Brace yourselves. Make sure there's a new battery in the remote control.The new American TV season is about to start and an avalanche of new shows is coming.
It's a staggered start (make up your own jokes about that) and it's a wildly uneven TV season, but there is a handful of great new shows, some utter rubbish and a few shows that just might turn out to be sizzlers. All of them are an interesting reflection of an industry and a culture that is trying to cope with a post-Sept. 11th America.
There are numerous cop shows, a batch of sitcoms and some wacky sci-fi/fantasty shows. As usual, there are shows about doctors and lawyers. As usual, there are cute kids. As always, there are adolescents who are presented as animals in heat.
There is nostalgia and brooding, querulous drama. There is cheesy escapism. You can get a laugh or have the wits frightened out of you. You can scoff at the ineptitude and marvel at the ingenuity. You can see pilot episodes that are little masterpieces and then manage to disappoint by failing to live up to the promise, week after week.
There are two bland doctor shows and two shows about guys who suddenly revert to their junior selves. They want to be teenagers again. Go figure.
There isn't one dominant theme - there are two complementary themes. Many of the dramas are dark and disturbingly skeptical about American institutions and authority. At the same time, many of the comedies are cheerfully reassuring about the strength and joy to be found in the American family. While cops are corrupt and lawyers are unreliable, there's a whole lot of hugging going on at home.
But what happerns in the next few weeks is not all about new shows. The Wing Wing return. 24 is back. The folks on Friends mosey on to the end of their final season. Take your pick, here's something for everybody, and it's the most wonderful time of the year for anybody who watches TV.
Seven don't-miss new shows
Sundays, FOX, Global, Starts Nov. 3
A showed loathed by many American critics, The Grubbs is the most unusual new show of the season - a gleefully caustic, satiric sitcom. The Grubbs are a family of under-achieving hosers. Dad (Randy Quaid) has been milking a workplace injury for years to avoid a job. Mom (Carol Kane, deliciously pop-eyed and bonkers) doesn't see the point of her kids trying too hard to achieve anything when the Grubbs are deliriously happy being poor and cozy. Teenage Mitch (Michael Cera) falls in lust with his new teacher and figures the best way to win her is to breach the family's do-nothing code and achieve something. Battling his rival, a sadistic gym teacher, he realizes that shrewd manipulation is even more fun than trying to be a math whiz or a do-gooder. Ignore all American denunciations of The Grubbs - it's a work of cool genius that cheerfully mocks the traditional sitcom family and celebrates the authentic American poor.
Fridays,Global Starts Sept 20
Made for the FOX cable channel F/X, The Shield is a shocker. For a start, it has all the no-holds-barred language and violence of an American cable series. It's blunt and extraordinarily cynical about American law enforcement. Michael Chiklis, last seen as a cheerful, roly-poly police chief in The Commish, is awesome as the main character, a rogue LA cop named Vic Mackey. Vic is a bullet-headed goon who is manipulative, corrupt and amoral. He controls an LA neighbourhood as a personal fiefdom, taking money from drug dealers, hookers and every other crook on the block. His officers are afraid of him. His bosses are suspicious but wary of him. He's the embodiment of an America corrupted by greed. But his methods work - he's the attractive Fascist. There isn't a single decent person in The Shield and that makes it the both the most devastating critique of America and the must-watch show of the season.
Fridays, CBS, Global, Starts Sept 27
The pilot for this drama is a marvellous condensed story of bitterness, regret and redemption. A Philadelphia cab driver (David Morse) lives in sea of despair since he got kicked off the police force for stealing money at a crime scene. He acknowledges he did it and that he covered up for a colleague (played by André Braugher from Homicide), but he's not going to apologize. He reluctantly helps a fare find a lost girl and slowly starts to regain his dignity. Hack is a wintry, low-key drama that is far from optimistic about modern America. It suggests that greed and violence are everywhere and small gestures of faith and charity are a major victory.
Mondays, CBS, CTV, Starts Sept 23
A spin-off from CSI, this show takes the brooding forensics franchise and moves it to Miami. There, Horatio Caine (David Caruso) is the scientist and cop who uses his brains to solve crimes. Caruso is great in one episode of CSI: Miami seen so far (it was late-season episode of CSI), a charismatic, unknowable hero who uses subtlety to give substance to a show that relies a lot on obscure science to further the plot. The Miami setting is ripe for exploring the strange and exotic.
Thursdays ABC, Starts Sept 19. CTV will air later in the season
A straight-arrow IRS agent goes to the tiny town of Push, Nevada, to investigate some financial shenanigans. It turns out the town is chockfull of nuts and that in the case of the missing money, nothing makes sense. If it sounds like a kooky, Twin-Peaks-type drama, it is. The added twist here is the fact the show is literally a game - there are clues about the location of the money in every episode and viewers can try to trace it online. The winner gets a million dollars. Coming from Ben Affleck's production company, Push, Nevada, is weirdly droll and sexy.
