The beginning of the school year also marks the start of an entirely new season of television, with many hit series and revamped returning shows to get excited about again. But along with their seasoned fan favorites, major TV networks also rolled out dozens of pilots for new series with varying levels of commercial and critical success.
Most of these shows will be canceled after their first season, while others (such as NBC’s “The Playboy Club”) have already been axed. Yet a precious few stand tall against the excessive promos, advertisements and media hype. After hours of watching and reviewing pilots (I even struggled through “Whitney”), I settled on four shows, in no particular order, that you won’t regret tuning in for every week. And sorry, the “Charlie’s Angels” reboot didn’t make the list. Although if that show is your idea of good television, you might as well stop reading now.
Terra Nova [airs Mondays at 8/7c on Fox]
This highly anticipated Spielberg vehicle premiered in a two-hour pilot that had the feel of a big-screen production. “Terra Nova” features the Shannons, a typical family in the year 2149 seeking to escape their dying world, which has been plagued by overpopulation, greed and pollution. A time fracture to a separate timestream 85 million years in the past gives the family this chance.
They end up in a Cretaceous-era colony called Terra Nova, where the population’s struggle to develop a society is complicated by a rogue pilgrimage and a bevy of vicious dinosaurs that show up at very inconvenient times.
Equal parts “Avatar” and “Jurassic Park,” “Terra Nova” is escapism perfected, a riotous adventure that allows the viewer to explore a frontier they have only dreamed of. Spielberg’s excellent storytelling, coupled with great acting and a fast-paced plot, makes for one epic program.
In one dazzling scene, the youngest Shannon daughter, Zoe, walks outside her house, picks up a branch of leaves and begins feeding a group of long-necked Brachiosaurus. The interplay between the CGI and the actors is truly impressive, and the effects are top-notch by small-screen standards. By the end of the two-part pilot, you feel as if you’ve sat through a feature film and will likely be eager for more.
Prime Suspect [airs Thursdays at 10/9c on NBC]
I’ve always liked Maria Bello ever since Coyote Ugly, so I had to check out “Prime Suspect,” America’s answer to the original UK show that starred Helen Mirren. Many early critics of the NBC version were skeptical of Bello’s ability to fill such profound shoes, but I found her portrayal of Detective Jane Timoney to be bold, apt and heartwarming. Plus it’s always great to see a typical procedural cop show retooled.
The plot is nothing you haven’t heard before – an NYPD homicide detective transfers squads, only to realize that she’s stepping into a boys’ club and must fight for every case she gets. However, watching Detective Timoney follow her instincts to point out discrepancies that other members of her squad have overlooked is extremely gratifying. Timoney may in fact be the Greg House of the crime world, and we get to watch her do what she does best – investigate.
Bello gives a commendable performance that evokes a wide range of emotion, as her character balances work with a complex personal life. “Prime Suspect” stands up to its UK predecessor and is one of the best new shows on American television this season. Plus, Maria Bello looks mighty fine in a fedora.
A Gifted Man [airs Fridays at 8/7c on CBS]
“A Gifted Man” is your classic surgical-show-meets-ghost-show scenario. Dr. Michael Holt is a talented surgeon at a high-end New York City clinic, who is frequently visited by the ghost of his ex-wife, Anna. Despite the genre clashing, the premise makes for some intriguing dilemmas, as Anna asks Michael to get her affairs in order for her. Before her death, Anna directed a free clinic, and she asks for Michael’s help to treat her patients and manage her employees.
Meanwhile, Michael deals with the realization that he may in fact be hallucinating, while still handling a bevy of patients who all seem to be getting worse at the same time.
High concept? Yes. But “A Gifted Man” is also high reward. Impeccably acted by Patrick Wilson and a supporting cast that includes the beloved Margo Martindale, this show isn’t one you’ll want to miss.
Dr. Holt isn’t a typical surgeon, and he relates to his patients in a very off-kilter, compelling way. He’s an intriguing, dimensional character who drives “A Gifted Man” to its greatest heights. I’m confident that there are more good things to come from this show in the next few weeks, so stay tuned.
Up All Night [airs Wednesdays at 8/7c on NBC]
Surprisingly, there’s a lot to love about “Up All Night,” by far one of the best new comedies this season. The previews may have seemed contrived and cheesy, yet buried within the half-hour sitcom are some really enjoyable moments.
The show focuses on new parents Chris and Reagan Brinkley, who try to maintain their young-couple lifestyle even with a new baby girl and jobs to attend to. Chris, a stay-at-home dad, fumbles through fatherhood as he tries to be nurturing and domestic with little success but comedic results. Meanwhile, Reagan returns to her job managing a talk show for best friend/colleague Ava (Maya Rudolph), her tactlessly self-possessed on-air talent.
The chemistry between Will Arnett (Chris) and Christina Applegate (Reagan) has much to do with the show’s success, as well as the tender family moments that we expect from shows with babies.
But the scene-stealer is definitely Ava, whose antics drive most of the show’s humor and make for some priceless sound bites, such as “Please excuse me, I’m in the middle of buying a baby her first wallet,” and “Enjoy your full, happy life while I cry in a Jacuzzi shaped like an eighth note.”
Hopefully “Up All Night” will continue to get better and follow in the footsteps of similar NBC sitcoms. And if Executive Producer Lorne Michaels has anything to do with it, I’m sure it will.