TV Feature: The 10 Most Promising New Shows of Fall 2011

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Up All Night
Up All Night
Photo credit: NBC

5. “Up All Night”
Network:
NBC
Premieres: September 14th at 9pm CST (airs regularly at 7pm CST)
Starring: Christina Applegate, Will Arnett, and Maya Rudolph
Why You Should Set Your DVR: Because this is the most talented comedy ensemble of the new season. They may not have found the right vehicles lately with failures like “Running Wilde” and “Samantha Who?” but that doesn’t change the fact that Will Arnett and Christina Applegate have incredible comic timing. They can carry a show like this, especially with Arnett FINALLY toning down his ironic schtick and playing it straight. He’s been doing the larger-than-life routine for so long now that he’s nearly unrecognizable here as an average guy. Arnett’s family chemistry with fellow-new-parent Applegate works perfectly and that’s why the show could be a hit. I say “could” because they’re already tinkering with it in less-than-satisfying ways. Originally, Applegate’s new mom worked for Maya Rudolph’s attorney but after the success of “Bridesmaids,” her character was turned up to eleven both in screen time and attitude. Reshooting and turning Rudolph into an Oprah-esque talk show host might have seemed like a good idea on paper but the retooled pilot makes her come off as more annoying than the writers might understand. Tone it down. Find the realism in the situation, not the ridiculousness. This was higher up this list before version #2 of the pilot. If they keep screwing with what works, it could fall quickly off any list of promising programming (and a deadly timeslot doesn’t help…if NBC doesn’t move it, this and the awful “Free Agents” could be the first new shows cut.)

Pan Am
Pan Am
Photo credit: ABC

4. “Pan Am”
Network:
ABC
Premieres: September 25th at 9pm CST
Starring: Christina Ricci, Margot Robbie, Michael Mosley, Karine Vanasse, Mike Vogel, and Kelli Garner
Why You Should Set Your DVR: Because it has the potential to be the true escapist getaway of the new year. Is it weird that the mediocrity of “The Playboy Club” makes “Pan Am” better? The fact is that audiences are going to compare the shows — two mystery-driven period pieces trying to find that “Mad Men” lightning on network TV — and “Pan Am” undeniably comes out on top. With a likable cast and an intriguing premise (spy stewardesses?), this show strikes the right balance of drama and escapism, not unlike the first season of “Desperate Housewives” in the way that program knew it was soapy escapism. I hope it becomes even sillier than its sometimes self-serious premiere but what strikes me the most about this show is the tonal consistency of its pilot — it lulls you in and, before you know it, it’s over and you’re wondering what happens next. It is unlikely to ever top a list of best shows on TV or win awards, but it has the potential to be the kind of consistently entertaining escapism too often missing from network television.

2 Broke Girls
2 Broke Girls
Photo credit: CBS

3. “2 Broke Girls”
Network:
CBS
Premieres: September 19th at 8:30pm CST
Starring: Kat Dennings, Beth Behrs, Garrett Morris, Matthew Moy, and Jonathan Kite
Why You Should Set Your DVR: Because it’s a proven formula for a reason. There are a surprising number of old-fashioned, single-camera, laugh-track comedies this season, as if programmers feel that viewers wanted to go back to something more nostalgic and more familiar. Tim Allen’s new sitcom might as well be called “Home Improvement 2”. There’s a “Charlie’s Angels.” And then there’s “2 Broke Girls,” which is essentially a retread of sitcom hits like “Laverne & Shirley” or “Alice” — working class programs with strong female leads. But there’s something comforting about seeing a formula reconfigured as successfully as it is in one of the most likely ratings hits of the new season (having “Two and a Half Men” as a lead-in is about as cushy a timeslot as a showrunner can ask for in 2011). We’ve seen it all before — rich girl & poor girl forced into a friendship/working relationship. She’s blonde, she’s brunette. She’s naive, she’s cynical. She’s a princess, she’s a street girl. But the writing and, more importantly, the likable performances from Dennings and Behrs, allow the formula to taste fresh. This is a funny show with two leads who I expect to become huge TV stars because of it. Will it win Emmys and critical praise? It’s doubtful, but I expect it to have loyal fans for years. And there haven’t been many new shows in 2010 or 2011 for which that could be written.

Prime Suspect
Prime Suspect
Photo credit: NBC

2. “Prime Suspect”
Network:
NBC
Premieres: September 22nd at 9pm CST
Starring: Maria Bello, Aidan Quinn, Brian F. O’Byrne, Tim Griffin, Kirk Acevedo, and Peter Gerety
Why You Should Set Your DVR: Because Maria Bello is instantly one of the best actresses on TV. First and foremost, stop comparing it to the Helen Mirren version. I wish this strong mystery series had taken a different name than one of the best series in the history of television because it doesn’t come CLOSE to that standard. But if you ignore that and judge the show on its own terms, it’s definitely got more potential than any drama this season. Bello is a spectacular actress and she’s amply supported by great actors like Quinn, O’Byrne (“FlashForward”), and Acevedo (“Oz”). It’s hard to tell from the premiere if this will be a mystery-of-the-week series not unlike “Law & Order” or if it will be more dramatically consistent from episode to episode. I expect a mix of the two as Bello’s detective faces work problems (mostly the male chauvinism of the station) while trying catch the bad guy. There are wrinkles to be ironed here for sure but the award-worth cast added to the potential of a dark, adult-driven mystery series that doesn’t focus on DNA or storytelling tricks earns it the highest dramatic spot of the new season.

New Girl
New Girl
Photo credit: FOX

1. “New Girl”
Network:
FOX
Premieres: September 20th at 8pm CST
Starring: Zooey Deschanel, Jake Johnson, Max Greenfield, Hannah Simone, and Lamorne Morris
Why You Should Set Your DVR: Because it’s funny. Maybe you’ll notice a pattern here — promise in a pilot often comes from casting. We don’t know for sure where the writing is going to go but we know if a respected actor or actress is talented enough to either carry weak writing or really elevate strong writing. Maria Bello, Kat Dennings, Christina Ricci, Patrick Wilson, Christina Applegate — these are all people who have been good before and there’s reason to believe they’ll be good week-to-week on network TV. At least a few of them. At the top of that list is a program built around the charming personality of the great Zooey Deschanel. Do you find her quirky behavior sometimes too cute? Well, then this may not be the show for you, but this critic finds it the perfect bridge between “Glee” and “Raising Hope,” a show that takes the “Friends” formula and tweaks it enough to make it fresh. Deschanel plays an awkward soul forced to move in with three male roommates and, well, wacky hijinks ensue. Comedy is about the writing and it could fall flat here but there’s something immensely likable about the program. It’s funny, it’s enjoyable, and it has you looking forward to your next visit with its characters. What more do you want from a pilot? Oh, you say you want a strong second episode too? Check back with us on that one.

HollywoodChicago.com content director Brian Tallerico

By BRIAN TALLERICO
Content Director
HollywoodChicago.com
brian@hollywoodchicago.com

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