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TODAY

Tuesday, June 18

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Airbags

It's a bit early this year to review this autumn's crop of new shows, but I thought I'd get a head start. Last year I tackled 16 new series, and in 2006 I watched 15. Out of these 31 shows, less than half made it to a second season. Will any of the offerings below make it past the initial few episodes? I haven't noticed any overall trends so far for 2008 — most likely because I've watched only seven pilots — but it could also be because of the writer's strike and shortened 2007-2008 season. There wasn't as much time to gauge what audiences loved last year, and there wasn't a single breakout hit for other networks to copycat and capitalize.

Raising The Bar


(TNT), time and day TBD on TNT, premieres September 2008

IN TEN WORDS OR LESS: The Law half of Law & Order.

Steven Bochco, the mastermind behind Hill Street Blues and NYPD Blue, takes a page from his Murder One days with this pilot about a passionate defense attorney (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) and his co-workers and colleagues. Naturally, he's a hothead who defends innocent clients and moans at the unfairness of it all. Boss Gloria Reuben supports him while crotchety judge Jane Kaczmarek refuses to see things his way. There's a pretty district attorney, of course, as well as secondary characters with their own issues and problems, but in the end nothing truly stands out; the bar still needs to be raised, apparently. On the bright side, the solemn, humorless tone guarantees that there's nary an Ally McBeal, The Practice or Boston Public moment to be found. And for that, I say thank you, Steven Bochco, and ask: when will Cop Rock be out on DVD?

SOUNDBITE: "I'd rather be in jail with Calvin than free and a part of a system that put him there."

WATCH THIS IF: You're addicted to any kind of courtroom procedural and don't like dancing babies, quirky lawsuits, or William Shatner.

WILL I BE WATCHING? No; not my cup of tea, but I didn't actively hate it.

Life on Mars


(ABC), 9pm Thursdays, premieres September 25

IN TEN WORDS OR LESS: Starksy & Hutch meets Journeyman.

Speaking of David E. Kelley (he of the terrible "law" programs mentioned earlier), he was the original showrunner for Life on Mars, the remake of a popular British show about a modern-day cop who wakes up in 1973 after a terrible accident. The American version features a California detective, played by Irishman Jason O' Mara, who travels back to 1972 Los Angeles after he is hit by a car. He has to try and get back to the future while solving "current" cases without the advantages of computers, lab technology or mobile phones. I don't know how much good a review will be seeing as Kelley was removed from the show, the entire production is being moved from LA to New York for tax breaks, and most of the cast, save the lead, is being recast. Let's just say I enjoyed the premise enough to hunt down the original.

SOUNDBITE: "You say a man abducts your girlfriend 30 years from now. You get hit by a car and wake up in 1972? Sam, that doesn't... happen."

WATCH THIS IF: You enjoy time travel — wait, does it count as time travel if you only stay in one place and time? — or an Oughts view on the '70s (see also: Swingtown).

WILL I BE WATCHING? Yes, and not only to see how much changed from the original pilot.

Pretty/Handsome


(FX), time and day TBD, scheduled to premiere 2008

IN TEN WORDS OR LESS: Nip/Tuck meets Boys Don't Cry.

Nip/Tuck showrunner Ryan Murphy creates yet another outwardly happy family seething with secrets, betrayal and doubt. Gynecologist Joseph Fiennes and his decorator wife, Carrie-Anne Moss, have two well-adjusted sons and a solid marriage. Or do they?! The older son hides his lower-class girlfriend's pregnancy. The younger son is a socially inept genius who makes dates with strangers online. Lonely Mom briefly considers a tryst with her teenager's smarmy best friend. Oh, and Dad wears women's underwear and dreams of becoming a woman. Dad's father is having an affair and... well, you get the gist. I confess the acting is top notch, and I had a bit of a chuckle seeing William Shakespeare and Trinity from The Matrix traipsing about in tennis whites. But I had enough of Murphy's brand of storytelling in Nip/Tuck when he took complex and flawed characters and turned them into unwatchable pricks (no pun intended). And the thought of transgender storylines played as a freak show doesn't do much for me either. Note: The original title was 4 oz., the average weight of a penis.

SOUNDBITE: "My father played golf three times a week, and when he got home, dinner was on the table. Warm. With no complaints... This generation of women — they want us to feel bad for being men. "

WATCH THIS IF: You enjoy over-the-top "shocking" plots about "unusual" people.

WILL I BE WATCHING? Nope.

Do Not Disturb


(Fox), 8:30 pm Wednesdays, premieres September 10

IN TEN WORDS OR LESS: Utter crap with no redeeming or entertaining qualities at all.

