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Fall TV Dramas: Escapism Is So 2006

If new television dramas can be read as a meta-analysis of our cultural angst, there has been a sea-change in our nightmares over the past year. Gone are the naive innocents caught in twisting superspiracies, replaced with dark characters that are, if not the primary authors, then certainly complicit in the writing of their own tragedies.

There's something refreshing about this honesty. In an age when our real-life heroes are the ones that cop to their dirty deeds, it would feel false if the network dramas trotted out a squeaky-clean roster. The trouble is there's a fine line between gritty realism and a shiny pack of bastards. Not surprisingly, the networks seem to have strayed well south of that meridian.

Fall TV:
  • Genre-bending
  • Nerds & Cavemen
  • You know how there's that one drunk guy down the end of the bar who smells a little funny and won't stop ranting about all the people who've screwed him over down the years, but he's sort of endearing in that sucker-punched-by-humanity kind of way? None of these people are that guy. In fact, they are probably the ones he's ranting about. To wit, this year's bumper crop of dramas features a recovering drug addict, two crooked cops, a loser, a biodiesel whore and one-third of the most insipid, dull, irritating love triangle to appear on the small screen for several decades.

    Enjoy. Or, very possibly, don't.


    1. Bionic Woman (NBC, Wednesdays 8 p.m.)

    Premise: You know how it goes. Girl leads dissolute, empty life filled with untapped potential. Girl meets nice scientist. Scientist replaces half girl's body parts. Girl deals. It's a lot like Chuck, only not funny and uncomfortably misogynist. So, actually, yeah, it's pretty much Chuck.

    bionic_woman.jpgMain Characters: Jaime Sommers is a bar-tending college drop-out pregnant with her hot-shot boyfriend's baby. I don't know why it was necessary to make this girl pregnant, as she's on the receiving end of a pile-driver from an 18-wheeler fairly early in the pilot. One assumes that, along with both legs, an arm, an ear and an eyeball, she also lost the child as a result of this accident. So maybe the idea is to give her even more trauma. Or maybe the aforementioned hot-shot boyfriend kitted her out with a bionic fetus while upgrading her other bits. That'd certainly be a twist.

    Anyway, said boyfriend is an ethics professor simultaneously involved in highly unethical experimental surgeries. In case you didn't get it, he's Conflicted. He also has Daddy Issues. And he works for Miguel Ferrer, who has catering issues. Oh, and there's a big, bad, blonde bionic bitch on the loose as well.

    Fatal Character Flaws: Too much information. The NBC site for Bionic Woman features a detailed back-story essay on each key figure, including what high school they went to, their last five known addresses, their full medical histories . . . for gravy's sake, people, have you never heard of leaving things to the imagination? Even if I were one of these characters, I wouldn't want to know this much about myself. This is why you don't invite the drunk at the end of the bar home for dinner. It's just too much exposure.

    Predictions: It doesn't seem fair to say that this show will shoot its wad in the premiere. Frankly, its wad was shot a good 30 years ago. Even with the enhanced special effects, this feels like a tired retread with lashings of equally tired Matrix retread thrown in for good measure. If all you've done to an already depressing premise is make the characters' lives even shittier, it's tough to see the appeal. Unless we get some bionic morning sickness. That could be pretty damn funny.


    2. Cane (CBS, Tuesdays 9 p.m.)

    Premise: The aging owner of a Cuban sugar and rum empire announces to his assembled family that he is turning operations over to his adopted son. His non-adopted son isn't too hip to this idea. Both sons and a handful of other siblings have hot, sweaty sex a lot. Not with each other; at least not on this network.

    The adopted son has to contend with the dark dealings of the sugar trade and the intricacies of Cuban expatriate culture in South Beach. Plus, Whitey doesn't like his idea of cane sugar biodiesel because Whitey wants to continue sucking at the oily teat of petroleum dependency as per usual. If you've ever yearned for a bodice-ripping prime time soap with geopolitical intrigue, this one's for you.

