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TODAY

Tuesday, February 19

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Airbags

It's that time again: the kickoff of the new television season! New contributions for 2006 included [quote]the basic overall trends [of] one-word titles, arc-heavy offerings à la Lost and Prison Break, titles containing numbers, and doppelganger dramas: shows that make you ask, "Wait, isn't that the same as that other series?" Fall 2007 is heavy on the geek/nerd bandwagon, with several series — comedies, dramas, and dramadies — celebrating The Outsider as reluctant hero. Not a new idea, but apparently quite the popular one. As I did last year, I only reviewed pilots that I watched in full. I got my hands on a couple of mid-season offerings as well, and briefly touch on three summer series at the end of this column. Check out the complete fall 2007 TV schedulehere, and here is a list of premiere dates. Happy watching!

Note: I listed the pilots alphabetically because with one or two exceptions, most of them didn't really pull me in. I'm already committed to existing shows of quality (Friday Night Lights) and non-quality (Smallville, although I think this is the year that Al and Miles finally break me).

New Shows

Aliens in America (CW), 7:30pm Mondays, premieres October 1
A Wisconsin family "orders" a foreign exchange student so that their dweebish son can be more popular at school. The student is from London — but he is also a Pakistani Muslim, which leads to all sorts of shenanigans for the host family. The pilot I saw did not have Luke Danes as the father (he was recast this summer), but the sharp writing should stand up to any shuffling of actors. There's a squirmworthy scene in which a woefully misguided history teacher encourages her class to share misinformed "beliefs" about Islam with the visiting teen that highlights their ignorance. Will the dweeb and his family accept the foreign exchange student in spite of their differences? What do you think?
WATCH THIS IF: You enjoy sitcoms with heart and a message or you miss Gilmore Girls. (Read the Trib's Maureen Ryan's article about Chicago-area teenagers' reactions to the Aliens in America here.)

The Big Bang Theory (CBS), 7:30pm Mondays, premieres September 24
I liked this more than I thought I would. I avoid most CBS sitcoms like the plague, although I admit have enjoyed few episodes of How I Met Your Mother. The Big Bang Theory follows awkward young men as they attempt be friendly with their cute new female neighbor (of course she's a hot blonde — how ordinary!). Several of the nerds are out-and-out archetypes, but stereotypes are often based in reality. I know several guys like this, and maybe even dated one. For a while.
WATCH THIS IF: You miss Friends or you like Two and A Half Men.

Bionic Woman (NBC), 8pm Wednesdays, premieres September 26
This Jaime Sommers is not a tennis pro but a bartender raising her deaf teenaged sister. After a horrific car accident, Jamie's scientist boyfriend rebuilds her to save her life. Problem is, he already built another Bionic Woman (of course she's a hot blonde — how ordinary!) who's a little bit put out that the government tried to kill her when she went nutbar. Put frankly, the pilot is a fanboy wet dream. Seriously. Gadgets and intrigue galore, and two chicks fighting on rooftops in the rain, kicking the crap out of each other in stiletto heels. What's not to love? One thing: There is a serious lack of male eye candy on this show. Not one droolworthy man. And although some people consider Isaiah Washington a cool drink of water — he's been hired for several episodes as a recurring character — it's hard for me to see past his real-life stupidity to find him hot. But that's a small quibble.
WATCH THIS IF: You like science fiction... and wet women punching each other in the face. This is one of the two or three pilots that make me want to tune in for more. And I don't even like scifi!

Cane (CBS), 9pm Tuesdays, premieres September 25
Emmy-award winner Jimmy Smits returns to television as Alex, the adopted son of a Cuban-American family who run a sugar empire. The Duque family and family business is changing, and Alex must hold everything together while staying true to himself and those he loves. Buried secrets, treacherous affairs, double crosses, grudges, and rebellious teenagers are drenched in the Florida heat. The acting is first-rate: how can you go wrong when the Old Guard is Hector Elizando and Rita Moreno? Plus, both of the villains/competitors earned their drama degrees at HBO (on Oz and Rome), and the younger actors keep up with the veterans.
WATCH THIS IF: You enjoy well-acted, sweeping soap operas featuring pretty people and genuine emotions.

