The RELEVANT TV Preview
By Brett McCracken and Ryan Hamm
September 18, 2009
Autumn is one of the best times of the year. The leaves change colors, the air turns crisp, football returns, good movies arrive in theaters and TV finally resumes its seasons. The biggest night of comedies started up again last night (minus the much-beloved 30 Rock) and most shows are due back in circulation through the end of the month. In order to help you sort through the sheer volume of new and returning shows, we pick out our favorites of the new season—or, at least the shows that will be the most talked-about of the new season. But we want to hear what you think, too: What are you most looking forward to? What are your favorite returning shows? What did we miss?
Community (already airing)
Community joins The Office, 30 Rock and Parks & Recreation to make up NBC's very note-worthy Thursday night block—perhaps the first time in a long time (aside from NBC) four shows will air at once with no laugh track. Community stars Joel McHale (host of E!'s brilliant The Soup) as a lawyer who gets found out as a fraud and has to go back to community college. McHale's character, Jeff, immediately resumes his track record of lying to try to win over the resident pretty girl, Britta (Gillian Jacobs). In forming a fake Spanish club, Jeff inadvertently brings together a Breakfast Club-like gathering of strangers, including Chevy Chase as a burned-out former hippie. Add in involvement with some directors of Arrested Development, and it's easy to see why Community is one of this fall's most anticipated releases.
Modern Family (September 23)
This new sitcom on ABC stars three "modern families:" A traditional, husband-wife-kids combo; an older man and his much-younger wife and her son; and a gay couple who have just adopted a baby from Vietnam. It might sound like the setup for a woefully unfunny sitcom that plays on all the stereotypes possible while furthering every agenda it can think of—but it has Christopher Lloyd as a producer, and he was the one behind Cheers and Frasier. And it's a faux-documentary (a la The Office) that uses a single camera format and (thank goodness) no laugh track. It's first season will show whether or not it can overcome the stigma of being a "comedy about families," but the first episode has one of the characters trying to be cool while singing and dancing to a High School Musical track ... and mocks him mercilessly. So it at least shows some promise.
The Cleveland Show (September 27)
Officially a spin-off of Family Guy, this show stars the titular character Cleveland Brown and his son, Cleveland Jr., as they leave the Rhode Island town of Quahog for California ... but then find themselves in a new life (and family) in the small town of Stoolbend, Va. It's about as absurd as it sounds, but fans of creator Seth MacFarlane will find plenty to love here. Cleveland meets and develops a relationship with a woman and her two kids, who are a sexually charged elementary-aged boy and a skanky teen girl, respectively. Other characters include the kindly redneck next door, the Dave Matthews Band-loving preppy who lives with his mom and the anthropomorphic bears who live next door. Who also happen to be from Eastern Europe. And are Christians. Yeah. We're sure it'll be occasionally offensive and sometimes laugh-out-loud—but it'll also have some sneaky thoughtful discussion points. In between the flashbacks and fart jokes, of course.
Bored to Death (September 20)
Bored to Death is a new comedy on HBO, which means it’s automatically better than pretty much all the new network comedies. And sure enough, it is! The show stars Jason “Wes Anderson regular” Schwartzman as Jonathan Ames, a young Brooklyn writer who is lonely, bored and has a drinking problem. He admits that he’s “just another self-hating New York Jew,” and escapes his misanthropy by moonlighting as a Raymond Chandler-esque private detective. Like most HBO shows, Bored looks and feels cinematic and favors subtlety over easy laughs (and includes indie music songs on the soundtrack … Andrew Bird!) The show’s offbeat humor is aided immensely by supporting players Ted Danson as George Christopher, an editor/socialite who employs Jonathan as his sometimes-assistant/marijuana source, and Zach Galifianakis as Jonathan’s best friend Ray. And Schwartzman is perfectly endearing as always. Bored is a quirky little New York show that won’t have mass appeal but may find critical success and a niche audience. Basically par for the HBO course.
