‘Noob Tube’ – Reactions to the Fall Lineup

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We’re waist-deep in TV’s “Premiere Season”, and several new shows are vying for our viewership and a coveted top spot in the ratings. Below I’ve chronicled my take on the new shows I’ve had an opportunity to watch. Read, enjoy and when you’re done let me know your thoughts on the latest offerings to spill out of that magic glowing box that has taken singular control of your living room.

Terra Nova

If you hadn’t heard by now, Terra Nova is the tale of a colony of humans from an environmentally devastated future who utilize a discovered “time stream” to start a new civilization 85 million years in the past.

If there’s one show that seems to be trying the hardest to start a new cult “phenomenon” it’s definitely Terra Nova. From the tireless promotion (doesn’t it seem like they’ve been pushing this show since headliner Jason O’mara’s last show Life on Mars was cancelled?), to the huge budget Fox has thrown it’s way, Steven Spielberg and Co. have seemingly done everything they can to force the fates to align over Terra Nova. And now that we’ve finally seen the two-part premiere, what’s the verdict?

I have to admit I’m a bit torn on this one. I saw a lot of interesting things in Terra Nova’s two-hour season premiere, “Genesis.” (The decision to both reference the Bible and fully embrace evolutionary theory had to bother a very select group of people, but we won’t go there.) But I also saw some very troubling patterns threatening to emerge. I’m not entirely sure how it’s possible for a show to be at once original and clichéd, but Terra Nova manages to pull it off. This show is obviously pulling from many familiar sources, and I’m not just talking about Stephen Lang basically reprising his role from Avatar. There are lots of familiarities to be found here, especially for Lost junkies like myself. We have a limited number of people surrounded by a mysterious, uncharted land that holds several mysteries like the cave paintings of a lost son and their own set of “others”, just waiting to be explored. And I was surprised to find I was not as underwhelmed by the Dinosaur element as I expected to be.

Verdict: Though the pilot reeked of a few cliched plot pieces and some fairly poorly drawn characters, Terra Nova has an interesting enough setup to draw me back for a second look next week.

2 Broke Girls

I breathed my first exasperated sigh for this show as early as the opening credits when I saw that Whitney Cummings was a producer. I automatically knew what kind of humor I was in for, and my instincts didn’t let me down. To put it a little bluntly, 2 Broke Girls appears to be relying a little too heavily on the laugh track to bring in comedy fans, and Kat Dennings’ “girls” to bring in male viewers. There’s really not a lot here as far as substance is concerned. The tale of a deposed socialite becoming roomies with a tough girl from the inner city is a charming idea, but it, along with Kat, is completely wasted in its execution. This show can best be summed up in a joke it repeatedly featured in advertisements. A customer asks Kat, a waitress, “Do you have anything special to offer?” Without skipping a beat she retorts, “Not according to my high school guidance counselor.”

Verdict: Sorry Kat, as much as like you and was hoping for this show to succeed, Broke just doesn’t have anything special to offer.

Pan Am

One of the most noticeable trends among the new major network shows is the attempt to capitalize on the period-specific style of shows like Mad Men. Pan Am and The Playboy Club both appear to be taking this approach, though neither at least at first watch, appears capable of approaching the caliber of acting, atmosphere and plotting that have served to so consistently elevate Mad Men beyond standard TV fare.

That being said, the pilot episode (am I right?!) of Pan Am was enjoyable, if a bit unfocused. They seem to be building to some kind of espionage-related subplot, though I’m not really sure why. If you removed that the plot of the show would appear to be a 60’s-set, airplane-centric Grey’s Anatomy, and I’m not so sure that’s a good thing. Also, judging by their pilot episode, they’re in serious danger of wasting Christina Ricci. That, I am positive, is a very bad thing.

One thing Pan Am does seem to have going for it, especially when contrasted to other new shows this season, is strong characterization. In just one episode I already felt a little bit of concern for the characters. The main goal of any pilot episode should be to plant interest in the viewers’ minds in both the plot and characters of the show. While falling a bit short on plot, I definitely felt the potential for some strong connections to be forged with this cast of “sky jockeys.”

Verdict: If they can capitalize on this early trend and present a more focused storyline in the coming episodes, Pan Am has the potential to fly these skies for a good while.