Cavemen (ABC), 7pm Tuesdays, premieres October 2
This expansion of a popular series of TV commercials could quite possibly the worst thing I've seen on television. And remember, I am the person who voluntarily watched all of Hex and Britney and Kevin: Chaotic. (And continues to watch Smallville.) The main storyline a love story between a caveman engaged to a beautiful blond Homo sapiens woman. Her family doesn't exactly approve, and his surly best friend tries to convince Head Caveman — seriously, I'm not about to look up the character names because it took me almost an hour to watch the entire 21 minutes, and I've already wasted too much time on this — that the twain shall never meet. One scene involves the caveman slur "magger." which has been shortened from "Magnon." Yes, they go there. Had it been a sharp satire of race and/or class relations using the medium of a situation comedy, it might have worked. But Cavemen isn't My Name Is Earl. Or anything even remotely watchable.
WATCH THIS IF: You want me to come to your home and punch you in the face. I picked up some tips from the Bionic Woman pilot.

Chuck (NBC), 7pm Mondays, premieres September 24
Another show revolving around a nerd, which he prefers to the term geek. Chuck, a computer service worker, accidentally downloads millions of secret government secrets and heavily classified data — directly into his brain. The FBI agent originally assigned to watch Chuck (of course she's a hot blonde — how ordinary!) ends up protecting him instead, even when her directive changes to kill. She and Chuck convince the government NOT to kill him, mostly because the original data system has been destroyed and now only Chuck has access to information. Chuck also features Adam Baldwin, an actor who can do no wrong in my book. Plus, Chuck is the kind of geek who is far too cute to qualify as an actual nerd.
WATCH THIS IF: You like spy games, everyday Joes, and out-of-the-box FBI agents. I think I'll tune in for a few episodes.

Journeyman (CBS), 9pm Mondays, premieres September 24
I really, really wanted to like this series. I enjoyed Kevin McKidd as Lucius Vorenus in Rome, and time travel, when done well, can be both thought-provoking and entertaining. However, Scott Bakula did this so much better in the '90s, and he "leaped" from body to body and from place to place. McKidd's Dan Vasser is always himself and always in San Francisco. Instead of wondering about the scientific and moral dilemmas of influencing other peope's future lives from the past, I started Baby Supermanning: How can a newspaper reporter who thinks that it's OK to print the story now and get a correction later because it's the "time of the blog" afford two nice cars and a huge home in the Bay Area?
WATCH THIS IF: You miss Quantum Leap and are too cheap to buy the DVDs.

Life (NBC), 9pm Wednesdays, premieres September 26
This was the last pilot I watched, and it was definitely the best. Damien Lewis's Charlie Crews is a wrongly accused cop who spent 12 years in prison before being exonerated and compensated with an undisclosed amount of settlement money. He returns to the force as a detective after he's released because the only thing that kept him going on the inside was that he was "a cop." The cast includes several interesting, complex characters. Lewis does a marvelous job of keeping Charlie's mannerisms and habits seem genuine rather than affected. The way he is no longer normally socialized or his delight in eating fresh fruit could have been annoying and overdone. Charlie really wants to be Zen, and if you can get past his horrible lipstick in the first several scenes, you'll like this show.
WATCH THIS IF: You mainline cop shows or you have a special place in your heart for oddballs.

Private Practice (ABC), 8pm Wednesdays, premieres September 26
What I said in a recent column:

The cast is full of talented people — Amy Brenneman, Taye Diggs, Merrin Dungey [note: this character has since been recast] — who have proven themselves on other series. But Private Practice's scenarios are trite and completely unprofessional for any office, let alone a fertility clinic. And you'd think after ABC cancelled [Tim] Daly's brilliant series Eyes (which also featured Ugly Betty's Eric Mabius in such a loathsome role that it took me several weeks watching him as Daniel Meade to erase that performance) as well as The Nine that they could find something good for Daly to do. Instead, we get the most ingratiating aspects of Grey's [Anatomy] combined with stupid dialogue and even stupider set-ups. Private Practice can be summed up in two words: talking elevator. Paging Addy McBeal...

WATCH THIS IF: You think Grey's Anatomy is a good show.

