Tuesday, September 20, 2011
Tuesday: Some new comedies, including one of the buzziest this season, and two intriguing dramas make for an interesting night of TV.
ABC breaks out two new half-hour comedies in the 8pm hour, both with excellent behind-the-scenes names and dedicated to the proposition that it's not easy being a guy these days. Sitcom legend Tim Allen (Home Improvement, Galaxy Quest) returns to the weekly grind in Last Man Standing, about a guy whose changing home situation puts him at comedic odds with his strong-willed all-female family. Nancy Travis (Becker, Duckman, The Bill Engvall Show) plays Allen's wife; Molly Ephraim, Kaitlyn Deaver (Justified) and Alexandra Krosney play their three daughters. Veteran actor Hector Elizondo (Grey's Anatomy, Monk, Chicago Hope) plays Tim's boss, the head honcho of a huge sporting goods store. Jack Burditt (30 Rock, The New Adventures of Old Christine, Just Shoot Me!, Frasier) is among the several executive producers of the show, and his deft touch could make this premise workable. There have been some feminist rumblings that this show is dreadful stereotypical nonsense full of misogynistic ranting, and well...that's comedy for you. The theme of the emasculated man is common this season in sitcom land, but I wouldn't put much sociological coin on it. Either you laugh at this kind of humor or you don't; ABC is hoping that Tim Allen's fan base hasn't forgotten how much they like him.
Man Up! is ABC's 8:30pm entry, this one also with a good producer pedigrees, including Victor Fresco's (Mad About You, My Name is Earl, Better Off Ted). Modern men + romance troubles + male identity crises = Man Up!, where embattled leads Christopher Moynihan (According to Jim, and that bad adaptation of Coupling several seasons back), Mather Zickel (Reno 911!, The Cape), and Dan Fogler (Balls of Fury, Fanboys) jovially fight to maintain hold on their dwindling masculinity, while ultra-guy Henry Simmons (Shark, N.Y.P.D. Blue) effortlessly carries on. The ladies in their lives -- Teri Polo (Meet the Parents, The West Wing) and Amanda Detmer (Private Practice, Necessary Roughness) -- offer the distaff complications. Nothing stand-out about Man Up!, with its agreeable guys and gals, but if lead-in Last Man Standing finds success with an audience of disgrunted males and sympathetic female viewers, it may be enough to pull Man Up! along in its wake. (Does the title have an "!" or not? I've seen it both ways; I'm going with the emphatic!)
As the lead-out for a maybe-past-its-glory Glee, at 9pm Fox slots the half-hour comedy New Girl, one of the most buzzed-about new series this Fall. If you haven't been made aware yet of star Zooey Deschanel and her awe-inspiring adorability, you've obviously been hiding out somewhere deep and dark. Deschanel (500 Days of Summer, Elf, Tin Man, Weeds, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) is the slacker's sweetheart, the hipster's heartthrob, and ladies seem to like her, too. Wide-eyed, wistful and weird, Deschanel's character Jess in New Girl lives one of those unlikely only-in-Hollywood plotlines -- the one where a totally cute and hilarious woman can't seem to find a date. It's also the world where she ends up being platonic friend and roommate with a trio of guys -- Jake Johnson (No Strings Attached, lots of net comedy shorts), Max Greenfield (Ugly Betty, Veronica Mars, Greek), and Lamorne Morris (replacing Damon Wayans Jr. who ended up in ABC's Wednesday show Happy Endings; Morris has been in lots of comedy shorts) -- of varying degrees of likeability. Jess's also got a dry-witted model as a best friend, played by Hannah Simone (host of SyFy's WGC Ultimate Gamer series).
Fox has made the pilot available all over the web, which might help garner some sympathy and interest for this show whose hopes lies solely on the charm of Zooey to bewitch the audience. I wouldn't call New Girl (at least the pilot) funny exactly; maybe its secret weapon is just to put you in kind of a good mood trance from watching Deschanel's guileless good-hearted insousiance. It worked for the movies Amelie and Mike Leigh's Happy-Go-Lucky, both of which also featured dark-haired charmers who tended to positively influence the world around them, but the films had an edge, too. (Especially Happy-Go-Lucky -- watch the movie!) Is that the aim of New Girl -- to give us something more -- or is Jess merely going to be like a cute but incorrigible puppy whose adorableness makes you forgive the poop on the carpet? Are we supposed to think she has all the answers, or just that she's an idiosyncratic oddity? Zooey is a smart performer and has tremendous personal charisma, and maybe she can take this into a place where it might surprise us. We'd like that, because at the risk of sounding churlish, there's just not quite enough going on with New Girl to justify all the clamor.
At 9pm the CW offers up the return to network TV of fan favorite Sarah Michelle Gellar (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) in Ringer, a CBS reject which nevertheless retains a CBS veneer of class, now combined with CW's pizazz. Gellar has grown up gorgeous and her acting prowess as right as on ever, as she plays a pair of identical twins -- one living the deluxe life, and one who's in trouble with the law -- who are embroiled in sophisticated criminality and unending mystery. The very good actor Ioan Gruffud (Fantastic Four, W, Horrible Bosses) plays the rich twin's husband, Kristoffer Polaha (Life Unexpected, Man Men) is a handsome friend, Nestor Carbonell (The Dark Knight, Lost) is an FBI man keeping tabs on one of the twins, and Mike Colter (The Good Wife, Million Dollar Baby) is the troubled twin's NA sponsor and true friend. The plot is all twisty-and-turny but there's a lot of wit in evidence, too. Ringer is designed to keep the loyal CW younger viewers interested, but also attract a slightly older demo -- starting with grown-up Buffy fans (the show ended eight years ago) -- who are looking for some high-class excitement in a classy show starring a talented TV veteran actress.
10pm brings the new CBS entry Unforgettable, about a police detective with the ultra-rare condition known as HSAM (Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory) who can remember everything except anything about how her sister was murdered. The neatest thing about this show may be that plucky actress Marilu Henner is a consultant on the series because she really has HSAM, and she's set for a guest shot on the show, too. Poppy Montgomery (Without a Trace, Blonde) stars along with Dylan Walsh (Nip/Tuck, Everwood), Michael Gaston (Jericho), Kevin Rankin (Friday Night Lights), and actress/dancer Daya Vaidya. CBS knows and loves police procedurals -- they never seem to let the network down -- and CBS also knows how to make a female-led show (like their past success Cold Case) rise to the top of the heap. Coming out of a double NCIS lead, Unforgettable is sitting pretty, with ABC's Body of Proof its main competiton. Interested viewers aren't going to need a reminder to check out Unforgettable!
Next up, anything but middle-of-the-road middle-of-the-week Wednesday!