Upfronts Analysis: The 8 2009-2010 Shows I’m Looking Forward To

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The 8 2009-2010 Shows I’m Looking Forward To

May 22nd, 2009

Every year when the madness of the Upfronts begins, there’s a deluge of video clips of the various new shows arriving. In some ways, I’m kind of an awful TV critic, since I hadn’t watched a single piece of video from any of the new shows until late last night.

Admittedly, when it comes to scheduling, I often find the various moves and strategies more entertaining than the programming itself (with only a few clips available, and usually very polished ones that hide a show’s flaws), but it just seemed like this year’s upfronts weren’t catching me as it relates to the shows themselves. There wasn’t one big show that, based on its cast or its premise, jumped out at me as something that I would absolutely have to watch, no pilots that I had followed extensively and really wanted to see make it to series, or anything like that. It got to the point where, when I did sit down to start watching video clips, I didn’t expect to find much at all to be excited about.

In the end, though, I ended up putting together a list that surprised me both in its length and its quality. No, there isn’t that one big pilot that really threatens to dominate my TV viewing, but there’s eight shows where based only on clips I’m ready to commit to giving the show a shot in the Fall. I still want a chance to dig into the pilots before making any sort of final judgment, but in the meantime there’s a collection of series which show that, although I don’t think this year’s lineup has one breakout hit in it (I’ll get to why in a second), it is very diverse in its areas of strength.

I’ll get to some of the shows I’m already canceling in my head, as well as those which are going to be pilot dependent, over the weekend, but for now let’s take a look at the eight shows (counting down from 8 to 1, because rankings are fun) I’m excited about for next season.

[Note: I’m not including Glee, since I’ve seen Glee, and you can go to iTunes or Fox.com to watch Glee, and I already know I’m going to enjoy it, and have in fact already enjoyed it.]

8. The Good Wife (CBS)

There is nothing really that new about this legal drama: Julianna Margulies just did a legal drama a few years back (Remember Canterbury’s Law? No? Good), its ripped from the headlines scandal (a disgraced politician resigns, goes to jail and leaves his wife to pick up the pieces) feels like a Law & Order storyline, and the idea of someone re-entering into a career after an extended absence isn’t exactly a revelation.

However, I place this on the list because I wanted to choose at least one show from CBS, and feel that this is the one with the most potential: Margulies is actually dramatically capable, Christine Baranski is perfectly cast as her legal mentor, and the show’s ripped from the headlines premise actually feels like it’s being used for good rather than evil, giving Margulies’ character motivation that won’t simply fade away three episodes in, leaving the show nothing but your run of the mill legal procedural.

Slotting into Tuesdays at 10pm, with only ABC’s The Forgotten as real competition, the show definitely has a shot at being this year’s The Mentalist, a procedural that appears to be on the surface pretty flimsy but contains a motivation which gives the lead greater purpose than you expected.

Video: The Good Wife (CBS) (I can’t even view this, but I presume it’s the trailer I’ve seen elsewhere)

7. Cougar Town (ABC)

This is, by far, the most difficult show for me to put on this list. As a premise, there is something fundamentally frustrating about Cougar Town, a show which predicates itself on an older woman who reluctantly becomes a cougar when she has nowhere else to turn. From the preview below, you can see the entire series unfold in front of you: trampy friends who tell her to go for it, an age-appropriate divorcee with whom Courtney Cox’s character shares a witty repartee, awkward sequences where she treats her potential prey as one of her teenage son’s close friends. All of it, combined, is what I didn’t want the show to be.

And yet, it’s on this list, primarily thanks to Bill Lawrence (Scrubs, Spin City) being behind the scenes. Lawrence is not infallible, having run Scrubs into the ground in the middle of its run, but what he tends to do well is take a potentially sitcom-esque scenario (see: Accidentally on Purpose, which will certainly pop up in another list this weekend) and give it something approaching a heart. I have faith that Cougar Town, once the pilot gets the stereotypes out of the way, could settle into a starkly human rhythm. The cast is strong, with some strong supporting players and Dan Byrd (great in Aliens in America) has her teenage son, and there’s a point where you have to ignore the press release (which sells the show on its distinguishing factors more than its execution) and give a show a shot.

Slotting into a comedy block at 9:30pm on Wednesdays, it will be interesting to see how ABC’s comedy strategy comes together as a whole, but I think Cougar Town has some potential even with a pilot which feels like a checklist.

YouTube: Cougar Town Trailer

6. Parenthood (NBC)

Similarly to Cougar Town, there are parts of Parenthood that don’t sit well with me. The show essentially reads like Brothers & Sisters & Cousins, taking the sibling dynamic of the ABC series and adding to it a greater focus on the next generation and their upbringing. It doesn’t feel that distinct from any other family drama on the surface, and considering that I continue to watch Brothers & Sisters I’m not sure there’s room for a second one in my lineup.

