If there’s one word that can be used to describe this season’s new TV series, it’s risky. Just as a start, we have a remake of a ’70s series reimagined as the story of a woman unsure of her place in the world [Bionic Woman], a musical mystery series [Viva Laughlin] and a series about guy whose touch brings back the dead – though a further touch returns them to the state of death [Pushing Daisies]. Here’s a look at what you might expect in the next few weeks.
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Jaime Wells Sommers [Michelle Ryan] is a bartender whos has to support her surly, computer geek [and yet very cute] sister, Becca [Lucy Hale] while she maintains a relationship with a university professor with a secret, Will Anthros [Chris Bowers]. Her life is changed forever when, almost immediately after a marriage proposal, she is critically injured in a traffic accident.
When she finally regains conciousness, Jaime is different – both legs and her right arm, as well as her right eye and ear, have been replaced. Her first look at the changes freak her out – but not as much as learning there was another bionic woman before her. While the dark, rainy Blade Runner tone of the scenes that feature Sarah Corvus [Katee Sackhoff] are effective, the tone of the series will not be as relentlessy gloomy.
For the pilot, however, the tone reflects Jaime’s feelings of loss and confusion – not to mention the status of her relationship with Will, who is the scientist who saved her life with those bionic replacements. Will, it appears, is carrying on his father’s work after his father, Anthony Anthros [Mark A. Sheppard] went bad and wound up imprisoned in an underground prison.
Will’s boss, Jonas Bledsoe [Miguel Ferrer as his least likable character since Twin Peaks’ albert] is the head of the project worjking on bionics – and Oscar Goldman he is not! Very much a control guy, Bledsoe does not take kindly to Jaime’s emergency operation, but he’s too late to stop it, so he plans to use her for high-risk assignments.
Jaime is, it turns out [luckily for the series], incredibly resilient, taking the fight to Corvus after she shoots Will. It is, no doubt, that resilience that will account for the changes in tone as the series progresses. In an interview in the New York Times, series creator David Eick explained that Jaime will have periods of confusion, anger, and even fun as she adjusts to her new life as a bionic woman with combat training imbedded in her brain via special computer chips.
The pilot is a consistently impressive piece of work. The cast is uniformly excellent [including Will Yun Lee, who finally gets to be a nominal good guy for the first time since Witchblade], the writing, by Birds of Prey creator Laeta Kalogridis, is solid [exposition is blended nicely , by into the action] and the direction, by Michael Dinner, is precise and approapriate.
Final Grade: A-
Cane [CBS, Tuesdays, 10/9C]
Fusing the sensibilities of Falcon Crest and The sopranos might not seem like a good idea, but this series about two families whose fortune has been gained through the farming of sugar cane manages to play well in both its harder and soapier aspects.
The pilot sets up the situation reasonably well: Pancho Duque [Hector Elizondo] is retiring as head of Duque Rum & Sugar. His choice of replacement is between his biological son, Frank [Nestor Carbonaell] and his adopted son, Alex Vega [Jimmy Smits] – a choice that could lead to a rift between family members. Part of the problem is an offer by the Samuels family to purchase the Duque sugar fields – and offer Frank likes, but Alex believes is bad for the family. To add further tension, there is a Romeo/Juliet romance going on between a duque daughter and Samuels son [and we all know how these things usually play out.
Even in the pilot, though, tensions reach a boiling point, as death comes to the sugar fields as a direct consequence of the Duque refusal to sell their cane.
If you like a good primetime soap with a little more mayhem than usual, Cane is worth checking out – though I can’t see it surviving in this timeslot.
Final Grade: B
Chuck [NBC, Mondays, 8/7C]
Chuck Bartkowski [Zachary Levi] manages a Nerd Herd kiosk in a Buy More store. He hasn’t had a girlfriend since college, nor has he heard from his college roommate in that time. His best friend is a fellow nerd, Morgan Pace [Joshua Gomez], who is equally inept socially, and more often than not, annoying – and he has a crush on Chuck’s hottie sister, Ellie [Sarah Lancaster].
