TELEVISION: And So It Begins… Again

This evening the new fall season of television programming begins with two returning series on The CW [Gossip Girl, One Tree Hill], one on TNT [Steven Bochco’s inept Raising the Bar] and one on Fox [Prison Break]. Overall, the new season looks a lot like the last one. Thanks to the writers’ strike, a number of series that might have been cancelled are reappearing, series like Life, Eli Stone, Pushing Daisies, Chuck and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles to name a few. Add to them the few buzzworthy new shows [Fringe, The Mentalist, and Eleventh Hour] and it still doesn’t add up to the anticipation for Fox’s Joss Whedon-created Dollhouse. Which is not to say that there aren’t points of interest on the fall schedule.

Mark Ben Holzberg/FOX

NBC has already picked up Chuck for a full season based on their appraisal of the show’s first six episodes of the season. Again with NBC, My Own Worst Enemy, which features Christian Slater as a suburban dad who is also, unbeknownst to him, a superspy posits the question, which identity is the real one [and what happens when they begin to merge]? The CW’s Valentine revolves around a family of Greek gods whose mission, it seems, is to bring soulmates together without revealing their true identities [Cupid for teens?].

CBS has a winner, quality-wise, with The Mentalist which, on paper, sounds like a reverse-Psych played for drama [former TV psychic becomes investigator for the California Bureau of Investigation], but the teaser immediately dispels that illusion. CBS also has the promising new romantic dramedy, The Ex-List, starring Elizabeth Reasor [Ava on Grey’s Anatomy] as a women who is told by a fortune teller that she’s already met [and dated] her husband-to-be. Its balance between drama and comedy isn’t quite right yet, but Reasor makes it worth your time all by herself.

ABC’s Life on Mars is loosely based on the BBC series of the same name, but has been retooled so that the premise – outside of having Detective Sam Tyler waking up in 1973 after being hit by a car in the present – has reportedly been changed to allow the series to run for longer than the two seasons it ran in England. The fact that the pilot has been retooled and completely recast – except for star Jason O’Mara – is not a good sign…

Fox’s Fringe is the fall series with the biggest buzz. The series revolves around a team of investigators [a female FBI agent, an allegedly crazy scientist and his ne’er-do-well son] look into strange cases a la The X-Files. Created by the rapidly becoming legendary J.J. Abrams [Felicity, Alias, Lost], Fringe will have elements that build to an overall arc, but unlike his other shows, will feature mysteries that are resolved each week – making the series easy to get into at any point in its run. That will be a good trick if it works, but Abrams is talented enough to make it happen.

Of all the second season series, NBC’s Life will have to work the hardest to survive since it’s been relegated to Friday nights. As one of the more complex shows, this could be its death knell, though it may have a shot based on the manner in which it provides answers to many of its questions in a far timelier manner than most.

NBC’s Chuck has already been shown some network love, as mentioned above. Since its lead-out, Heroes, is back with a bang that may good things for our nerd hero and his minders. The same can’t be said for Pushing Daisies, which many found a bit too weird, whimsical and convoluted last year. While the whimsy remains, we are promised that storylines will be streamlined. The hope is that the show’s whimsy is less of a problem than its complicated arcs.

Fox’s Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles got off to a great start last season, but ratings fell off until Brian Austin Green was added to the cast as John Connor’s uncle from the future. The explosive [in more ways than one] series started out smart, but seemed to get smarter from Green’s debut on – and the season ended with quite a bang, considering that it wasn’t planned for that purpose. One of the key relationships in the series [after Sarah Connor and son] has to be the one that’s developing between the cautious Derek Connor and John’s guardian terminator, Cameron [Summer Glau].

Of the rest of the returning series, a few return without much fanfare, but Fox’s Bones comes with a two-hour premiere that finds Booth and Tempe following a case to London, England – where they encounter their British counterparts. Another Fox two-hour premiere finds Sarah popping up on Prison Break after seemingly being beheaded not all that long ago [needless to say, the show has long since ceased pretending it has any levels reality to it].

ABC’s Desperate Housewives, which cooked like crazy, last year, appears to be staying on track. With its leap forward five years, Mark Cherry’s semi-satirical soap has been given twice as many storytelling options than before. One highlight appears to be Bree Van De Kamp’s emergence as the new Martha Stewart. Dana Delaney’s return as Katherine Mayfair can only be considered a plus.

The CW continues to milk Smallville for all it’s worth [which undoubtedly plays a factor in the continuance of the much lower rated, but far superior Supernatural]. Over the last two seasons, Smallville was at its best in episodes that featured Oliver [Green Arrow] Queen. The Kent/Queen dynamic brought a very superman/Batman vie to the show and seemed to inspire the show’s writers to some serious highs.

Supernatural did what fans never thought would happen. In last season’s finale, Dean Winchester wound up in Hell. He will be back in action in the premiere, but things will have changed between him and his brother Sam. We’ll learn what happened to Dean in Hell as the season progresses. Because of The CW’s seeming inability to draw a larger audience, Supernatural should be able to serve up a full season of weirdness. That would be a Good Thing.

Still with The CW, there’s the new 90210. Sigh.

Obviously, there are a lot more shows required to fill the various networks’ schedules, but they will be addressed at a later date – if appropriate.

Sheldon’s Picks: Fringe, Pushing Daisies, Supernatural, Bones, Chuck, The Mentalist.

Sheldon’s Pans: Knight Rider, Do Not Disturb, Worst Week.

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