However, pedigree is what will convince me to give Parenthood a try: Jason Katims was responsible for bringing Friday Night Lights to life, a feat for which he deserves considerable praise, and the cast (Peter Krause, Maura Tierney, Craig T. Nelson, Mae Whitman, etc.) offers an extensive back bench for Katims to draw from. There’s nothing to really make the show stand out, which is unfortunate within the current television climate, but I am nonetheless quite convinced that Katims is the right person to tackle this kind of material from a new perspective within the formulaic structure.

Leading off Wednesdays for NBC at 8pm, it will be interesting to see how Parenthood performs in the fall, as the plan is for the show to exit in the Spring to make way for medical drama Mercy.

Youtube: Parenthood Trailer

5. V (ABC)

Being held until midseason, there are a lot of reasons why V is on this list, but also a lot of reasons why it isn’t higher. The preview for the series has a lot of elements to be excited about in this reboot of the original series: Elizabeth Mitchell in the starring role, Morena Baccarin more perfectly cast than I can imagine in the role of the leader of the aliens, and a general tone that captures the impact of these visitors on different sectors of the population ranging from susceptible youth to religious fantatics. On that broader philosophical level, there are plenty of reasons to hope that the show will pick up the mantle of Battlestar Galactica in confronting these issues of humanity within a broader science fiction story.

However, I have reservations about the series, in particular how it is going to balance a lot of those elements: outside of the two ostensible leads the supporting cast really isn’t pulling me in, and while I hate to question the show’s commitment to its science fiction origins the thriller-esque conclusion to the trailer less excites me than it does convince me that the show’s breakneck pace isn’t likely to let up to allow the show to delve into anything in earnest. It’s just a trailer, but something about the pace the series is moving at is turning me off, and I’ll have to wait until I can see the full pilot before making a judgment on the series.

For now, I’m excited to see how it fits in when it slots somewhere, currently unknown, on ABC’s schedule.

YouTube: V Trailer

4. Modern Family (ABC)

Taking the huge risk of screening an entire pilot to critics during their upfronts address, ABC felt confident enough in Modern Family to let the most critical television viewers of all (plus the advertisers decided their financial future) take in the show’s most immediate pickup. It is clear, to me at least, why they made such a decision: the show places interracial marriages, gay marriages, and the notion of the nuclear family on the same level comic playing field, and in doing so keeps the show from feeling like a cash-in on any particular cultural phenomenon. Instead, it’s about the people who are part of those family units, and shows actual potential for them to grow beyond their stereotypes into real human beings.

On top of that, the reactions to the pilot from critics have been quite strong, especially in how they focus primarily on how this isn’t quite as revolutionary as ABC wants to you to believe. I think this is a good thing: sell it to advertisers as the next cultural revolution in television, but I’ll be happy with a solid comedy focusing on these family units. I’m already attached to the loveable son of Sofia Vergera and Ed O’Neill (what a couple that is), and the clip below is perhaps my favourite of the bunch, a scene which really gives me hope that the show is going to keep playing with these kinds of storylines consistently as the show goes on.

The show debuts at 9pm, leading into Cougar Town, on ABC’s fall schedule.

Youtube: Modern Family

3. Community (NBC)

If this year hadn’t happened, and Kath & Kim hadn’t made its way onto NBC’s schedule, I would have a certain level of trust for whatever NBC chooses to slot into its Thursday comedy block. I may not eventually become a huge fan of the show, but until Kath & Kim I could say that I was excited to see how the network used this important breeding ground for new programming. As a result, Community has to earn my interest just like a comedy on another network, so it should be even more impressive that it ranks this highly within my list of shows I’m excited for.

It just feels, out of the comedies being offered, like the one that offers the most to appeal to my sensibilities. I’m a fan of Joel McHale’s work on The Soup (plus he was fun to watch in that one Pushing Daisies episode he was in), it’s hard to disagree with Chevy Chase (who also did some great work on Chuck this season), and the cast as a whole has that loveable sort of vibe to it as people who know each other really well. The trailer below really caught my attention, in that it portrayed both a strong cast dynamic (a sort of community college Breakfast Club, as the show itself points out) and a compelling arc for the lead character. No, it doesn’t look perfect, but it’s the pilot that feels like it will fit in perfectly to NBC’s lineup, and after the Kath & Kim debacle I’m all the more glad for it.

Community debuts at 9:30pm after the Office before moving to 8pm following the return of 30 Rock.

