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Year of the Superspiracy

With the success of programs like Lost and Prison Break, the Big Five networks have approached the 2006-7 television season with a clutch of new shows based around similar, seemingly unsustainable premises. If a show doesn't boast an evil conspiracy pervading every aspect of civilian life, it's bound to have an odd supernatural twist.

Here we examine the eight (count 'em!) new network offerings fitting this pattern that are set to hit your screen this fall.

Fall TV:
  • Year of the Superspiracy
  • New Comedies, Old Jokes
  • Up and Down the Dial
  • 1. Day Break

    ABC, Wednesdays at 8:00

    Premise: A police detective is framed for the murder of a state's attorney and wakes up to discover he has to live the day of his arrest over and over again until he can prove his innocence. Sort of like Groundhog Day meets The Fugitive, with an extra helping of extraneous violence.

    Evil Conspiracy or Supernatural Twist? Both. It's an Evil Twisting Superspiracy.

    Main Characters: Detective Brett Hopper (get it?!) is the unfortunate patsy destined to take the fall for shooting States Attorney Alberto Garza. Hopper has a wife or girlfriend or convenient bit of totty with whom he wakes up repeatedly on this fateful day. Her name, per the four-minute promotional video, is Marie or Maria. Hopper also drinks coffee, breaks a small plate and lives in a poorly-lit apartment building, the set for which is tired of being typecast as a "flophouse" and is trying to prove it can handle more affluent roles. There are a few other shadowy figures that alternately torture or tease Hopper as well as a young woman who seems destined to be hit by a bus repeatedly.

    Predictions: I'm going to go out on a limb and say that almost every character aside from Hopper will be violently murdered, some multiple times. I'm also guessing the emotional impact of said deaths will be considerably lessened when the person is spontaneously regenerated at the start of the next day. It's hard to imagine how Hopper is going to make much headway into his conspiracy investigation when he magically gets transported back to his bed after only 24 hours of work. The show's bare-bones website points out that Hopper retains not only the information he learns each day, but also the physical injuries he sustains. So perhaps midway through the run we'll have a riveting episode where what's-her-face makes Hopper go to the hospital when she awakens to find him vomiting blood after one of his many beat-downs.

    2. Heroes
    NBC, Mondays at 8:00

    Premise: A random collection of people discover they have supernatural powers, which may have something to do with a solar eclipse. Seriously. I know. Whatever.

    Evil Conspiracy or Supernatural Twist? Supernatural twist, although the extremely comprehensive website hints at a possible conspiracy involving a murdered geneticist. I know. Just go with it.

    Main Characters: Oh, we've got them all. The motley crew of superheroes and the mere mortals who love them includes the following incredibly detailed job descriptions:

    * A Texas cheerleader with a New York accent who shoves poles into her throat. Really.

    * A hospice nurse with a crush on one of his patient's daughters who also thinks he can fly.

    * His brother, an oily politician who's already married to a Dixie Chick and can therefore ill afford a wingnut relative.

    * An Indian professor who relocates to New York to work as a cab driver (I know) and search for whoever killed his father, the aforementioned geneticist.

    * A stripper mom with a heart of gold being chased by a bunch of threatening men.

    * A chubby L.A. beat cop who can hear people's thoughts but can't pass his detective exam because he is dyslexic, all of which begs the question of why he doesn't just listen in on the thoughts of other people taking the exam with him.

    * A heroin-addicted artist who paints the future, bangs the aforementioned hospice daughter, and apparently gets his hand chopped off in the pilot.

    * A Japanese office worker who, perpetuating the nouveau Lost-ian Asian male stereotype, doesn't appear to speak English, but who can control time and possibly teleport.

    Predictions: I'm thinking once Smackson Pollock loses his hand, it's just a matter of time before the hospice hottie makes her tearful way into the arms of daddy's nurse, provided he hasn't succumbed to the force of gravity by then. I've also got a feeling that Supercop and the stripper mommy, unhappy marriages aside, will hook up at some point. It's pretty heavily hinted that the Indian professor's dead father was killed because he knew too much about the heroes' abilities. If the show gets picked up for a full season, we'll probably find out he's not really dead and is either continuing his research in hiding or is actually involved in whatever shadowy plot is behind the proceedings. And should the show need a cliffhanger heading into season two, that conspiracy is certain to involve either the hospice daddy or the financial backers of the oily politician brother. I have no idea how the cheerleader and the Japanese guy fit into this, but whatever image just popped into your head is probably more entertaining.

