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Dalton Ross on the best and worst fall TV pilots

Dalton Ross on the best and worst fall TV pilots: EW’s senior editor has some surprising thoughts on ”Studio 60” and other new shows. Plus: the scariest rock-star beards, and reader mail

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Matthew Perry, Bradley Whitford, ...
Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip: Scott Garfield

Dalton Ross on the best and worst fall TV pilots

I remember when I turned 20. I remember because it was so damn unmemorable. Twenty has to be the most anti-climactic birthday ever: You’re no longer a teenager, yet at the same time not really an adult because if you try to walk into a 7-Eleven and pick up a Löwenbräu, you’ll get arrested. (Not that 7-Eleven would actually card you… or carry Löwenbräu, for that matter.) In any event, I only bring this up because The Glutton is now officially 20 columns old, and while that may be worthy of a weak kazoo rendition of ”Happy Birthday” and not much more, I just felt it was worth noting, and worth thanking you loyal readers for sticking with it. (Mom, that means you.)

Now on with the show. This week’s show is on… shows! TV shows, that is. The new fall season is pretty much upon us. Fox has rolled out some of its new programs already, and the other networks will follow suit in the next few weeks. I’ve had a chance to preview most of the pilots and will now hand out some hardware in the form of The First Annual Glutton New Fall TV Program Awards. (Please keep in mind that said awards are distributed solely based on the quality — or lack thereof — of the pilot episode. Any further suckiness or intriguing developments cannot be accounted for.)

Best New Show: The Nine (ABC)

I’m not exactly sure where this drama about nine survivors of a hostage crisis who bond in the aftermath of their ordeal is going, but I’m along for the ride. Maybe it’s just my odd man crush on Tim Daly (so I liked The Fugitive — sue me!), but this seems to be the one new serialized fall show that asks a ton of questions you actually want answered. It’s also nice to see Scott Wolf working again. (No, that does not count as a man crush… or does it???)

Most Schizophrenic New Comedy: 30 Rock (NBC)

I swear every time Alec Baldwin is on screen as the smooth and savvy network executive, I almost pee my pants with laughter. The rest of the time, I am bored silly. Tina Fey? Great writer; not so great with the acting. And I don’t know what the hell Tracy Morgan is trying to do with his seemingly crazy comedian character — it just seems a bit too over the top. But Baldwin (who always killed when he was on SNL) steals every scene he’s in. Here’s hoping for more of them.

Worst Use of Hair Dye: James Woods in Shark (CBS)

I guess he looks younger, but the Grecian Formula look creeps me out a bit.

Most Overhyped, Underwhelming New Show: Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (NBC)

Loved Sports Night. Loved The West Wing (the first three seasons, at least). So I had high hopes for this new Aaron Sorkin drama. Those hopes have officially been dashed. The show basically centers around best buds and partners coming back to take over an SNL-type sketch-comedy program. Problem is, best buds are played by Bradley Whitford and Matthew Perry — both fine actors, and I’m sure fine men as well, but I wasn’t believing them for one minute in these roles. Even worse is Amanda Peet as a high-level network executive. In fact, I implore you to watch the first episode of this show just to be amazed by her awfulness. We’re talking Sofia Coppola in The Godfather III bad. I know, I know… all the other critics like this show, and I’m probably being harsher than I should, but that’s what happens when you put together a great team of talent (including the always underappreciated D.L. Hughley) and end up with this.

Best Mindless Fun: Ugly Betty (ABC)

I’m rooting for this show if for no other reason than my college housemate of two years is in it, and he has a new baby, and new babies require Pampers, and Pampers are expensive so he needs to have a job. But I also think I’m being rather objective here. All my fellow coworkers seem to dig it (of course, they all dig Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip), so I’m not being a complete homer on this one. For those of you who don’t know the scoop, this is an American adaptation of a Spanish telenovela and centers around an ugly woman who goes to work for a swank fashion magazine. There are no conspiracies, mysteries, or charging polar bears, but rather some breezy (and occasionally cheesy) fun. I’m not sure how long the show can maintain that edge before running out of steam, but it should be a good ride while it lasts.

The ”Do People Other Than EW’s Josh Wolk Honestly Still Think John Lithgow Is Funny?” Award: Twenty Good Years (NBC)

Lithgow! Stop mugging for the camera! Seriously, stop it! Your blatant unfunniness even rubs off on the usually amusing Jeffrey Tambor in this excruciating sitcom.