New Girl

Fox’s New Girl is easily my favorite new show of the season. I had some concerns about this show going in that were voiced most clearly by a Twitter friend of mine (you can follow me @morning_movie), when he remarked “The Zooey show, about Zooey, featuring Zooey? No thanks.” I know many of you may have felt that same sentiment in the last month or two after being bombarded non-stop with the advertisements. (Which also had the unfortunate consequence of causing Cotton to re-run that commercial with Zooey’s awful take on the “Cotton: The Fabric of our Lives” song. Ugh.)

However, upon watching this show, I hate myself for having to admit: Zooey is absolutely adorable. She is perfectly cast as an awkward girl who is completely lost in the social aspects of life. After her boyfriend chooses another girl over her (because she likes bikes…just not “enough”), she moves in with a few strangers she met on the internet. In spite of what she calls “stranger danger”, she becomes the perfect complimentary piece to three guys who are just a little lost themselves. It’s a great cast (even minus Damon Wayans, Jr.), and they make the most of satisfactory writing with the obvious chemistry they’ve already discovered. If you found yourself turned off by the ads or the constant Zooey praise, please trust me and give this show a try.

Verdict: A full season has already been ordered and, barring some kind of surprising conflict, I see it being a consistent future success. Lining up between Glee and the always-hilarious Raising Hope will only help it in that regard. The adorable train is on the track and rolling fast, folks. All aboard.

The Office

Now, I know what you’re thinking: this has to be season 11 or 12 of “The Office” by now, right? How can this be a new show? Trust me, it is. Michael Scott has always been the heart and soul of The Office. The performers have always benefited from great writing (and vice versa), but it’s never been a mystery that pitch-perfect Steve Carell is engine that made this comedy heavy-hitter go. We always knew the day would come when Carell had to leave to focus on his burgeoning film career, and that day has finally come. NBC has decided to give the good folks at Dunder Mifflin/Sabre a chance to continue in the post-Scott era, replacing him with the only candidate who has any chance of approaching Carell’s great comedic timing: Ed Helms.

As odd as it may seem looking back on his arrival on The Office, Andy Bernard has become the best chance for this show to continue to thrive, not James Spader. I’m not exactly sure what everyone loves so much about this guy, but he keeps showing up all over my screen so I’ll just have to deal with it. He does seem to be at least well-cast here as an egomaniacal manipulator. But I think Robert California will be best in small doses. One person we’ll be (rightfully) seeing a lot more of is Helms’s Andy, who has been chosen to take Michael Scott’s vacated chair as Regional Manager of the Scranton branch.

The best recipe for continued success here was displayed in episode two of this young season. In recent years, the writers chased a lot of outside hijinks and veered away from the original charm of the show: awkward boss Michael Scott does his best to lead a group of misfits to success in his own hilariously misguided way. The show focused on the boss, and the humor was mostly found in the way his decisions affected his employees. In episode two the Office returned to this format, focusing on Andy getting his first shot at inspiring his staff. The camaraderie that was found in the team banding together to try and earn the promised reward of choosing a tattoo for Andy’s Cornell-loving…well, “backside,” was reminiscent of the chemistry the show used to display on a weekly basis. And the end result returned us to the central idea that this cast of characters are all misfits in their own right, but at the end of the day they manage to find a way to love, or at least accept each other.

Verdict: If the “new” Office continues in this vein, they have a real shot to keep this thing going.

Whitney

Here’s the first thought that popped into my head as I forced myself to watch the Whitney premiere: Death by laugh track. The second? Do you remember that show that used to play on Comedy Central that acted out old stand-up comedy routines via animation? Whitney is the live-action version. You can tell every so-called joke in the show has been reheated a time or two. Standard guys vs. girls fare like “is your man whipped enough to carry your purse for you” and “bad breath can really ruin a romantic moment” is all you’re going to find here. I was a little surprised at all the negative backlash this show had generated just in its promos, but it all seems prescient now. I couldn’t help but imagine comic Whitney Cummings being approached about her own show the way Jerry Seinfeld was back in the glory days of NBC. Wisely NBC cancelled Seinfeld’s show-about-nothing Jerry after only one episode. Frankly, I’d rather NBC bring back Jerry than watch Whitney again. At least that show knew that it was about nothing.

Verdict: Whitney is not long for this world.

Up All Night

If NBC is smart they’ll quickly switch Up All Night and Whitney in their fall schedule. It’s inevitable anyway. Up All Night has the potential to be a long-running member of NBC’s “comedy done right” slate. I don’t think they could have cast a more likable trio of leads than Christina Applegate, Will Arnett and Maya Rudolph. All three have proven comedic chops and together they bring a great foundation to the show. Applegate and Arnett shine as two harried new parents, and Maya Rudolph seems to be having a blast as an Oprah-esque performer struggling to maintain her foothold in Applegate’s life.

