Thursday, September 6, 2007

Five New TV Shows I Look Forward to Seeing

[NOTE: The following article will also appear as my regular television column for WILDsound.]

The new television season starts later this month, and the networks will finally be unveiling the new shows they have been flogging since the schedules were announced in May. While I will no doubt sample many of the new offerings, the following are the five new programs I am most interested in checking out (in reverse order of excitement level):

5. “Samantha Who?” (ABC, Mondays at 9:30 p.m., debuts October 15)

While multiple title changes are never a good sign (“Sam I Am” to “Samantha Be Good” to “Samantha Who?,” all of which are immediately forgettable), the bad karma is outweighed by a lot of elements that have piqued my interest about this program. First of all, it’s a sitcom, and as a dying breed, I feel a responsibility to support any offering from the genre that looks at all promising.

I also like the premise: A woman wakes up from a coma with amnesia, only to discover that she was a very unlikable person. Handled correctly, there is a lot of humor and insight to be mined from that set-up. Christina Applegate is well-cast as the titular amnesiac, and the always entertaining Jean Smart, who is too often buried in bad projects, is a series regular. Bonus points to the producers for using a “Gilmore Girls” cast member (Melissa McCarthy, who played Sookie). And straight from the “Really?” department, the pilot was directed by the actor who played Tom Paris on “Star Trek: Voyager,” Robert Duncan McNeill, which explains how “Voyager”’s Vulcan, Tim Russ, also has a lead role.

The show was created by an unlikely pair: veteran television writer Donald Todd and Irish novelist Cecelia Ahern. How often do you get to write the phrase “Irish novelist” when describing a sitcom? Based on the previews and the cast, “Samantha Who?” looks like it could be sharply funny.

4. “Private Practice” (ABC, Wednesdays at 9:00 p.m., debuts September 26)

On the surface, a soapy drama about a bunch of doctors sharing a practice in Southern California is not a show that would normally make this list. A guilty pleasure TiVo? Sure. But one of the new programs I’m looking forward to the most? No way. So what has landed “Private Practice” on my list? Two words for you: Kate Walsh.

I am a somewhat conflicted “Grey’s Anatomy” viewer. Aside from the distractingly unrealistic constant stream of disasters that occur in and around Seattle Grace Hospital, my biggest pet peeve about the show is that I could never understand why anyone would even consider dumping Kate Walsh for Ellen Pompeo. Walsh’s Addison Montgomery is a smart, driven, empathetic, warm and deeply human character and, in my eyes, the best thing about “Grey’s.” Pompeo’s Meredith Grey is a self-involved, cold, whiny mess. I watch the show despite Meredith, not because of her.

With Walsh getting her own spin-off, it was time for me to put my eyeballs where my mouth is, right? I certainly can’t continue watching “Grey’s” while snubbing “Private Practice,” could I? I’m a victim of my own words. And, despite the fact that the episode of “Grey’s” that served as the pilot for the spin-off was less than scintillating, I’m ready to give Dr. Montgomery a chance at her new place of work. After all, if the Addison Montgomery of “Private Practice” is the same Addison Montgomery we got to know on “Grey’s Anatomy,” the show is already off to a good start.

3. “Aliens in America” (CW, Mondays at 8:30 p.m., debuts October 1)

The inclusion of this one took me by surprise, since before I started my research, I barely remembered that “Aliens in America” existed. As I’ve written before, I am a big fan of “How I Met Your Mother.” When CBS announced that it was going to air a new sitcom, “The Big Bang Theory,” about two science nerds who befriend the beautiful woman who moves in next door, in the slot after “How I Met Your Mother,” I thought it was a no-brainer that “Big Bang” would make my list. Now, thanks to the miracles of modern technology (a.k.a. TiVo), I’m sure I will watch “Big Bang.” But, when I looked at the schedule and did a little digging, I found that a different show will be my number one priority Mondays at 8:30: “Aliens in America.”

My first clue that “Big Bang” may not be all puppies and rainbows was my discovery that it is executive produced by Chuck Lorre, the man who unleashed onto the world the mind-bogglingly overrated “Two and a Half Men.” “Aliens,” on the other hand, is executive produced by, among others, Tim Doyle, whose voluminous credits include two of my favorite (and criminally canceled too soon) sitcoms of all time, “Sports Night” and “Andy Richter Controls the Universe.” The show’s producers have also worked on classic half-hour offerings like “Arrested Development” and “The Larry Sanders Show,” as well as a personal favorite of mine, “Mad About You.”