The ”Welcome to the Newly Demoted Movie Star” Award: Ray Liotta in Smith (CBS)

First off, if you are former movie star Ray Liotta, and you are finally going to sign on to star in a TV show (after testing the waters with a stint on ER), wouldn’t you want it to be on a show with a better title than… Smith? I mean, this drama, about a ring of thieves, is actually not so bad, but that’s the most original title they could come up with — Smith? What about something a bit jazzier, like — I don’t know — Breaking and Entering, or The Score, or The Funky Hippopotamus? (I realize that last one has nothing to do with bank robberies, but tell me you wouldn’t watch a show called The Funky Hippopotamus.) Like I said, Smith is decent (if a bit derivative of other recent and similarly themed shows like Heist, Thief, and Hustle), so Liotta should fare better than other slumming movie stars of years past, like Bette Midler (Bette) and Geena Davis (The Geena Davis Show, Commander-in-Chief). But that title has got to go.

First Show to Get Canceled: Happy Hour (Fox)

Well, you know it has to be something on Fox, and this one is pretty damn bad.

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OBSESSION OF THE WEEK

Warning: jock alert! I’m actually not much of a jock at all. I’m way too scrawny to do anything more physical than, say, picking up a remote control. Which is why every Sunday in fall I live vicariously through my Washington Redskins, or, as they have been known for the past 10 years, The Most Overpaid and Offensively Named Team in Sports. Seeing as football season is now upon us, it’s that time of year again where I can ignore my wife and children and instead waste entire afternoons in a smelly sports bar just to see my squad lose on a missed field goal or some stupid holding penalty. I realize it’s ridiculous to spend my Sundays this way. I realize life is too short and that I would probably be better served by sitting through three hours of that crazy bigbucksauto.com ad I keep coming across on Comedy Central. But, you see, I’m obsessed.

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THE TOP FIVE SCARIEST BEARDS IN MUSIC

For some reason, every single time I scanned past VH1 Classic last weekend, the channel was airing some Lynyrd Skynyrd tribute/concert. And yet each and every time I found that I could not look away. Was it the sweet sounds of ”Free Bird” ringing in my ears? The Southern-fried charm of ”Sweet Home Alabama,” perhaps? No and no. Rather, it was the impressive collection of facial hair on display. So impressive, in fact, that it inspired this week’s List of The Top Five Scariest Beards In Music.

1 & 2) The Dudes in ZZ Top

Honestly, I don’t even know which one is which, but you know who I’m talking about — those two guys with the waist-length beards. Apparently, not unlike the mighty Samson, they derive massive superpowers from the length of their hair. Unfortunately, said superpowers consist solely of being able to twirl their guitars around 360 degrees and point in unison at super-hot babes.

3) Hank Williams Jr.

Are you ready for some football?!? And some super nasty facial hair?!? You practically need to be Indiana Jones to bushwhack through this tangled mess of whiskers.

4) Magni (Rock Star: Supernova)

I’m sorry, but didn’t chin pubes go out of style in, oh, 1993?

5) Charlie Daniels

I have to admit, I am impressed he can play fiddle without getting half his whiskers stuck in the damn thing. Must have made a deal with the devil. Presumably down in Georgia somewhere.

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READER MAIL

I was surprised last time around when pretty much everyone agreed with me on my ”TV is better than the movies” argument. Not so surprised to find that people are as confused and outraged as I am over the censoring of Tom and Jerry cartoons and other past films and TV shows for objectionable content. Except for Nathan, of course, who I get the sneaking suspicion is being a bit sarcastic when discussing the dangers of cartoons on impressionable young minds.

Cartoon censorship should be allowed. I can’t count the number of times I’ve walked off cliffs, expecting the laws of gravity to be suspended. Though, as sort of a consolation, I do make that whistling sound on the way down. I’ll never forget the day my sister pushed an anvil off the roof of the house, seriously injuring our grandmother. She hasn’t been the same since then. Grandma gets fidgety anytime someone mentions the word blacksmith. Funny, I’ve never smoked a cigarette. Oh well, I’m sure the urge will take hold anytime now. I hear you can get them tax-free, if you order them through Acme. — Nathan W. Ealy

Buy in bulk, Nathan! Seriously though, once you start going back and editing shows for content, that can become a slippery slope. Do I think there should be cartoon characters smoking and animals sticking rifles into each other’s mouths? No. Which is why I don’t let my kids watch those shows. But that doesn’t mean that corporations should go back and change what was created decades ago. That stuff needs to be preserved and recognized as a product of its era, whether good, bad, or ugly.