YouTube: Community Trailer

2. Flash Forward (ABC)

It is with great consideration that I place Flash Forward at #2 as opposed to #1 on this list. Yes, the hype for the script is extremely high, and the first act of the pilot screened to critics got some very positive reactions. It comes from great creatives, with a network that has allowed Lost time to develop and grow, and has a cast ranging from Joseph Fiennes to Sonya Walger to John Co; in other words, the show doesn’t have anything truly wrong with it. Its science fiction premise offers the potential for some really interesting human investigations, and the trailer below honestly made me really interested to see how the show unfolds.

But it didn’t make me excited. And I really want to be excited about it, at least as much as some other people are. However, there is something about the show’s tone that feels off to me, and reminds me way too much of ABC’s shortlived The Nine from a few years back. That show dealt with similar questions of time, showing us the buildup to and the aftermath of a bank robbery while slowly unveiling the events that actually transpired. Flash Forward is more complicated than that, since the show’s characters themselves are the ones who are trying to construct how they get from their present existence to April 2010, where they went in their two minutes and seventeen seconds of blackout, but at the same time the pilot doesn’t feel like that conflict is really coming through. It brings back drinking problems, it brings new lovers, it questions mortality, all things which are intriguing but just aren’t really hitting.

Part of it could be the visuals in the show, or that Joseph Fiennes feels a bit too comfortable with the rather extreme premise that he exists in, but it feels too shiny. Lost worked because there was something starkly human about its storytelling, and that was reflected in the show’s setting: here, by comparison, everyone goes back to their daily lives, presenting a somewhat less complex landscape on which to plot the show’s science fiction trappings. I think the show can overcome this, but it’s keeping me from being fully on the bandwagon heading into the season. It’s still one of my most anticipated shows, but I have not yet convinced myself the show will follow in Lost’s footsteps as carefully as ABC wants us to believe.

The show will air at 8pm on Thursdays in the fall.

YouTube: Flash Forward

1. Human Target (FOX)

This is not going to be the most ambitious, or the most complicated, or the most philosophical show on the networks this year (and it won’t even be arriving until midseason). It probably won’t be all that smart a show either, based on the trailer. But I’ll be quite honest in suggesting that there is pretty well nothing more exciting to me than the basic concept of Burn Notice amped up into a quasi-science fictional action realm, combined with the talent of Mark Valley, Chi McBride, and Jackie Earle Haley, and featuring a comic book origin story to tap into. Combine with Tricia Helfer in the pilot, and I’m pretty sure that there’s no way I can’t fall in love with this show.

I don’t have anything more profound to add, really: the trailer doesn’t bother to hint at anything more complex than what we see, a fun character dynamic that works together to help solve high-octane situations using various disguises and identities. I’d be more than happy to see Burn Notice air twice in every week considering how great it’s been this season, and there’s always room for a show that just wants to go out and entertain.

The show debuts at 9pm on Wednesdays once American Idol returns in January.

YouTube: Human Target

6 Comments

Filed under Upfronts

6 responses to “Upfronts Analysis: The 8 2009-2010 Shows I’m Looking Forward To

  1. Many of the new shows announced by the networks this past week that interest me most don’t show up until midseason sometime. Like Day One on NBC, Human Target on FOX, and V on ABC.

    Of the ones that do show up in the fall, Flash Forward is probably my most anticipated. But, Community and Cougar Town look good to me as well. The latter mainly because I’ll check out pretty much anything from my former Friends.

    Lastly, CBS’ The Good Wife looks to be the best of the bunch for new shows on that network. Liked the cast and the premise.

  2. e

    When do we learn about the good stuff? I mean the bits that aren’t on network TV? Where are the new Burn Notices, Psychs, Leverages, BSGs, Dexters, Project Runways, and so forth announced?

    • The cable news is forthcoming: a lot will launch during the summer (Showtime’s Nurse Jackie, starring Edie Falco, is the big one, along with HBO’s Hung), but since they don’t do “upfronts” quite like the networks there’s a little less pomp and circumstance.

  3. Pingback: Trailer: Human Target « tous et rien

  4. Regarding Community: Do you ever watch Channel 101? Community’s creator/writer Dan Harmon co-founded the website six years ago with Rob Schrab, and has been kicking ass over there ever since. He was behind that failed but awesome Acceptable.TV a few years back, but I am extremely excited to see what he can do with a full-length sitcom.

  5. Without the burden of justifying their every word to a battle-hardened constituency, parties in a virtual collaborative negotiations process can talk about many issues, and discuss innovative ideas and solutions to seemingly intractable problems, that would not otherwise have been possible. ,

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