I’m a little unsure about the premise of “Aliens” (a Muslim exchange student comes to a family in Wisconsin that was expecting someone more Nordic). It’s original, but seems like it might be a bit heavy-handed. And other than another “Gilmore Girls” refugee (Scott Patterson, who was diner owner Luke on “Gilmore,” and is the dad in “Aliens”), I’m not familiar with anyone in the cast. But with the pedigree of the writers and the originality of the premise, I have a feeling “Aliens” might be a pleasant surprise of the season. Assuming, of course, anyone bothers to find it on the CW.

2. “Carpoolers” (ABC, Tuesdays at 8:30 p.m., debuts October 2)

This is another one that required a bit of digging to grab my attention. First of all, it is in the time block vacated by the demise of “Gilmore Girls,” and I have to watch something during that time since I am under psychiatric orders not to spend every Tuesday night between 8:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. in the fetal position on the floor in front of my television. And, again, I want to support new sitcoms, so my mind was open, even though Jerry O’Connell is one of the leads (I’m not a fan). I decided to be an optimist, remembering that series regular Faith Ford was on one of the great sitcoms of all time, “Murphy Brown,” rather than acknowledge that she was on one of the worst half-hour comedies, too (“Hope and Faith”).

And then I remembered something I had read over the summer in an article about the latest reunion of the Canadian comedy troupe Kids in the Hall: Kids member Bruce McCulloch is a writer and executive producer on “Carpoolers.” Given how off the wall the Kids’ comedy could be, it seems unlikely that “Carpoolers” will be a brain dead, “According to Jim”-style cliché-fest. Throw in that Anthony and Joe Russo, veterans of “Arrested Development,” are also executive producers and my desire to support worthy sitcoms, and I am in.

What is the show about? Four guys carpool together to work. It’s a benign enough premise, nothing to write home about, but the show will live and die, like most sitcoms, based on the writing and performances. After all, “The Office” is just about a bunch of employees of a paper company. I don’t think that “Carpoolers” will be up to the level of “The Office,” but it doesn’t have to be. It just has to be funny enough. And I think it will be.

1. “Pushing Daisies” (ABC, Wednesdays at 8:00 p.m., debuts October 3)

No, I am not an employee of ABC. Yes, as a kid, I did always root for ABC in the “Battle of the Network Stars” (Go Gabe Kaplan, go!). But, I swear, I didn’t even realize four of my five picks were ABC shows until I was done. Seriously? Seriously (to borrow a favorite exasperation from “Grey’s Anatomy,” a hit show on ... ABC).

I fully understand that putting “Pushing Daisies” on my list is like picking New England to win the Super Bowl and U.S.C. to win the NCAA football championship. Writers have been rhapsodizing about this show since the schedule was announced in May. I’m going with the early favorite, and there is no risk involved. But you see, favorites are favorites for a reason. Just like the Patriots and Trojans have great teams, “Pushing Daisies” looks like it could be one of the best shows of the season.

The set-up for this one-hour romantic drama/crime procedural/science fiction program is truly unique. Ned can bring people back to life by touching them, but if they stay alive for a minute, someone else close by will die. Oh, and if he touches someone he has brought back to life, they die, this time for good. Ned brings his childhood sweetheart back to life, which is great, until you consider that they can never touch each other again.

The executive producers of “Pushing Daisies” include film director Barry Sonnenfeld and Bryan Fuller, who has written and produced for several shows, including “Heroes,” “Wonderfalls,” and two Star Trek series (“Voyager” and “Deep Space Nine”), and he also adapted the script for the television remake of the horror film “Carrie.”

Rather than assembling a group of typical television stars, the producers have put together a cast that would be as at home in an issue of Playbill as they are in the credits of a network television show. Indie film actor Lee Pace plays Ned, Anna Friel plays Ned’s sweetheart, and Kristen Chenoweth, Jim Dale, Swoosie Kurtz and Chi McBride are also series regulars.

Everything is in place for “Pushing Daisies” to be a hit, both with the critics and in the ratings. Sure, maybe the show will not live up to the hype, but I know I’ll be watching to see which way it goes.

Honorable Mention

“The Big Bang Theory” (CBS, Mondays at 8:30 p.m., debuts on September 24). It looks like it could be funny, but I nixed it from the list for being a Chuck Lorre show on at the same time as “Aliens in America.”

“Chuck” (NBC, Mondays at 8:00 p.m., debuts September 24). The premise, a comedy-adventure about a computer geek who has government secrets downloaded into his brain, looks like it could be entertaining, but it’s on at the same time as “How I Met Your Mother,” so it was off the list.

“The Next Great American Band” (Fox, Fridays at 8:00 p.m., debuts on October 19). I watched “Rock Star: INXS” and “Rock Star: Supernova” because I like watching people cover rock songs.So this “American Idol” for rock bands is right up my alley. I’ll watch it, but, as a reality show, I couldn’t justify placing it on my top-five list.