After a week full of pats on the back, lofty promises, and highest testing pilots ever!, the broadcast upfront week is finally over. Broadcast suffered a devastating blow this past year, with only 10 of 33 freshman shows slated to return. That should come as no surprise – not only were many of the new series conceptually vapid, most were executed less than ideally.
But it’s a new season. Already there are some changes: Women rule the airways (10 comedies and 14 dramas star women, compared to the 7 comedies and 9 dramas that star men). J.J. Abrams and Shonda Rhimes still rule your airways. Whitney Cummings is our new overlord, apparently. And cop, lawyer, and medical dramas aren’t necessarily in. Let’s take a look at this season’s 10 most exciting television shows:
10. Scandal (ABC)
I know, I’m not exactly the target audience for a Shonda Rhimes drama. But Rhimes has crafted a provocative script that takes a stale television template (the legal drama) and makes it (somewhat) unique – instead of normal lawyers, this is a team of crisis managers. It still relies on classic tropes of the legal drama, but is different enough that there’s a plenty of different storytelling opportunities. Plus, there’s promise of a larger serialized element that doesn’t involve who’s sleeping with who (that’s a lie, but trust me, it’s more interesting than the standard Grey’s Anatomy fare).
And Kerry Washington and Henry Ian Cusick? Um, yes please.
9. Suburgatory (ABC)
There’s something to be said for poking fun at suburbia. Suburbia breeds a bizarre culture of extravagant wealth, unnecessary privilege, and whiteness. A lot of whiteness. ABC’s single-cams have been hit or miss this past development season (with Happy Endings as the only real critical hit), but Suburgatory has some incredible promise. There’s a fun script, a great cast, and a marketable premise, along with some jokes about Abercrombie & Fitch. At least it has Alan Tudyk, right?
8. The Playboy Club (NBC)
Even though Mad Men attracts a meager two-million viewers per episode, the network gods announced that this year would be the resurgence of the period piece on broadcast. And while Pan Am looks to have all of the soapy trappings of the typical ABC drama, The Playboy Club looks to be a much more sophisticated examination of early 1960s culture. Did we need it? Probably not – Mad Men is already an almost perfect thematic study of the same decade. But this one has the Hefner. And nudity clauses.
7. Up All Night (NBC)
Lorne Michaels. Will Arnett. Christina Applegate. Maya Rudolph. How could this fail? The comedy stars recent parents Arnett and Applegate trying to cope with having a child. Though the trailers released by the peacock have been less than stellar, the first episodes of The Office, 30 Rock, and Parks & Recreation aren’t the most fondly remembered either. Up All Night brings together three amazingly talented television actors along with a rock solid writing staff (Hi, Emily Spivey!) and production team – it’ll be hard to fail. And the best thing about Will Arnett being on an NBC show? Lowered expectations with ratings!
6. The River (ABC)
ABC has desperately attempted to reclaim the LOST audience for the past two development cycles with memorable flops such as FlashForward, V, and No Ordinary Family. All of them were shallow attempts to recreate the mystique and intrigue of everyone’s favorite show about a flashsidewayforbackward smoke monster. The River boasts a fairly interesting premise about a son and his mother traveling the Amazon looking for his TV personality father. While it’s impossible to really judge a show such as The River until a weeks in (I enjoyed the pilots of FlashFoward and V), the show is most unique in its visual style – the entire show is filmed as a documentary similar to Paranormal Activity (in order to avoid the narrative trappings that this type of direction could lead to, the entire ship is also outfitted with cameras everywhere). The River is also billed as a horror drama, a genre you don’t see very often on television.
5. Apartment 23 (ABC)
Formally known as Don’t Trust the Bitch in Apartment 23, the ABC single-cam has one of the strongest casting stunts from this development season – James Van Der Beek playing a caricature of himself. Though stunt casting can be dangerous in the long term, the possibility of Van Der Douche (Ke$ha’s words, not ours) on screen every week is too good to pass up.
4. Person of Interest (CBS)
Though CBS dramas are usually the epitome of paint-by-numbers television, Person of Interest looks different enough to warrant a look. LOST‘s Michael Emerson stars as Mr. Finch, a wealthy business man who has developed a computer program that predicts future crime victims. He then hires Jim Caviezel (whom you all might remember as Jesus) to hunt down these supposed criminals. The pedigree of the producer (J.J. Abrams, see #3) is enough for me to tune in for at least 13 episodes.
3. Alcatraz (Fox)
J.J. Abrams hit a snag this fall with his quickly-canceled Undercovers at NBC, but the LOST producer is back to Fox with his newest drama – Alcatraz. The series chronicles Rebecca Madsen, a homicide detective who realizes that prisoners from Alcatraz Island in 1963 are mysteriously reappearing in 2011. The shows stars Sarah Jones (Sons of Anarchy), Emerson Hauser (Happy Town), and Jorge Garcia (LOST). Yes, Hurley.
2. Ringer (the CW)
Though Sarah Michelle Gellar’s return to television was developed for CBS, the CW will most likely provide more room for Ringer to shine, even if that means lower numbers overall. The series stars Gellar as a Bridget, a down-and-out woman who witnessed vital information concerning mob activity. But after Bridget’s wealthy sister Siobhan mysterious disappears, Bridget sees an opportunity to escape her previous life by assuming Siobhan’s identity. Ringer was one of the best pilot scripts of the season, cable or broadcast, and some fantastic casting (Richard from LOST!) makes Ringer one of the few CW shows that could be talked about in polite company.
1. Awake (NBC)
Awake is the best pilot script of the season, hands down. It balances heavy emotion, procedural elements, and a tricky premise so seamlessly that I felt like I was reading a film script. No surprise here: Lone Star and The Beaver scribe Kyle Killen is an up-and-coming writing genius (and unlike Lone Star, Awake‘s midseason order almost guarantees that all 13 episodes will be made). Awake stars Jason Isaacs (Lucius Malfoy from Harry Potter) as Detective Mark Britten. The pilot begins showing Britten in a car accident with his wife and teenage son. He wakes up in one reality, where his wife is dead and his son is alive. But after he goes to sleep, he awakes in a different reality where his wife is alive and his son is deceased. Britten cannot tell which one is real and which is just a dream, and he begins to believe that it might not really matter. Though the premise’s longevity is still suspect, the combination of the writing team, cast, and premise eases any hesitations I have. Awake is one of the most promising pilots over the past season, broadcast or cable. And that’s saying something.
Agree? Disagree? Think we forgot something? Sound off in the comments!
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