Welcome to upfronts season, that magical time of the year when TV network executives trot out — amid silly stunts and breathless press releases — the television shows for the upcoming 2011-2012 season.
Last year's crop was mostly boring. We got shows like “Perfect Couples,” “Traffic Lights” and “Detroit 1-8-7,” which were so unmemorable they’re actually dissolving from my consciousness as I type.
Not this year. This year, there are a whole lot of weird programs that have a chance of either being ridiculously awesome, or ridiculously awful. Either way, nice for TV critics.
Here are a
few highlights from network TV to look forward to or roll your eyes at.
(For broader coverage check out www.hitfix.com)
Premise: Future humans flee a dying world back to prehistoric times, where they spend time fleeing dinosaurs instead.
Why it might be ridiculously awesome: Dude. There are dinosaurs rampaging through the past. The only thing that could be more sweet is if there were dinosaurs rampaging through the future.
Why it might be ridiculously awful: TV excels when it focuses on character and scripts, not special effects. Expect budget constraints to keep dinosaur sightings to an unfortunate minimum. Plus, it’s unlikely that the dinosaurs on this show will have the same zany banter as the last dinosaurs show on TV.
You know back in the 1960s when they moved all those prisoners away from Alcatraz? Turns out they didn’t move them. They just all disappeared suddenly. And now they’ve reappeared, five decades later, and they haven’t aged a day. If anyone watched the The 4400, we’d reference it here.
Why it might be ridiculously awesome: From J.J. Abrams, the man who brought us Lost.
Why it might be ridiculously awful: Also, from J.J. Abrams, the man who brought us Undercovers. Furthermore, Sam Neill stars as a mysterious agency boss who knows more than he’s telling. “Mysterious people who know more than they’re telling” is the bane of mystery shows like these. Expect a mind-blowing premiere, a great season finale, and a whole lot of obnoxious wheel-spinning in between.
Why it might be ridiculously awesome: By now, loving Napoleon Dynamite may have transitioned from an ironic love to a retro-ironic love.
Why it might be ridiculously awful: Dynamite’s lovable awkwardness stemmed almost entirely from the twitchy live-action cast and low-budget setting. Animation not only defeats that but turns the entire thing into a painful callback to a long-dead phenomenon. Hopefully, “All Your Base Are Belong to Us: The Animated Series” will follow close behind.
Jonah Hill (not to be confused with Seth Rogen) voices Allen Gregory, a sophisticated hyper-intelligent, literary 7-year-old sophisticate.
Why it might be ridiculously awesome: You may think this animated genius child acting polished and urbane would be redundant with Fox’s other animated genius acting polished and urbane. Ah, but this child’s head is round. Crucial difference.
Why it might be ridiculously awful: The humor seems to be based on subtle contrasts and sophisticated wit, rather than '80s references and gross-out humor. Bad fit for fox. We could have a Goode Family-level disaster on our hands.
The Playboy Club
It’s Mad Men but sexier. Network-TV-during-prime time-sexy.
Why it might be ridiculously awesome: If NBC can capture the swank of Mad Men and the sophisticated debauchery of the setting, it could manage to be a fascinating and fun drama that snags Mad Men’s piddling audience. (NBC could use any audience it can get.)
Why it might be ridiculously awful: Likely to spur scores of lazy “I only watch it for the articles” jokes.
A father gets in a car crash with his family. His wife dies. His son survives. But as soon as he goes to sleep, he finds himself in a world where his wife is alive. One is the dream world, one is the real world. Or maybe vice-versa. Or is it?!
Ridiculously awesome: Take the final did-I-just-blow-your-mind scene of Inception and expand it to series length. Or does it?! Also, the female therapist from In Treatment plays the female therapist here.
Ridiculously awful: Last season of Doctor Who already did this. But Doctor Who had zombies and sonic screwdrivers and gorgeous redheads. If Awake tries to match that sort of lunacy, well, that way, my friend, lies The Event.