Cougar Town (September 23)
Cougars are so hot right now. In the post-Sex and the City, post-Desperate Housewives, post-Demi/Ashton era, being a sexually aggressive fortysomething has never been so enviable. Enter Courtney Cox, 45 but still hot, fresh off the failure of her underrated show Dirt. She’s the star of the new comedy Cougar Town, which follows a Florida woman named Jules Cobb, recently divorced and relationally frustrated. With her 17-year-old son (Dan Byrd) and her twentysomething assistant (Busy Phillips) at her side, Jules decides that it’s never too late to live like a twenty-something, even if you’re forty-something. So she’s out on the prowl, cougar-style, looking for love with lawnboys and lifeguards half her age. Thanks to creator/writer Bill Lawrence (Scrubs), this show has potential to be a lot funnier than its premise indicates, and with an aging “Monica” as the star, it seems like it just might be a hit. As long as Lisa Kudrow doesn’t touch it.
Other returning half-hour comedies worth DVR-ing: The Office, 30 Rock, Parks & Recreation, How I Met Your Mother, Curb Your Enthusiasm, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and The Big Bang Theory.
Every new season needs a good high-school-set show, and this year it’s Glee, the new comedy from Ryan Murphy (Nip/Tuck). Glee is basically Freaks and Geeks mixed with American Idol and High School Musical. It’s about a struggling high school glee club (made up of a motley crew of nerds, gays, outcasts, thespians, a jock and a popular girl) led by a nice-guy teacher (Matthew Morrison) who has a bad marriage and a deep nostalgia for his glory days in show choir. Glee is quick, witty, campy and feel-good, and features exuberant song/dance routines (to Kanye songs!) and a wonderfully comic performance by Jane Lynch. There are also some serious themes and storylines touching on everything from marriage to typical high school self-esteem/bulimia issues. But mostly this is a show that revels in popular adolescent tropes, high school comedy convention and teenpop meaninglessness. Like most everything on FOX, this show is fun to watch, but it won’t change your life.
FlashForward (September 24)
Once ABC’s mega-hit Lost ends for good next May, what show will we watch to satisfy our geeky need for apocalyptic “WTF!?” ridiculousness? Well, ABC hopes it is FlashForward, the new drama written by David S. Goyer (Batman Begins) and Brannon Braga (Threshold) and loosely based on Robert J. Sawyer's 1999 novel of the same name. Like Lost, FlashForward weaves a tangled web of curious coincidences, overlapping storylines, and a pause-your-Tivo attention to details. But the intrigue of this show is on a bigger scale than even Lost. The premise is that everyone on the planet blacks out for two minutes and 17 seconds one day, and in that time they all see their own future at a specific date five months from that moment: 8 p.m. on April 20, 2010. Chaos ensues for a number or reasons. When everyone on the planet blacks out for two minutes, in the middle of surgeries and plane flying, things get ugly. Millions across the world die (Left Behind style). But then, the survivors who have seen their futures have to piece things together to discover just what in the world (literally) is going to happen over the next five months. Cue the existential questions about fate vs. free will! In terms of sci-fi shows combining interpersonal drama and head-scratching space-time continuum paradoxes, FlashForward (assuming it survives its first season) will definitely pick up the mantle from Lost. Though those are some massive shoes to fill.
V (November 3)
V is this year's geek-approved show that hopefully-won't-get-canceled-but-probably-will. The show is based off a 1983 miniseries that aired on NBC. V stars Lost's Elizabeth Mitchell as an FBI agent who confronts a new reality when aliens come to Earth ... and park their mothership over cities throughout the world. The aliens (called Visitors ... get it? V for visitors?) are led by Anna (played by Firefly's Morena Baccarin) and first appear to be helpful, healing people using their incredibly advanced technology. But appearances are clearly deceiving. Add to the mix an Anglican priest who seems nervous about the alien presence, some crazy post-apocalyptic graffiti and people who join the Visitors as helpers (read: spies), and V is one of the most promising shows to premiere this fall.
Returning shows worth DVR-ing: Lost, Mad Men, Chuck, Friday Night Lights, Bones, Dollhouse, Dexter, House and Fringe