When Chuck opens an e-mail from his college roommate, he is subjected to an intese flurry of thousands of images. He has, unknowingly, just processed the entire NSA database and has become the sole repository for them.
Before you know it, he’s been approached by beautiful CIA agent Sarah Kent [Yvonne Strzechowski] and nearly killed by NSA Agent Major John Casey [Adam Baldwin]. Add a plan to assassinate a visiting NATO dignity – and a healthy dose of young adult angst, humor and weirdness – and the result is a series that could be described as Jake 2.0 meets The O.C. [only without the superpowers…].
Levy is perfect as the befuddled Chuck and Adam Baldwin plays Casey as a smarter [if not tougher] Jayne Cobb. If Morgan wasn’t quite so annoying, Gomez might be able to earn him some symnpathy, but it’s hard to understand why he and Chuck are friends [even nerds have to have standards, right?]. Lancaster makes Ellie’s fussing over Chuck [and her efforts to hook him up with real, live women] charming. Strzechowski’s Agent Kent is the beautiful girl next door – who can kill efficiently when necessary.
The series was created by Josh Schwartz [The O.C.] and the series does have a “Seth Brody, Secret Agent” vibe that is infectious. If the series can maintain the momentum generated by the pilot, it could be a big hit. The keys will be to make Morgan a bit less of a jerk and to captialize on Levi-Strzechowski chemistry.
Final Grade: B+
Journeyman [NBC, Mondays, 10/9C]
Let’s make this clear right off the top: Journeyman – despite its time-hopping hero – is not Quantum Leap Redux. Although the show’s protagonist does move back and forth in time, helping – or trying to help – people, he’s not a scientist, nor is he stranded in the past. He doesn’t have a hologram of someone in the present heping him navigate his problems, nor does he inhabit the bodies of people in the past.
Dan Vassar [Rome’s Kevin McKidd] is a reporter who finds himself travelling into the past to, apparently, help a man named Neil Gaines [Christopher Warren]. Problems arise when he travels through time – if he spends two days in the past, he returns two days later in his present. This causes problems with his wife, Kate [Gretchen Egolf], his brother, Jack [Reed Diamond] and his boss, Hugh Skillen [Brian Howe]. Additional problems when he discovers that the love of his life, Livia [Moon Bloodgood], who died in a plane crash a year before he married Kate, may not have died.
The Journeyman pilot quickly sets the ground rules. Dan’s traveling is tied to specific people who he may [or may not] be trying to help [though they may only be linked to the people he’s helping]. Any amount of time he spends in the past will added to his point of return – and it’s up to Dan to figure out how to deal with the problems this creates in the present.
Series creator Kevin Falls wrote the script for the pilot and does a pretty good job of balancing the past and the present. He also comes up with a unique – and yet obvious – way for Dan to prove to Kate that he’s not crazy. The pilot is directed by Alex Graves, and he establishes the show’s unique pace and look [very slightly bleached tones for the past; slightly warmer tones for the present – the ripple effect that tells us Dan is journeying].
The cast seems a bit too earnest in the pilot, but that works because of the oddness of Dan’s seeming disappearances. McKidd is especially good – his accent is flawless and his intensity is probably the biggest reason we buy Dan’s situation. There is no designated comic relief here – though the pilot is not humorless, no one cast member is the go-to guy for comic relief. The one major effect – the ripple – is cool and distinctive.
Journeyman has a lot of potenial since, in essence, Dan can go pretty much anywhere [unlike Sam Beckett, we don’t know yet if his travels into the past are linked to his lifetime]. The question will be whether the show can survive negativity from Qunatum Leap fans who erroneously believe it to be a QL rip-off. that and being able to cash in on its heroic lead-in.
Final Grade: B
Life [NBC, Wednesdays, 10/9C]
Life is the dramatic new series most likely to be cancelled first. It’s premise – a wrongly convicted cop who returns to the force to find out who set him up – might be considered a little too obvious for primetime. Further comp0licating matters is the effect that twelve years of prison had on him.