    3. Jericho
    CBS, Wednesdays at 7:00

    Premise: The populace of a small town in Kansas is left baffled and, presumably, cut off from the rest of the world after a mysterious mushroom cloud-inducing explosion on the horizon. There's not a whole lot out there about this show, but I'm guessing it's sort of like Invasion without the hurricane or the aliens. So, uh, yeah. There you have it.

    Evil Conspiracy or Supernatural Twist? Evil conspiracy, all the way. I'm guessing it's the government testing some whack-assed Homeland Security thing on the unwitting residents of Jericho.

    Main Characters: Skeet Ulrich. That is all.

    Predictions: Well, since Skeet is just about the only character given any face time during the promos, I'm guessing he gets laid. I'm also guessing he doesn't die. Everyone else is expendable.

    4. Kidnapped
    NBC, Wednesdays at 9:00

    Premise: You're not going to believe this, but someone gets kidnapped. The victim is the eldest son of a successful New York businessman and his socialite wife. Not wanting to involve the authorities, the frantic parents recruit a troubled former FBI agent to aid their search for the missing boy. So it's sort of like Ransom meets The Maltese Falcon with a little hint of Ordinary People and a lot less screaming Mel Gibson. Which I think we can all agree is a good thing.

    Evil Conspiracy or Supernatural Twist? Evil conspiracy.

    Main Characters: Kidnapped definitely gets the award for most impressive cast, including Dana Delaney, Delroy Lindo, Mykelti Williamson and an incredibly puffy Timothy Hutton. It also leads the league in obvious, winking, too-cute character names. The troubled private eye is named Knapp (get it?); the salty FBI veteran is named King; the nouveau-riche tycoon is named Cain (gee, think he might have some dark secret?) . . . the list goes on. One cast member certain to grate on my nerves is Williamson's philosophy-spouting bodyguard, who comes straight out of Tarantino central casting.

    Predictions: Although not as detailed as the website for Heroes, the Kidnapped site does offer background sketches of its main characters. It makes a point of mentioning the kidnapped boy's fluency in French and German. So I'm guessing, first, that a good chunk of the action is told from his perspective and, second, that these language skills will come into play at some point, perhaps around mid-season when he escapes and finds he's been relocated to Tahiti.

    5. The Nine
    ABC, Wednesdays at 9:00

    Premise: This show follows the lives of nine people bound together by their shared experience during a botched bank robbery and the ensuing 52-hour standoff with police. In an open homage to Lost, each episode features a "flashback" sequence detailing 10 minutes inside the bank during the hostage crisis. The rest of the episode takes place sometime in the future. So by my calculations, there's enough material here to supply flashbacks for 312 episodes, which would give The Nine a considerably longer run than such successful programs as M*A*S*H (250 eps) and ER (279 eps and counting). Can't say they're not ambitious.

    Evil Conspiracy or Supernatural Twist? Conspiracy, with the intriguing twist that the conspirators appear to be the main characters on the show. We're watching their interactions and developing relationships after the defining event, so we have to figure out what their motivations are and what they might be hiding. There are hints of a police cover-up after the fact, but that conspiracy seems secondary.

    Main Characters: The ABC site is downright anemic on names, but I did glean that Scott Wolf's character is a doctor (mostly because he screams, "I'm a doctor!" at one point in the promo video), Tim Daly's character packs heat and might be a plain-clothes cop, Chi McBride's character is a bank big-wig with a feisty teenage daughter, and Kim Raver's character is somewhere in the bank knockin' boots when the shit goes down. Also, I counted two bank tellers, two bank robbers, a nerdy loan applicant, a security guard, and a female love interest for Scott Wolf. So that makes 12, meaning at least three people are killed during the mysterious 52 hours.

    Predictions: Well, clearly I've got three stiffs to account for. I'm guessing the security guard takes one for the team early in the pilot, thus allowing the producers a way to build the body count without having to pay an actor for a speaking role throughout the series flashbacks. It also looks like one of the bank robbers is corpsed before the standoff is over. A scene in the promo video featuring a reunion of the titular nine shows a distinct lack of one bank teller and Chi McBride's feisty teenage daughter, so shakes ain't looking too hot for them either. Remember, though, that both characters can be used extensively in the flashback sequences. Oh, and it's pretty well telegraphed that Scott Wolf gets it on with the surviving teller to the chagrin of his established female love interest. If pressed to come up with some guesses on the dark, awful secrets the nine are hiding post-holdup, I'd say that the nerdy loan applicant is responsible for the violent death of one of the bank robbers, that a second bank robber has blackmailed everyone into allowing him to slip back into society unmolested, and someone loses an unborn baby. I don't know; it just seems like that's the way it's going.