    Main Characters: Jimmy Smits is hot. Nestor Carbonell is somewhat less so. Rita Moreno is ridiculously hot. Hector Elizondo is holding up admirably. I can't remember anyone else. I don't think their faces were shown in the preview; just their sweaty, heaving body parts.

    Fatal Character Flaws: Despite copious amounts of steaminess and physical beauty, these people are just plain boring. They all have sex with their spouses. They all dote on their kids. There's the usual power-corrupts character arc in which Smits orders random beatings of random threatening thugs, but the most shocking thing about that is that he has to leave his daughter's recital to check how the thumbscrews are turning. Besides, subplots involving energy security and organized labor? Are you serious? This is what happens when CBS tries to be sexy and fresh.

    Predictions: This show will probably play really well with CBS's current demographic of old people who love Andy Rooney. It's not going to do a whole lot to draw in anyone else. Still, shows like this have a habit of sticking around for ages once they find their niche. I doubt it'll be the next Desperate Housewives, but it might be the next Law and Order: SVU.


    3. Gossip Girl (CW, Wednesdays 8 p.m.)

    Premise: Based on a "best-selling" "book," the series follows a group of spoiled rich kids in Manhattan as they plot the slow destruction of one of their own who has recently returned from a mysterious absence. Events center on an endless series of formal parties where ridiculously over-dressed hangers-on track the nefarious and melodramatic activities of the main characters via the machinations of the titular SMS-obsessed cyber-mole. Think Heathers meets Dynasty meets I Know What You Did Last Summer, possibly with less killing.

    gossip_girl.jpgMain Characters: Serena van der Woodsen (seriously, that's the character's name) has just returned to Manhattan after some kind of self-imposed exile brought on by the elicit shtupping of her best friend's boyfriend. The in-crowd she once ruled now shuns her, but politely, because in this universe rich people have class, so she takes up with a less fabulous guy whose name no one has bothered to learn. Meanwhile, Serena's mother appears to have no idea where she went or why she came back.

    Fatal Character Flaws: It's obvious from the available previews that we're supposed to root for Serena and see her as a "real" person in a sea of two-faced children of privilege. In fact, we're supposed to like her so much that we look past the fact that she's kinda trampy. And also, kinda rude and haughty and whiny. And damn, girl, would it kill you to stop pouting every once in a while?

    Predictions: Given that this is The CW, I'm guessing I've lived far too long to fall in this show's target demographic. That's good, because I'm already sick to death of Serena's exasperated bitchface. I'm sure that in the great tradition of Dawson's Creek, all the main characters will cycle through predictable patterns of coupling with predictable teen-angst shockwaves ensuing. I really don't care. There's probably enough here to chug along for a season or two, but if the central mystery of Gossip Girl's true identity is meant to provide any fuel for the plot, that conceit is strained already.


    4. Journeyman (NBC, Monday 9 p.m.)

    Premise: Someway, somehow, Dan Vassar has started traveling back in time. He's still in the comfortable environs of his hometown of San Francisco, and he's still the same age; it's just suddenly a different date. Not the freshest concept, but one key twist is that time doesn't conveniently telescope for this guy. If he spends two days romping about in, say, 1987, it means he's inexplicably been missing from his 2007 life for that same span of time. This is a problem because, we learn from the previews, he used to be a useless junkie.

    In case you were wondering which well-established time travel ethics card would be played, it's the ever-popular "what if you could save someone you loved in the past?" chestnut as Dan comes into fairly regular contact with the fiancée he lost in a plane crash 10 years ago. I'll tell you one thing that'll happen if you save her, Dan. You'll get a frying pan upside the head from the woman you met and married in your 2007 life.