Detective Charlie Crews [Damian Lewis] was found guilty of a particularly group of murders and sent away for life. After over two hundred stitches and a similar number of broken bones [cops don’t do well in prison], Charlie is exonerated after twelve years because of the work of his lawyer, Constance Griffith [Brooke Langton], in provving that none of the evidence actually linked up to him.
Now Charlie has returned to the force – despite winning a fifty million dollar settlement – to find out who set him up. In the meantime, he and his partner Dani Reese [Sarah Shahi] have to solve the murder of a twelve-year old boy whose only mistake was wanting to prove that his father didn’t belong in jail.
Twelve years in prison has changed Charlie, He has an oblique way of connecting to people and things and his tendency to say what he’s thibnking out loud is more than a bit disconcerting. So is his very Zen approach to things – which sets up a bit of humor in regard to his expensive new car.
Adam Arkin is along for the ride as a former Enron-like CEO whose life Charlie saved in jail. Now he lives in a room above Charlie’s garage and handles all his investments. Robin Weigert plays a police lieutenant who threatens Reese’s career if she doesn’t find a reason to get Charlie thrown off the force.
Frankly, Life would make a terrific companuion to Monk and Psych on USA with just a bit of tweaking. Whether it’ll connect with the larger audience of a major network remains to be seen.
Final Grade: B
Moonlight [CBS, Fridays, 9/8C]
After a lot of behind-the-scenes drama and the perception that it’s just another take on Angel/Forever Knight [pick one], the Moonlight pilot, No Such Thing As Vampires, turns out to be its own, unique beast. The series follows a vampire private investigator, Mick St. John [Alex O’Loughlin], as he tackles various mysteries while trying to deal with the fact that he’s fallen in love with a mortal.
No Such Thing As Vampires opens with a fantasy interview as Mick reveals what it’s like to be a vampire [“It sucks!”] and acknowledges that “it’s an old joke, but it’s true.” The interview is a shorthand way to set the show’s ground rules [like how you kill a vampire – fire or decapitation – stakes, holy water and the like? Not so much].
With that out of the way, we move on to the mystery – several murders that have been made to look like vampire slayings. As he investigates, Mick finds himself in an uneasy alliance with a TV reporter named Beth Turner [Sophia Myles]. The clues lead to a university professor who claims that we are all vampires, having fed on blood in the womb.
Based on the pilot, Moonlight is more noir than Angel but as much as Forever Knight at its best. The shooting style owes more to forties noir films that Joss Whedon, and the humor wouldn’t be out of place in a Philip Chandler novel. Mick St. John is closer to being Philip Marlowe than an Angel-like superhero, or a Nick Knight-like cop.
O’Loughlin has a kind of charm that makes Mick seem like just a guy doing a job because no one else is doing it. Which kind of makes him That Guy, as they said in the recent Die Hard movie. Of course, Mick has advantages that make him better in a fight than Marlowe, Spade of Hammer – though he can be hurt [as in a chase at the climax of the pilot].
Myles [who will be best known for her roles in the Underworld movies and the Doctor Who episode, The Girl in the Fireplace] plays Beth as a tough cookie, though she can be vulnerable in the right circumstances [say, in the presence of a handsome vampire PI]. She’s
clearly good at ther job and has a certain in with individuals in the police department.
Mick owes his vampirehood to a woman he loved enough to marry, Coraline [Shannyn Sossamon]. She also has a link to Beth – but from events in pilot, it’s possible that we may only see her in flashback.
Veronica Mars’ Jason Dohring has a lot of fun as Mick’s four hundred-year old friend, Josef Konstantin – a wealthy businessman with a hedonistic lifestyle and an intolerance for anything that threatens that lifestyle [like murders that are made to look like vampire slayings, for example]. His style would be to track down the killer and rip his lungs out, but otherwise, he’s a pretty fun guy.
If I had to guess, I’d say that Moonlight might survive on friday nights if it can engage the Ghost whisperer audience. Otherwise, as much fun as it is, it’ll die a quick true death.