CSI: Mother Goose Land
Ridiculously awesome: Fairytales have always had a disturbing undercurrent. Putting a modern day twist on them and setting them in a cop drama may give them the kick-ass ass-kicking they need.
Ridiculously awful: Once you hit the usual dark fairytales (little red riding hood, Hansel and Gretel) there’s almost so much pathos you can wring out of talking gingerbread men.
A drama about the making of a Broadway musical based on Marilyn Monroe.
Ridiculously awesome: What if Glee had an actual plot, point, and story structure?
Ridiculously awful: What if this is a trend of more and more shows shoe-horning in album-selling musical numbers like Glee?
Like Charlie’s Angels, but, well, Charlie’s Angels now.
Ridiculously awesome: With Human Target dead, TV needs a dopey action procedural to fill its place.
Ridiculously awful: Without some substance — and Charlie’s Angels was never known for its substance — you’ve got another dull Undercovers situation. TV seems to be constantly remaking Alias while taking out precisely the twists and underlying themes that made Alias interesting.
Once Upon a Time
For some reason fairy tales are the new theme this year. This premise is
complicated: A woman finds herself trapped in a town where fairy tales are real.
Is anything as it seems? Probably not.
Ridiculously awesome: Jane Espenson, one of sci-fi television’s favorite writers (Dollhouse, Battlestar Galactica, Caprica) is on staff.
Ridiculously awful: After Twin Peaks, TV hasn’t done very well with portrayals of creepy towns where nothing is as it seems. The addition of cartoony bluebirds and Prince Charming may not help with that.
Originally given the more sexist/interesting name, Don’t Trust the Bitch in Apt. 23, this is about a nice girl who moves in with an unstable girl. The unstable girl is friends with James Van Der Beek (James Van Der Beek).
Ridiculously awesome: James Van Der Beek — as the Funny or Die video shows — makes an awesome James Van Der Beek.
Ridiculously awful: Maybe the attractive-young-people-living-in-apartments genre is a bit played out by now? Maybe?
Mad Men-powered nostalgia continues in this airline soap opera set in the 1960s — the good old days, when stewardesses were stewardess and sexism was sexy.
Ridiculously awesome: It’s set in the 1960s! The best decade!
Ridiculously awful: As any Desperate Housewives viewer knows, soap operas have diminishing returns. Enough twists, and nobody cares about the characters anymore.
A Bears Gryls-style TV adventurer goes missing in the jungles, and a crew tries to find him. Horror ensues.
Ridiculously awesome: The deep, dark scary jungle stands to be the haunted house of the new millennium.
Ridiculously awful: From the people who brought you Paranormal Activity. So those prone to motion sickness may want to avoid the inevitable shaky-cam footage.
Person of Interest
Michael Emerson (creepy-eyed villain Benjamin Linus from Lost) is a billionaire. Jim Caviezel (Jesus) is a former CIA agent. With their powers combined, they are Batman. Kinda.
Ridiculously awesome: I would watch Michael Emerson read the phone book, provided that the phone book ended with Emerson looking at the camera and revealing a mind-blowing phone book twist.
Ridiculously awful: CBS has a way of hammering home “procedural” so hard that ironclad formula is all but guaranteed.
A Gifted Man
A doctor receives medical advice from the ghost of his dead wife, despite the ghost of his dead wife not being subject to double-blind studies.
Why it might be ridiculously awesome: It’s been too long since America was touched by various angels. Play it like Harvey, where the rest of the staff constantly questions the doctor’s sanity, and it could be pretty funny.
Ridiculously awful: Ghosts should help with pottery. Not with surgery.
Sarah Michelle Gellar (you know, the Vampire Slayer), running from the law, impersonates her socialite twin sister (also Sarah Michelle Gellar, Parent Trap ) to try to survive. But her life, too, is fraught with peril.
Ridiculously awesome: The sort of pulpy premise that could make for fun escapist TV, as long as the show actually embraces its own pulpiness.
Ridiculously awful: The undead vampires, despite their single-minded lust for blood, were much more compelling actors than Sarah Michelle Gellar.