Robbery Homicide Division
Fridays, CBS, Chum/VR stations, Starts Sept. 27
At last Michael Mann returns to TV. Mann, who made the groundbreaking Miami Vice and later the movies The Insider and Ali, has created another moody, heady blend of crime busting and visual style. Set in the nastiest corners of LA, the show is fluid and corrosive. Tom Sizemore (from Saving Private Ryan) is detective Sam Cole, a man leading a team with the apparently hopeless task of solving random killings and vicious street crime. Like Miami Vice, Robbery Homicide Division is bleak - the cops have right on their side but things rarely go smoothly. They're occasionally defeated and sometimes despair. This is a show for grown-ups who want their nerve-ends to tingle when they watch TV.
Sundays, NBC, CTV, Starts Sept 29
Created by Canadian Graham Yost, who wrote the movie Speed, Boomtown is the show with the biggest buzz. It's a crime show with a twist - each episode examines a single story from multiple points of view. Every American critic has mentioned Yost's inspiration in the movie Rashomon (a movie most Americans haven't seen), but the significance of Boomtown goes beyond its debt to a Japanese movie. The very premise suggests that there is no such thing as an obvious truth. It asks viewers to look at an incident from many perspectives and grasp the multiple meaning. Set in Los Angeles and usually dealing with the underbelly of the City of Angels, it features as its main characters a reporter, beat cops, a detective, a city politician and emergency workers. The standout is Donnie Wahlberg as a perpetually brooding, silently enraged cop.
Avoid at all costs
Sundays, NBC/CH Starts Sept 29
An icky exercise in nostalgia, this series is set in Philadelphia in the early 1960's and is about the evolving problems and joys of a big Catholic family. Teenage Meg wants to dance on Bandstand. Dad says "no". Teenage son want to quit the football team. Dad says "no". You get the picture. The gimmick is that real footage of old American Bandstand episodes are used.
Good Morning Miami
Thursdays, NBC, Global, Starts Sept 26
A slick, sick, let's mock TV sitcom, it's about a TV whiz kid who takes a job at a hopeless Miami morning show because...he's in love with the gorgeous hairstylist. No canoodling ensues but we get an earful of the morning show's battling hosts, nun-as-weather expert and wacky janitor. It's so hysterically unfunny funny you want to cry, not laugh.
Tuesdays, NBC, Global, Starts, Sept 24
A young couple move in with her parents so he can go to school. Dad (Dennis Farina) is gruff and over-protects his dauhghter. Hilarity ensues but they all really love each other.
8 Simple Rules
Tuesdays, ABC, CTV, Starts Sept 17
A middle-aged dad (John Ritter) tries to cope with two teenage daughters who attract lots of guys. Gruff dad is over-protective and battles with his wife (Katey Sagal) about the daughters. Hilarity ensues and they all love each other.
Tuesdays, NBC, Global, Starts Sept. 24
A bunch of middleclass, well-off folks live in a tight-knit community in California.. The guys complain that their wives work too much and don't give them enough sex. Then, along comes a single Mom who makes her money running a soft-porn Web site on which she appears naked. Hilarity ensues and people have sex.
Maybe they'll be great shows
Mondays, Fox, CH, Starts Oct 21
Dave E. Kelley created another show about lawyers - three young associates at an almost all-male firm. They swap clothes, josh and fight against rampant sexism. Kelley always writes sizzling dialogue and creates overblown drama that can act like a narcotic on viewers. There was no finished pilot to judge.
Saturdays WB, CTV, Starts Sept 21, Preview Sept. 16
An arrogant super surgeon (Treat Williams) quits Manhattan after his wife's death and takes his kids to live in a small Colorado town. There he offers free medical service to the locals and carries on long conversations with his dead wife. The pilot is sweet and kooky, verging just shy of the rampant sentimentality that's always on the horizon. It could be clever and assured or it could be weepy. It's too early to tell.
Life With Bonnie
Tuesdays, ABC, CTV, Starts Sept 17
Comedienne Bonnie Hunt makes another attempt at being a TV star. Generally acknowledged as a gifted smart comic in the U.S., Hunt plays a mom who hosts a morning TV show, Morning Chicago. The show-inside-a- show parts are truly hilarious. The family stuff is too cutesy. If the obviously improvised Morning Chicago segments are always this good, the show will flourish.
Indulge your taste for cheese
Tuesdays, Fox, Wednesdays, CTV, Starts Sept 17/18
Total trash. A drama about young undercover cops, it's all fast cars, fast women and rap music. The cop in charge is played, amazingly, by Tiffani Thiessen from 90210). From the brain of the one-name McG, director of the Charlie's Angels movie, Fastlane is all throbbing music and brainless fun.
Birds of Prey
WB, Chum/VR stations, Starts Oct.9
Oh look. Right here in New Gotham City where, for some reason, Batman is on sabbatical, there are three hot chicks in leather and fishnet doing do-gooder vigilante work. Who knew? One's a mind reader, one's confined to a souped-up wheelchair thingy and they're all kinda like underwear models. Gentlemen, start your engines.