Monday, September 20, 2010

The New Fall Television Season - Part Three

Let's move on to ABC.

Admittedly, plenty of their new shows are dull and far too ordinary. In some cases, we're just getting the next procedural drama, meant to play it safe based on similar success stories on other networks. This year's new entries at 10:00 PM/9:00 Central include cop show Detroit 1-8-7 and legal drama The Whole Truth. To be perfectly honest, neither of those shows even register a tiny blip on my personal radar. It was the same last year with the forgotten, which of course only didn't fizzle that quickly because Eastwick was a higher-profile failure. (I'm serious, both those shows were up against Jay Leno, so there was already less competition.) Regardless, I wish the best of luck to these shows, whether they need it or they turn out to be good.

That said, why would I care so much about Disney's on-air propaganda service?

Plenty of reasons.

For one thing, I absolutely love their promos. The spots and trailers presenting the new sneak peeks for the network are just brimming with great energy. It's a similar kind of enthusiasm that peeks through on some of the ABC News programs. You can either say it's the editing, the quick timing throughout, the graphic style of the spots (including unique and distinctive ones between different shows), or the music that undercuts the clips on display. But all-around it really feels one-of-a-kind, a sense that doesn't even stick as well on Disney's sibling networks on cable.

But that isn't to say that their promotions are perfect. I will admit that the banner of "Red Carpet Premiere Week" that ABC is hanging on this first week of the season is a little overdone. Not that there's anything wrong with such a label, in fact this kind of thing needs to be done more in certain other places, say on a kids' network. But to see each of these awesome individual promos end with the reminder "Part of Red Carpet Premiere Week", the end tag just feels out of place. It doesn't quite work that well on a network targeting a wide adult audience.

Still, these promos are good. Sometimes, they've even good enough to turn my opinion around on certain shows. Take, for instance the new drama My Generation. That show establishes a pseudo-documentary style to tell the story of several high school students graduating in the year 2000, and picks up in the present day to follow where they've ended up.

On paper, I couldn't be sold on this concept. For one thing, I couldn't quite relate to the characters on this show, given that I've only graduated from college this year and from high school in 2006. Maybe my older sister would have a better chance since she's a similar age, but I'm much too young. Furthermore, the more I think about it, the more I realize that a whole series based on this premise would be a tough sell, since it would work best in the self-contained medium of a feature film.

Here's a thirty-second promo for the series.

All of a sudden, I'm hyped as all hell for the premiere. It's got me shocked, too.

Last month, ABC was kind enough to offer a sneak preview of another new series, No Ordinary Family. What we've got there is a high-concept family drama, the first from producer Greg Berlanti since his Dirty Sexy Money and Eli Stone...well, fizzled out back in late 2008. Michael Chiklis, who gained wide reverence for his role on the gritty FX police procedural The Shield stars as the father in a family who go on vacation, and survive a plane crash by landing in a strange spring. When they return, each one of them inexplicably develops a different superpower, causing a variety of confused, shocked, and frustrated reactions. Only time will tell if the new lives each of them will lead will bring about any good.

I was one of the thousands lucky enough to snag an online screening of the pilot, and I've gotta say it was quite fantastic. The family dynamic was believable, the integration of the superpowers clean cut and effective, and the action really well-handled. This show suddenly became the one network drama I was looking forward to the most, and I can only hope that this strong premise can carry off into future installments.

And now, we've got returning shows. Really and ironically, given my prior comments on the new procedurals ABC's got lined up, the drama I'm looking forward to the most is Castle. That's a mere cop show following a formula that should be so tiresome that it's simply grating - the screwball romance between a hard-nosed, dead serious female detective and a swinging, somewhat immature playboy of a mystery novelist. This same dynamic already exists on FOX and their cop show, Bones. And there are plenty of other similar shows that aired over the years as well.

But I will admit that I'm still looking forward to tonight's third season starter for Castle, which has the titular novelist suspected of murder, under arrest and, undoubtedly on the lam. Why? The lead on the show is none other than Nathan Fillion, best known for his role as Captain Malcolm Reynolds on Joss Whedon's space opera, Firefly. This is truly a case where the lead actor does more than enough single-handedly to save the show. Fillion is a fantastic talent, and he's just a real joy to watch as our novelist, Richard Castle. His chemistry with Stana Katic, playing Detective Kate Beckett feels so real and legitimate, giving this tired premise enough of kick to more than sustain itself.

In the end, it ends up a real joy to watch, with the twist of this season's first adventure already feeling like pure fun.

But perhaps the biggest accomplishment ABC has made this past season is in their comedies. For years, they've been trying in vain to get the spices right and give us a sitcom worthy of the ones in their history. Last year, the emergence of Cougar Town, The Middle, and Emmy Champion Modern Family finally answered our prayers, after years of According to Jim seemed to put our faith to the ultimate test.

Debra Barone herself, Patricia Heaton dashed back into the spotlight on The Middle, a truly funny and endearing comedy in which she starred as the matriarch of an Indiana family. The byplay between wife and husband, mother and children really stands out brilliantly, and yet blends in well with the unique and engaging personalities of each kid. Particularly enjoyable is youngest son Brick (Atticus Shaffer), with his quirky viewpoint of the world, his intellect and love of reading, and all the truly interesting behavior he exhibits. But perhaps the most likable is Sue (Eden Sher), and her endearing personality. Even though everything she tried out for was a failure, she just keeps pressing ahead in the hopes of one day making a successful landing. Like any great sitcom, The Middle just got funnier and more engaging as time went on.

And that wasn't even the best of it! Need we forget, Modern Family? The pilot of that show was brilliantly funny, offering three distinctive families in a mockumentary setting. One was a standard nuclear family, husband and wife dealing with the standard three kids, different in personality and in challenge. Next we have a gay couple and their newly adopted Asian baby, signs of a more open-minded world, at least as one would hope. And we've got an older man, unafraid to go into the world with new, much younger love, with a son of her own. All of this lead up to a brilliant twist -- these three families are all the same extended family! From that point onward, the show just got funnier and more real with each episode. Resulting in a show worthy of not just the greatest family sitcoms, but some of the best comedies to ever grace television screens.

With such a steep reputation already behind it, what else can ABC offer on Wednesday nights? Well, they're going to try with a more old-fashioned sitcom, complete with an audience laugh track.

Yes, new entry Better With You follows a format that only seems to exist nowadays on CBS, almost enough to leave me so inclined to believe that it's supposed to be a sacrificial lamb of sorts. Okay, I'll admit that such a label is a little extreme. From what I've heard, this new show about three different couples with different levels of experience together, got really great feedback from test audiences prior to its pickup, back when it was the Untitled Shana Goldberg-Meehan Project.

It's promos spotlight the pilot's events wherein the youngest couple announce their engagement, much to the shock of the bride's older sister who still never married the man she's been dating for nine years. When they take this to their parents, they apparently couldn't be happier. The clips in these promos don't look great, but they seem competent enough.

Regardless, I think I'll check this new show out, if only because its the only comedy ABC's pulling out this fall. (But wait until mid-season, when an even funnier-looking show called Mr. Sunshine with Matthew Perry set to debut!) The premise is funny enough, and I remain curious overall about how Better With You will fare in the long run. In my humble opinion, it certainly merits a chance to succeed.

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