The five new TV shows worth watching (and a couple to ignore)

Let critic Jaime J. Weinman be your fall TV guide

The five new TV shows worth watching (and a couple to ignore)

The new TV season is upon us, and you know what that means: yet another list of shows to watch and ones to avoid. Of course, shows have a way of improving or declining after their first couple of episodes, which means that as the season goes on, any of these early hits could become misses, and vice versa. But for now, here are some TV premieres to look out for.

Shows To Watch

Glee (September 9, Global)—This ironic comedy-drama-musical is a strange hybrid of American Idol, High School Musical, and creator Ryan Murphy’s cult flop Popular. The combination of campiness and sincerity might be hard to sustain in the long run, but for now, it’s the place to go for stylized humour, fun gimmicks (including an all-vocal musical score) and lots of singing.

Modern Family (Sept. 23, City TV)—This half-hour comedy, a mock-documentary about the interlocking lives of wacky dysfunctional families, was widely thought to be the best comedy pilot of the season; it’s like The Office at home. It’s also an attempt by traditional sitcom people to break into the single-camera business: the creators, Steven Levitan and Christopher Lloyd, are veterans of Frasier and last year’s flop Back To You, while stars include Ed O’Neill (Married… With Children), whose ex-wife will be played by Shelley Long (Cheers). All these folks are getting together to prove they can do awkward pauses and self-conscious quirkiness as well as their younger counterparts, and it looks like they can.

Eastwick (Sept. 23, CTV)—It’s an adaptation of John Updike’s novel about three bored small-town women who discover that they have magical powers and that the devil has moved into town. It’s basically a Satanic version of Desperate Housewives, and might satisfy the need for sexy, trashy fun now that Housewives has gotten kind of dull. The cast includes Rebecca Romjin as a hot single mom and, for CanCon, Paul Gross as the devilish Darryl Van Horne (played in the movie version by Jack Nicholson), who encourages the heroines to use their powers to make trouble. The most promising name associated with the show may be producer-director David Nutter, who has a staggeringly successful track record: previous pilots include The Mentalist, Without a Trace, and Smallville. On the other hand, he also directed Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, proving that he doesn’t always have the magic touch.

Bored To Death (Sept. 30, HBO) – What this “noir-otic comedy” has going for it most of all is the cast, which includes Jason Schwartzman, Ted Danson (this is a good season for Cheers veterans) and Zach Galifianakis. Ten years after Rushmore, Schwartzman still hasn’t been able to cross over from “funny-looking adorable guy” to major star the way Seth Rogen and Jason Segel have, but Bored To Death might change things. Schwartzman plays a down-on-his luck writer named Jonathan Ames (named after the guy who created the show) who decides to become a private detective, even though he has no license and no experience. He places an ad for his sleuthing services on Craigslist and counts on his knowledge of private-eye novels to guide him as he tries to track down missing people. In each episode, Jonathan’s life as a bumbling detective will intersect with his rotten regular life and relationships (including his relationship with his editor, played by Danson). Done right, it could be a combination of realism and fantasy reminiscent of Woody Allen’s better films.

V (Nov. 3)—It combines three things everybody loves: space aliens, ’80s nostalgia and political allegory. In a “reimagining” of the hugely popular ’80s miniseries, a bunch of outer-space folks called the Visitors come to Earth claiming that they come in peace to improve our lives with their awesome interplanetary technology, but they’re actually here for a more sinister purpose. (Both versions resemble an old Twilight Zone episode called “To Serve Man.”) The highly-praised pilot, like the original series, is already becoming a political football. In the ’80s, the aliens were seen as Communists or Reaganites depending on your politics (even though the producers intended it to be about the rise of ’30s-style fascism). Today, producer Scott Peters says it’s “freakishly prescient” that some of the aliens talk about bringing “hope” and “change” to the world, and conservative commentators are already embracing it as proof that Obama is really an alien. Expect lots of water-cooler discussions about the real political meaning of V, especially since 24 doesn’t come back until January.

Shows To Ignore

Melrose Place (Sept. 9, Global)—Like the original version, this show features soapy intrigue, murder, and a bitchy blonde (she’s not played by Heather Locklear, but she’s as close as the CW can get on its budget). How can it go wrong? Well, by giving a lot of screen time to characters who don’t do anything interesting and spend most of their time whining about their lives and relationships. In fact, the “good” characters are the least likable, and the “bad” characters aren’t bad enough to make up for that. And while Aaron Spelling may have approved of a storyline about a character deciding to prostitute herself in exchange for medical tuition (kind of the harsh reality behind Grey’s Anatomy), he would surely not have done what this show does: make the life of an international art thief seem boring.

Hank (Sept. 30, CTV)—Kelsey Grammer follows up Back To You, where he played a pompous newsman who returns to his hometown in Pennsylvania after his career falls apart, with this half-hour comedy, where he plays a pompous businessman who returns to his hometown in Virginia after his career falls apart. (Not to be confused with this season’s The Cleveland Show, about a man who returns to his hometown in Virginia after his marriage falls apart.) He and his family spend most of the pilot insulting each other or delivering clunky exposition. The pilot also contains a long discussion of Obama’s “Yes, We Can” slogan, proving that it’s possible for a show to appear dated only a few months after it was produced.