    Main Characters: Well, there's Dan, who looks convincingly sweaty and haggard. It's not surprising since every time he pops back in time he comes off as a raving lunatic and possibly gets his ass kicked by the owner of whatever property he's just appeared in. He also has a brother who is a detective. His wife seems to have perfected frosty detachment quite a while before her husband starts disappearing for days on end. Something tells me Dan's a bit of a bounder. His potentially resurrectable fiancee, who is apparently too dumb to notice that her man has suddenly aged a decade, is played by an actress named Moon Bloodgood. Ms. Bloodgood is notable for being crushingly bad as Taye Diggs' fiancee in last season's time travel debacle, Day Break. Something tells me a casting director has it in for this show.

    Fatal Character Flaws: As noted above, Dan comes into this tea party with the kind of dark and murky past that would see him vigorously cross-examined by Sam Waterston if he popped up on Law and Order. He appears to be working the character-flaw double whammy of shady drug use and self-centered work obsession. Frankly, he seems like kind of a dick to his wife and family. Worse, it's strongly hinted in the previews that he eventually sleeps with the rock-stupid fiancée (and honestly, honey, if you don't pick up on the extra decade there, well, I can't help you), raising the following really uncomfortable question: Is he cheating on his wife if he hasn't technically met her yet, or is he cheating on the fiancee if she's not actually dead? Like I said, he's sort of a dick.

    Predictions: The thing about time travel series is that the characters never just whip around for the hell of it. There's always some deeper drive; a person who needs saving or a wrong that needs righting. And, of course, it emerges over time that the person who's really being saved is the protagonist. It's a long, drawn-out, protracted retelling of the It's a Wonderful Life redemptive arc. The thing is, in It's a Wonderful Life, we already know George Bailey is a great guy. He just needs to be reminded. I think Dan's a fucking punk. Therefore, his potential growth as a human being is of little consequence to me.


    5. K-Ville (Fox, Mondays 9 p.m.)

    Premise: Mismatched buddy cop drama dumped in post-Katrina New Orleans.

    anthony_Kville.jpgMain Characters: Anthony Anderson got capped in the head in The Departed; therefore he's now the perfect dramatic heavyweight to play one half of our dynamic duo, the Down-Home Boy Who Knows the Streets of His Town like His Baby Girl's Face and Isn't Afraid to Get His Hands Dirty. Cole Hauser is constipated and white; therefore he's the perfect choice to play Anderson's foil, the Tough-As-Nails Former Army Ranger Outsider With a Mysterious Past.

    Anderson is mad at the world after staying put in his ravaged city and losing his original partner, although it's not clear if that person perished in the storm or simply left. Hauser has no good reason to go there and put up with Anderson's crap. That means he probably figures he can do more "good" in New Orleans than he did in the Army, because this is Fall 2007 and cynicism is selling like hotcakes.

    Fatal Character Flaws: Once again it seems we're dumped into the redemptive arc at the worst possible point. Anderson's character is of course meant to be a noble man caught in an impossible situation, but the preview juxtaposes way too many shots of him helping people off their roofs on the one hand and drowning suspects on the other. It's schizophrenic, which may be the point, but it doesn't make for appealing viewing. Besides, whatever dramatic chops Anderson may have, his nose-bleed bad New Orleans accent is just too big an obstacle to overcome. I don't know a damn thing about Hauser's character, but I'm assuming that, this being Fall 2007, he probably killed and ate a small Afghan village during his tenure with the Rangers. Or hell, since this show so obviously yearns to be Topical and Important, maybe he shot Pat Tillman.

    Predictions: Fox doesn't do gritty reality well. Over-the-top action heroes? Sure. Brilliant prison breakers? You got it. Subtle, conflicted characters dealing with real-life horrors? Not so much. Sorry, K-Ville. You'll probably be seeing Anthony Anderson in a traveling production of Hamlet in the near future.


    6. Life (NBC, Wednesdays 9 p.m.)

    Premise: Charlie Crews (get it?), an L.A. street cop, is jailed for life (get it?) for a murder he didn't commit. Somehow he's sprung a dozen years later, wins a huge settlement and goes back to work. Although outwardly chipper and nursing no hard feelings at all, he's secretly obsessed with finding the person or people who set him up and seeking vengeance. Because he's emerged from the big house with more loose screws than a dancing wood chipper, he's given a hot, sassy female partner who just wrested herself from the grips of a heroin addiction. Because, you know, it's Fall 2007 and we've all got Issues.