Final Grade: B+
Pushing Daisies [ABC, Wednesdays, 8/7C]
Imagine, if you will, a happy movie that draws on the sensibilities of David Lynch and tim Burton. Pushing Daisies has that kind of larger than life, distinctive look and feel. The genre-bending series [a romantic forensic dramedy?] is nprobably the biggest risk taker of the season.
Ned [Lee Pace] has a gift that can also be a curse. When he touches someone or somthing that is dead, it/they come back to life. If he touches it/them again, they die forever. It’s the secret behind the ripeness of the fruit with which he makes the pies for his dinner, the Pie Hole. Olive Snook [Kristin Chenoweth], a waitress at the Pie Hole, has a hopless crush on Ned – to which he is completely oblivious.
When private eye Emerson Cod [Chi McBride] discovers Ned’s gift, he persuades him to use his gift to solve murders for the reward money. Then the two happen on the murder that changes everything – the murder of Charlotte “chuck” Charles, the girl-next-door on whom Ned had a big crush when he was a kid. When he brings Chuck back to life, he cannot bear to touch her again and return her to the embrace of death…
Solving Chuck’s murder is made difficult because she never saw the person who pushed her overboard while on a cruise. The investigation takes them to the home of Chuck’s aunts, Vivian [ellen Greene] and Lily [Swoosie Kutrz].
Pushing Daisies has a look that could be the result of blending the neighborhoods seen in Blue Velvet and Edward Scissorhands and turning things up to eleven. It’s a unique look for a show that is unlike anything we’ve seen on television before.
Created by Bryan Fuller [Dead Like Me, Wonderfalls], Pushing Daisies is possessed of a dramatic whimsy that is arresting both visually and emotionally. In years passed, a network might have bought the show and then had no idea what to do with it – thus letting it fade quaietly away. ABC, which has taken the biggest risks of any major network over the last three or four seasons, are taking a different tack – they’re promoting the hell out of it. It deserves that promotion.
Final Grade: A+
Reaper [CW, Tuesdays, 9/8C]
Sam Oliver’s [Bret Harrison] 21st birthday present is a visit from Satan, himself [Ray Wise]. It seems that, to save his wife’s life, Sam’s parents [Andrew Airlie and Allison Hossack] sold his soul to the devil before he was born. Now, Satan wants Sam. Not to go to Hell, fortunately, but rather, to hunt down a number of inmates who have fled the asylum, as it were.
Up ’til then, Sam’s life had been pretty easy: a job that required little or no effort; no grief from the ‘rental units; friends as lazy and shiftless as him, and a girl to lust after [and maybe, one day, ask out]. It was pretty sweet.
When Sam tells his friends about his fate, his friends Ben [Rick Gonzalez] and Sock [Tyler Labine] only lament that nothing that cool ever happens to them. They also vow to help – which does not inspire confidence in Sam. Adding to the fun is Sam’s younger brother Keith [Kyle Switzer].
Sam’s first assignment is a former fireman who’s been setting fires on the mortal plane, resulting in deaths. The Devil gives Sam a mini-vacuum and tells him it’s to capture the guy. It’s up to Sam to figure out how to get close enough to the guy – who can turn into a walking lava flow. If he survives, Sam might just be able to work up the nerve to ask out his cute co-worker, Andi [Missy Peregrym].
Reaper draws on a couple of major influences: Brimstone and Ghostbusters. Like Brimstone, its hero has to hunt down escapees from Hell and return them; like Ghostbusters, the show has a lighter, more humorous vibe that only gives way to a more dramatic approach when Sam’s life is actually on the line.
Ray Wise’s Satan is a modern riff on James woods’ Hades from Disney’s Hercules – a used car salesman/con artist – only much better dressed. Wise, who is best known as Laura Palmer’s dad on Twin Peaks, could well become a household name if Reaper draws the audience it deserves.
The rest of the cast is also excellent – especially Tyler Labine as Sock. The pilot script, by Tara Butters and Michele Fazekas, ranges from droll to slapstick to melodrama but always feels of a piece. The direction is superb – if you want a dramedy to work, Kevin smith is the guy to go to. He finds every laugh and every hard edge in the script and keeps things flowing at a rapid pace.
Final Grade: A