Remember how much I hated Cavemen? Well, this sitcom wins the I Hated It As Much as Cavemen Award for 2008. The cringingly stereotypical characters — racist/sexist manager, sassy African-American woman, anorexic mean-girl model, plus-sized funny girl, queeny homosexual, small-town rube — all work at a "hot" and "hip" hotel in New York City. Some employees work in direct contact with guests while the others toil in the literal basement. Upstairs/downstairs clashes? Oh, the hilarity! Except not. Jerry O'Connell and Niecy Nash can be hilarious... on other shows. I was incredibly sad to see that Jason Bateman directed the pilot. I can't tell if he's talented or not because the script is that heinous.

SOUNDBITES: "Don't make a black woman take off her earrings" at the "skinny-bitch-in-high-heels hotel, you hear me?"

WATCH THIS IF: You have no working brain cells.

WILL I BE WATCHING? Not even under gun threat.

True Blood


(HBO), Time TBD Sundays, premieres September 7

IN TEN WORDS OR LESS: Six Feet Under meets Near Dark.

Alan Ball brings Charlaine Harris's Southern Vampire Mysteries books to cable television in this yarn of vampires and humans warily co-existing two years after Japanese-made synthetic blood is created as an alternative for the real stuff. Oscar winner Anna Paquin is Sookie Stackhouse, a small-town-Louisiana waitress who is just thrilled when an actual, actual, actual vampire (sorry, I watched The Apple this weekend) walks into her workplace. After she saves him from an attack by enterprising locals wanting to steal and sell his blood, they develop an odd relationship, much to the curiosity of Sookie's friends and family. Sookie knows this because she is telepathic and is often overwhelmed by the volume of everyone's unspoken thoughts. But she can't "hear" the vamp, which makes him even more interesting. The actors playing Sookie's boss and Sookie's brother look enough alike to cause confusion at first, and there's some stark brutality and sexuality, but it's not television. It's HBO. This series definitely has potential, and the cable net would love a new hit.

SOUNDBITE: "Bill?! I thought it might be Antoine or Basil or, or, like, Langford maybe, but... Bill? Vampire Bill. Oh my."

WATCH THIS IF: You need a vampire fix and you like it Southern gothic style.

WILL I BE WATCHING? Probably.

Leverage


(TNT), Time and day TBD, scheduled to premiere December 2008

IN TEN WORDS OR LESS: Eyes meets Ocean's Eleven meets Erin Brockovitch.

I should hate this set-up from the men who brought us Independence Day and Transformers but for two things: (1) It's shot in Chicago, and (2) Christian Kane. I've been a fan since his Angel days, and this is his first role since in which I'm not wincing. (Sorry, CK!) Although his hair continues to be tragic at times, so that's a nice bit of consistency. Anyway, Timothy Hutton stars as a former executive who assembles a motley crew, including Kane as a "retrieval specialist," to take down big bad businesses to compensate the little guy. Gina Bellman — I loved her in Coupling — is excellent as con artist Sophie, and Aldis Hodge is cast against type as a computer geek and provides the necessary humor; it was wonderful to see him crack a smile after his serious turns in Friday Night Lights and Supernatural. The only weakish link is Beth Riesgraf, whose naughty girl thief role hasn't offered up much so far. Hey, that's more than two things. Heh. However, I admit that it's not nearly as clever as it wants to be.

SOUNDBITE: "We work on an alternative revenue stream."

WATCH THIS IF: You feel like a good caper set in our fair city.

WILL I BE WATCHING? Yep. I'm a sucker.

Fringe


(Fox), 8pm Tuesdays, two-hour premiere September 9

IN TEN WORDS OR LESS: Alias meets X-Files.

Lost guru J.J. Abrams starts his new, highly anticipated series on — what else? —  a plane. No survivors on this flight, though: it lands at Boston's Logan Airport with everyone onboard dead under strange circumstances. FBI liaison Anna Torv investigates the oddity, which leads her to John Noble, a genius doctor who has been incarcerated in a mental institution for 20 years. He's the only one who can help Torv, so Torv blackmail's Noble's son (Joshua Jackson) for access. As the three unravel the mystery, they attempt to navigate several road blocks while using intensely unorthodox methods in order to get answers. Of course, this only raises more questions and an ominous phenomenon known as "The Pattern." I forget how good Josh Jackson is, and I'm glad to see him on television on something other than Dawson's Creek. However, I'm not a big fan of cliffhangers for cliffhanging's sake, and if Fringe becomes as ridiculous and convoluted as Lost's and Alias's third seasons, I might take a pass. But for now, this is the best pilot of the bunch.

SOUNDBITE: "He's a high-school dropout. His I.Q.'s 190, 40 points north of genius. Misfit, nomad, hasn't kept a job longer than two months... Sounds like a massive pain in the ass."

WATCH THIS IF: You enjoy supernatural serial mysteries with a splash of humor and a bit of eye candy.

WILL I BE WATCHING? Yes, but only if J.J. and crew don't screw it up a la Lost.

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About the Author(s)

As a child, Dee Stiffler was only allowed to watch one hour of television a day. She usually chose Sesame Street. Today, she overcompensates by knowing far too much about the CW's lineup as well as pop culture in general. Email her at pop@gapersblock.com.

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