    Main Character: Charlie is now all wacky and unorthodox and he GETS RESULTS with his creepy human touch. And he loves fruit. And he has shitcakes of money to throw around. And, oh yeah, per the preview, he's apparently the fucking Dog Whisperer. I hate this guy already. His partner is restricted to wrinkling her brow sexily in response to his latest pearl of wisdom. His former partner hates him for getting promoted to detective. A lot of people seem to hate him.

    Fatal Character Flaws: Aside from almost-palpable unlikeability, it seems young Charlie did something sinister in the joint, something that is bound to emerge like his partner's drug problems and bite him in the ass some day. I'm assuming it's a conscious choice on the actor's part to play Charlie like Jeffrey Dahmer's smug younger brother. It's not an appealing one.

    Predictions: This one has some tantalizing threads of superspiracy laced into it. You just know that everyone from Charlie's former partner to the D.A. to the nameless blonde he bones in the preview is in on the master plot to send him up the river. The trouble is, once Charlie uncovers the truth, I have no doubt he will go seventeen kinds of ape-shit and kill everyone. And it's not fun standing under the dam and watching leak after leak spring up. And also? I hate him.


    7. Private Practice (ABC, Wednesday 8 p.m.)

    private_practice.jpgPremise: Dr. Addison Forbes Montgomery has decided to leave the cushy environs of Grey's Ana- oh, sorry, "Seattle," and mosey down the coast to "Santa Monica" because that's what frosty adulterers who are spurned in their attempts to win their spouses back do in TV Land. They also get awesome jobs at private health clinics stocked with attractive and interesting people just waiting to entangle them in their artfully messy lives.

    Main Characters: Addison has come to work for a college friend and her husband who are having marital problems because her husband is Taye Diggs and he's much too hot to stay hitched. Addison's ready-made romantic foil is an unconventional doctor played by Tim Daly, who is also very hot but probably a good two inches shorter than Kate Walsh. Awkward! Added to the ABC Cancelled Show Players repertory group is Amy Brenneman, who is presumably whimsical and funny.

    Fatal Character Flaw: Spin-offs automatically assume that you want to know more about a character who didn't get to develop on their first show. I don't watch Grey's Anatomy, but from what I understand we got plenty of information about this chick during her stay there. I sort of feel like every time I see a commercial for Grey's Anatomy, I've just overheard one of those painfully personal cell phone conversations you sometimes encounter on the train that just make you think, "Please, for the love of all that's shiny and bright, stop talking so frickin' loud!"

    Predictions: Grey's is, inexplicably, one of the most popular shows on network TV right now, so it's certainly possible this will carry a big audience eager for more medical melodrama. However, it's occupying the seemingly doomed this-isn't-Lost slot, which is not a good sign.


    8. Women's Murder Club (ABC, Fridays 8 p.m.)

    Premise: Apparently, we are at the dawn of a new age when women - those fair creatures that have beguiled us for lo these many years - will now be allowed to investigate, analyze, research and prosecute crimes just like men have being doing for centuries. But it'll be different because, well, they're women, and they bring with them special womanly qualities like unconditional trust of every other woman alive... and sass.

    Main Characters: Angie Harmon needs a softball vehicle to prove she's still a draw after taking time out to breed with Jason Sehorn. It seems this is the best her agent could come up with. There are other men and women floating around, but they really don't matter.

    Fatal Character Flaws: According to the trite, insulting title, ovaries.

    Predictions: There's very little video on this one, which supports my theory that the production was thrown together in about 15 minutes and that the show is basically renting its Friday night time slot week-to-week until Angie gets a better offer. If I had to guess on a plot, I'd say the rock-solid friendships of the central coffee klatch will be tested when someone sleeps with someone else's ex-boyfriend, because that's what women do.


    Posted on September 17, 2007

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