (Premieres September 8) *Check out my post-season review of Terriers.

Shows to Check Out 

No Ordinary Family (ABC)
No Ordinary Family (ABC) – Billed as live-action version of The Incredibles, No Ordinary Family tells the story of a family which returns from a vacation to the Amazon Rain Forest with super powers. Think of it as Modern Family meets The Greatest American Hero. Starring Michael Chiklis (The Shield) and Julie Benz (Dexter), it shows a lot of potential and the buzz on it has been pretty good. But I suspect it will have to grow a little edgier than it currently seems to really grab me. (Premieres Sept 28)  *Check out my midseason review of No Ordinary Family.

The Event (NBC)
The Event (NBC) – Starring Jason Ritter (Joan of Arcadia), The Event is NBC’s new conspiracy drama—part thriller, part mystery, part science-fiction. The pilot was screened to audiences at Comic-Con in July and the response to the pilot was quite positive, but it will have to step up if it’s going to keep the Lost audience from switching the channel. Hopefully it will learn some lessons from last season’s FlashForward and be capable of sustaining a complicated long narrative without losing itself along the way. (Premieres Sept 20)

Shattered (Showcase)
Shattered (Showcase, Canada) – Shattered is a Canadian cop drama starring Callum Keith Rennie (Battlestar Galactica, Californication) as a homicide detective who suffers from Multiple Personality Disorder. I’ve been following Rennie’s career ever since he joined Due South in its final two seasons. Rennie always brings a unique energy and depth to every character he plays (and was by far my favourite Cylon on Galactica). The pilot episode shows a lot of promise, and this role is made for his talents. The show also features Molly Parker (Deadwood) as Rennie’s wife and Camille Sullivan (from CBC’s Intelligence) as the partner forced to contend with his erratic behaviour. I was hoping to have a new Canadian drama to watch this season and I think this is it. (Premiered Sept 1)

Shows to Watch, But Keep to Yourself 

Every new season comes with shows that I watch out of sheer curiosity, knowing in advance that shame will keep me from telling anyone that I actually watch them. If the show actually turns out to be far better than expected, I may eventually be inclined to talk about it. I’m listing these shows here because, against all odds, last year’s collection actually had two real winners among them. The first was the unfortunately-titled Cougar Town (ABC) which left behind its original—and unappealing—mandate by about the show’s 5th episode and soon developed into one of the most consistently funny, and endearing, comedies of the year. And the second was Archer, FX’s animated spy spoof, which was regularly funnier, edgier, and more intelligently written than most life-action shows on the air.

Outsourced (NBC)
Outsourced (NBC) – Outsourced is a single-camera sitcom set in Mumbai, India, at the recently outsourced call centre of an American novelties company. It’s got the right pedigree—created by director Ken Kwapis (The Office, The Larry Sanders Show) and writer Robert Borden (The Drew Carry Show)—and an impressively multicultural cast (single-handedly employing more ethnic Indian actors than probably all other North American network shows combined.) In order to succeed, it will have move beyond broad ethnic humour and establish itself as an office comedy with some heart or at least some genuine edge. On the other hand, NBC gave it a sweet timeslot with a lead-in by The Office on Thursday night, so perhaps the show will have the time to find its legs. (Premieres Sept 23) *Check out my midseason review of Outsourced.

$#*! My Dad Says (CBS)
$#*! My Dad Says (CBS) – The show (apparently pronounced as "Bleep My Dad Says”) is a traditional 3-camera laugh-track sitcom which has adult son Henry (Jonathan Sadowski) move back home with his outspoken, opinionated 72-year old father, played by the legendary William Shatner (Boston Legal). Very little about the show genuinely interests me, but since the end of Boston Legal, I’ve been suffering from significant Shatner-withdrawal, and so for now this will have to do. Besides, the show has the dubious honour of being the first major primetime television series adapted from a (genuinely hilarious) Twitter-feed! Join me in watching the first few episodes before its inevitable cancellation. (Premieres Sept 23)

-- Mark Clamen is a lifelong television enthusiast. He lives in Toronto, where he often lectures on television and popular culture.

1 comment:

  1. Callum Keith Rennie is amazing, definitely the best cylon, Shattered could end up being as good as any of the not to miss shows. Californication went to another level while he was on the show, then simply returned to its normal awesomeness when he left. Great fall preview preview.