Pushing Daisies (ABC), 7pm Wednesdays, premieres October 3
Every few years there's one "quirky" or "interesting" new series that has a large amount of pre-premiere squee attached to it. This year, it's Pushing Daisies, starring Lee Pace as a pie baker who has the power to resurrect the dead with his touch. He uses this ability, which of course only lasts for a limited amount of time or else there will be HEAVY CONSEQUENCES to pay, to find out what happened to people who die in mysterious circumstances. He questions the revived corpse, gets the info, returns him or her to the original deceased state, and collects the reward money. It was much twee-er than I thought, which is a shame. It's trying so hard. Too hard. It's very very conscious of its preciousness, with names such as the Boutique Travel Travel Boutique or the Darling Mermaid Darlings, and characters with helium voices or dressed in eye patches. Pushing Daisies is Babe meets Desperate Housewives meets Tim Burton if he used primary and pastel colors.
WATCH THIS IF: You loved Wonderfalls or you think Kristen Chenoweth is the bee's kness.

Reaper (CW), 8pm Tuesdays, premieres September 25
I only saw the first 10 minutes or so, but it has potential. A young man parents sell him to the Devil (Ray Wise) and on his 21st birthday, he's called into service as a bounty hunter for the dead. Plus, Sam is the kind of geek who is far too cute to qualify as an actual nerd. (See: Chuck.)
WATCH THIS IF: You like snarky geeks and the supernatural.

Midseason Replacements

Lipstick Jungle (NBC midseason), date and time TBD
I may be one of the only people who thinks Sex & the City was stupid and boring, and this show — executive produced by scribe Candace Bushnell — plays its SATC connections and mentality to the hilt: its current slogan is "These women aren't looking for Mr. Big, they are Mr. Big" (NBC's ad department should be looking for an editor - Holy run-on sentences and improper punctuation, Batman!) Powerful women in business have man problems at home. Zzzzzz. Brooke Shields and Kim Raver have some deft comic moments and good timing, but any show that blares Kelly Clarkson's "Miss Independent" in a "pivotal" scene gets a pass from me. Also, Andrew McCarthy's eccentric billionaire kisses Lindsay Price using his entire head. Ewww. It's out of hand.
WATCH THIS IF: You've worn out your SATC DVDs and are counting the days until the movie comes out in theaters.

The Sarah Connor Chronicles (FOX midseason), date and time TBD
This is set after the events of Terminator II: Judgment Day but before Terminator III: Rise of the Machines. And for someone who claims to not like science fiction, I enjoyed this pilot. Sarah and John Connor try to live normal lives but they are constantly on the run from the law and the future. Lena Headey's Sarah is not nearly as hard-core as Linda Hamilton's in the second film of the Terminator trilogy, but she does a damn fine job playing this complex character. And yes, Thomas Dekker, the actor playing John Connor is very cute (I am officially a dirty old woman as he is not yet 20). Summer Glau wasn't as strong as I expected — her delivery of the signature line sounded too Valley Girl to me — but there's time.
WATCH THIS IF: You like lots of action with a big helping of angst. And yes, if you like cute young men.

Summer Series Already Airing

Californication (Showtime), 9:30pm Mondays
AWFUL. David Duchovny's Hank Moody (har har) is a self-loathing New York author now living in LA and has a serious case of writer's block, which he apparently thinks gives him license to be a complete asshole. I know several critics like it, but I thought Californicationwas terrible, trying too hard to be biting and sarcastic and I didn't need to see Hank's ass and eight different tits in 30 minutes, 'kay? Naturally it's already been picked up for a second season.
WATCH THIS IF: You think Duchovny's the shit.

Flash Gordon (SciFi), 8pm Fridays
The pilot for this classic was wildly uneven, but I would watch — and have watched — anything with Eric Johnson. (I interviewed him years ago for a defunct media site; he is wonderfully goofy and charming.) This SciFi Channel original series follows its Stargate rather than Battlestar Galactica formula to bring the camp. Unfortunately, when FG tries to get serious, it fails horribly. The scenes on Mongo are boring and tedious — much like the actress playing Ming's daughter — and mad scientist Zarkov's antics can be winceworthy. Bring on the cheese, please.
WATCH THIS IF: You like blond Canadian actors from Alberta.

Mad Men (AMC), 9pm Thursdays
I rhapsodized about this series here.
WATCH THIS IF: You miss The Sopranos.

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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 WB's lineup as well as pop culture in general. Email her at pop@gapersblock.com.

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