    6. Runaway
    The CW, Mondays at 8:00

    The Premise: Donnie Wahlberg forms another quintet of new kids on the block by being falsely convicted of murder and taking his wife and three children on the lam. As implausible as it seems that a family of five would be able to decamp and recamp unnoticed in this day and age of citizen journalism and heightened vigilance, the fugitive clan is apparently so adept at slipping into new communities that they even enroll the young'uns in school. Because this is the CW and all teenaged characters must have ample opportunity for sexual congress.

    Evil Conspiracy or Supernatural Twist? Yawn. Conspiracy all the way.

    Main Characters: Wahlberg is married to Leslie Hope, who really doesn't have much luck with TV husbands. They have three children: a "hunky" teenaged son; a "frumpy" teenaged daughter; and a "spunky" pre-adolescent whose soul purpose is to find the silver lining to every crap sandwich Daddy Donnie cooks up. The teenage son also seems to have a girlfriend back home to whom he sneaks off to call from local payphone, and he also seems rightfully pissed off that his fugitive father couldn't just go AWOL by himself and leave the rest of the family out of it. Not very sporting of him, to be sure.

    Predictions: At some point, Alpha Son is going to head for home in search of the warm embrace of his cheerleader love, and will probably discover that she's replaced him with a philosophy major from the local community college. Frumpy daughter is going to make out with someone just before the family needs to leave again. I don't think the CW has the rocks to kill anyone off. Besides, I have a feeling this show won't be on long enough to warrant any major sweeps-month plot twists.

    7. Six Degrees
    ABC, Thursdays at 9:00

    The Premise: New York is full of millions of strangers who are separated from each other by only six acquaintances. We're going to follow six of the most photogenic and dull of these strangers and see how many times they can bump into each other on the street before actually meeting.

    Evil Conspiracy or Supernatural Twist? Supernatural, in that it involves that old chestnut, serendipity. Unless you count the evil conspiracy by the producers to bore the ass off me, that is.

    Main Characters: I don't know. One guy is a lawyer. He defends the young girl, who takes her clothes off and is on the run. The black guy is chasing her. Hope Davis looks like hot hell with a side of bacon and needs a nanny for her unruly child. The naked chick is the nanny. The dark-haired chick is an ad executive. Campbell Scott is disgruntled.

    Predictions: The problem with this show is that it requires all six to not meet despite being around each other all the time and yet it assigns a lot of value to their eventually meeting. So basically we're going to be seeing the myriad ways six people can not meaningfully interact before meeting the most significant person in their life. Granted, there are some 720 combinations of non-intimacy, but who the hell wants to watch that? So for this reason, I'm predicting that nothing of any interest will happen and that, if new members of the million-strong community of New York strangers aren't introduced, the premise will wear out quickly.

    8. Vanished
    Fox, Mondays at 8:00

    The Premise: The hot wife of a U.S. senator disappears and the ensuing investigation, headed by an FBI agent and a rookie reporter, uncovers her involvement in a bizarre underworld society.

    Evil Conspiracy or Supernatural Twist? Now this is what I'm talking about. We've got your standard wicked government hush-machine doused with hot lashings of free-masonry and topped off with a dollop of DaVinci Code murder monks. It's an evil twisting superspiracy of the highest order.

    Main Characters: Who cares? Did you not read about the freemasons and the passel of murder monks?

    Predictions: I mean, I think they seriously shot their wad in the previews. We know the missing wife is ten kinds of shady and we can figure her prominent husband isn't keen to have this get out into the press. I'm just looking forward to the twists and turns along the way. One big question is whether or not the wife is still alive. I'm going out on a limb and guessing that she is, and that she'll reappear just in time for a sweeps raid. I'm also guessing the senator husband isn't in on this conspiracy, but that it will somehow come out that the wicked freemasons have been bankrolling him all along. Oh, and he's probably having an affair with a staffer who will end up snuffed in some disturbingly cultish way. But, dude, this is Fox. Just about anything could happen.


    Posted on September 4, 2006

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