I completely agree with your stance on censorship. Triumph of the Will may be Nazi propaganda, but it still is technically brilliant for its time, and the same goes for Birth of a Nation. I’ve heard that Gone With the Wind is considered racist because of the way the slaves are treated, but people don’t seem to realize that GWTW takes place during the Civil War in the SOUTH! There were slaves during that time! It’s how it was. If we don’t recognize how we have evolved into the race we were through our art, then how will we ever be able to continue to evolve? — Pedro Urena

Excellent point, Pedro. You can still separate the ideology behind films like Birth of a Nation, Triumph of the Will and even Battleship Potemkin (which was basically a communist promotional film) from their technical merit, which was outstanding on all three. Once we start recutting to make things more digestible in this day and age, where does one draw the line? Just leave them alone and allow them to act as a starting point for a really interesting conversation. Or, just keep talking about the weather. Whatever works. Speaking of interesting conversations, we had a few interesting thoughts regarding my question as to which is superior, the U.K. or U.S. version of The Office

The U.K. and U.S. versions of The Office are both brilliant, and rather than choosing which is better, it’s more to the point to comment on how well each reflects its own culture. The U.K. version relied on somewhat more subtle and restrained humor, and a lot of quick wordplay. When my husband and I watch it on DVD, we always turn the captions on, because half of the jokes are muttered under someone’s breath or fly by too fast to catch. The U.S. version uses more physical gags, and the humor is a little broader, and so it perfectly reflects more outgoing and gregarious American sensibilities. — Sally Meehan

Sally, I agree with you 100 percent. The American version is definitely a bit more cartoonish, mostly because of Dwight. I really like Dwight, although I do think he needs to dial it down by about, oh, 10 percent.

The American and English versions of The Office are just too different to be compared. I will say that the American version is far less painful to watch. I’m able to watch Steve Carell’s portrayal of Michael as a arrogant idiot for several episodes back-to-back, while I can only watch a few starring Ricky Gervais’ pitiful, attention-starved David before feeling uncomfortable myself. Though Gervais’ performance was one of the best and funniest I’ve ever seen on TV, watching David just reminded me way too much of watching the kid in high school who tried so hard to be popular by telling painful, groan-worthy jokes that only would sink him deeper into loser-dom. — Kate Ward

The British version is definitely more uncomfortable to watch, and I think for the reasons Kelly and Sally pointed out — it’s just that much more real. The U.S. version is slightly over the top, making it easier to distance yourself from the whole thing and simply enjoy it as entertainment. I was a bit surprised to find more readers writing in that they preferred the American version of the show. I think it’s a close call, but I have to go with the original. I guess I’m just an old-school kind of guy. Or maybe just old.

My boyfriend owns Maid in Manhattan on DVD. Who should be more ashamed: him (he actually BOUGHT it; not a gift!) or me (for not considering this to be a deal breaker)? — Heather

Definitely him. You? You’re a female. You’re entitled to like stupid chick-flick drivel like that. And part of you probably thinks it’s sweet that he’s getting in touch with his feminine side. You get a pass on this one. For him, however, there is no excuse. It’s not like J. Lo is getting naked or anything in that either! So this obviously means he has a big crush on Ralph Fiennes, is using it as a misguided ploy to prove he has a sensitive side, or has really crappy taste in movies. Possibly all three. Come to think of it, maybe you should break up with him.

Of course, I shouldn’t talk. My wife’s favorite movie is Dirty Dancing. She even went to go see the sequel, Havana Nights, in the theater. AND LIKED IT! Okay, Heather and I have shared our deep, dark secrets (and possibly pissed off our significant others as well). So dear readers, I present this question to you: What embarrassing film does your significant other insist on loving? Send in your responses to theglutton@ew.com, or just fill in the handy-dandy form below. Also feel free to nominate any other scary rock & roll beards and your thoughts on the new fall TV season. See ya next week.