What the show has (so far) lacked in writing, it more than makes up for in genuine charm. It’s a winning story of a young couple struggling to reclaim their lives in the wake of having their first child. It avoids a lot of the tired baby cliches, while capitalizing on some of the more tiring (and humorous) aspects of parenting.

Verdict: Everything about the show feels honest, and that makes it good.

Suburgatory

Let me start this off by saying Cheryl Hines and Alan Tudyk have three things in common: both have conspicuous “y”s in their names, both are irrefutably awesome and both are secondary characters in this promising new show. Yes, I said promising. Suburgatory is the kind of self-aware show that appeals to me on some level, even if the subject matter doesn’t seem like it would be “up my alley.” It’s Juno meets the Stepford Wives, and as disturbing as that sounds, somehow it worked for me. (Probably because there’s also a sizable chunk of Easy A thrown in the blender as well)

I love this cast. Hines and Tudyk are always great choices, but Jeremy Sisto as George, the architect struggling to be a single father and his daughter Tessa (relative newcomer Jane Levy), display real chemistry in the pilot, setting up the kind of straightforward Father-Daughter relationship that can be so much fun to watch when done correctly. This is where Suburgatory really has a chance to shine. George and Tessa are both fish out of water in this plastic planet they’ve relocated to, but binding together they may be able to survive and grow closer in the process.

Verdict: As long as it continues to stay on the right side of the very thin line between funny and whiny, it has a real shot.

Ringer

2 quick thoughts:
(1) That “boat ride” in the pilot was the worst green screen scene I’ve ever seen.
(2) Has Sarah Michelle Gellar always been this bad of an actress?

Verdict: No thanks.

Free Agents

I’m more of a ‘Merican than a BBCAmerica(n), so I’ve never seen the original Free Agents that this show is adapted from. All I can say is for the sake of my esteemed neighbors across the pond I can only hope that their version is better than ours. Free Agents is painfully un-funny. This astounds me, considering it features two performers I have always found hilarious in Hank Azaria and Kathryn Hahn. But what can I say? This show is not funny. Not even a little bit. In their defense, Hank & Hahn (that should be a show right there) appear to be attempting to make the most of a tired script, but there’s just nothing clever for them to work with. The pilot was essentially 50% Hank & Hahn laying breathlessly in bed and 50% Hank, Hahn and their coworkers sitting around listing a bunch of awful-sounding made-up (hopefully) sexual positions.

Verdict: They deserve better, and so do we. And yet Free Agents was not the worst new show I’ve seen so far. That dubious honor belongs to…

How to be a Gentleman

This is a horrible, horrible show. I’m not even sure where to begin in explaining its horribleness. The main character is Barney Stinson if you took everything funny about him and removed it along with any killer instinct whatsoever. The straight man to Kevin Dillon’s “dude” is a magazine writer who is learning how to be more of a “dude” and writing about it, if I remember correctly. To be honest, I didn’t even make it through the entire episode, and that never happens. Just how bad was it? At one point they tried the, “rough around the edges character drinks milk straight from the carton, gross!” joke. Seriously. In 2011.

Verdict: In spite of the presence of reasonably good actors like Dillon, Dave Foley, Mary Lynn Rajskub and the underrated Rhys Darby, How to be a Gentleman has already broken a gentleman’s #1 rule: never overstay your welcome.

The rest of Fall’s new shows fall into one of three categories:

– Shows I haven’t had a chance to see yet: Person of Interest; Revenge; A Gifted Man
– Shows I’m not bothering with because I don’t think they’ll make it: Playboy Club; Charlie’s Angels
– Shows I refuse to watch because I can’t stomach another cop show: Prime Suspect; Unforgettable

So what did you think of Fall’s new TV offerings? What’s your favorite new show? Are you able to stomach Zooey long enough to enjoy New Girl and its theme song? How bad did you want to punch the Gentleman in the face? Are you considering foregoing TV to read a book? Just kidding. Keep watching and leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Paul Johnson

1 Comment
  1. Kristina says

    Interesting…2 of the ones you thought wouldn’t make it have been picked up for full seasons. I actually love Free Agents, but it took a while to build up some momentum (maybe that’s patterned after its British counterpart?)

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