Our favorite fall shows
They are a motley crew, to be sure: the Muslim foreign exchange student (Aliens in America), the butt-kicking babe (Bionic Woman), a shamed news anchor (Back to You), and a family of billionaire brats (Dirty Sexy Money). Oh yeah, and the devil (Reaper). Those are but a few of the characters that populate our five favorite new shows of the fall season.
The CW, Tuesdays, 9 p.m.
Slacker Sam (Bret Harrison from Fox’s The Loop) finds out on his 21st birthday that his parents sold his soul to the devil (Ray Wise). And his assignment — capturing souls escaped from hell — totally interrupts his not-so-busy schedule that includes hanging with best bud Sock (Invasion‘s Tyler Labine), making eyes at gal pal Andi (Heroes‘ illusionist, Missy Peregrym), and working a dead-end job at the Home Depot-ish Work Bench.
Why We Love It
Reaper features an affable leading man, a hilarious sidekick, and fantastically fun missions, but the scene-stealer is Wise’s transcendently even-keeled (and impeccably tailored) Dark Prince. The Twin Peaks vet plays Satan as a slick used-car salesman who enjoys both toying with his new soul collector and selling him on the perks of his new job. ”He constantly tests Sam,” says co-creator Tara Butters. ”One of the things we want to explore is, How does Sam interact with the devil and stay sane?”
Expect a slight tip away from the freak-of-the-week missions toward a more serialized story line. ”Sam wants to get out of his contract with the devil, and there are things going on that we don’t know about yet,” Harrison hints. ”Is his dad who we think he is? Is there a loophole?” Meanwhile, Patton Oswalt (Ratatouille) guests as an escaped soul who tries to talk the boys into letting him out of his vessel because they’re keeping him trapped over Halloween (when hell shuts down, natch). Sock will investigate Gladys, the DMV demon who handles their escaped-soul deposits, and Sam will declare his feelings to Andi but get tripped up by another love interest — who may just have her own connection to the underworld. One danger Sam isn’t in? Growing up anytime soon. ”In drama people have to learn lessons and evolve,” Butters says, ”but in comedy they don’t have to.” —Jennifer Armstrong
Dirty Sexy Money
ABC, Wednesdays, 10 p.m.
Do-gooder Nick (Peter Krause) takes over for his murdered father, Dutch, as attorney for the Darlings, a deliciously dysfunctional family of Manhattan gazillionaires. When he’s not trying to figure out if paterfamilias Tripp (Donald Sutherland) offed Dutch for having an affair with Darling matriarch Letitia (Jill Clayburgh), Nick has to contend with the scions: ex-lover Karen (Natalie Zea), boozy politico Patrick (William Baldwin), angry Man of God Brian (Glenn Fitzgerald), and vapid twins Jeremy and Juliet (Seth Gabel and Samaire Armstrong). As Baldwin sums up, ”One family member is worse than the next. They’re a volatile, unstable band of fools.”
Why We Love It
It’s smarter than a soap, funnier than a drama, and more complex than a comedy. Plus, no other series would dare weave together story lines as varied as a minister’s illegitimate child pretending to speak only Swedish and a senatorial candidate who can’t break up with his transgender lover. As Krause says, ”We are getting away with quite a bit for network TV.” Added bonus: The show is exec-produced by one of our favorites — Greg Berlanti (Everwood, Brothers & Sisters).
At some point, revealing who murdered Nick’s dad. ”We know who did it, don’t worry,” assures creator and exec producer Craig Wright. ”We’re just debating which story to tell.” But before that resolution, billionaire Simon Elder (Blair Underwood) will do his best to split the Darlings up, Brian will realize his temper works better with the family business than the clergy, and Tripp will get involved in an illicit romance. As for the apparent moral center of this universe, Nick will learn he has a half sibling as well as a dark side that keeps him working for the Darlings even after his father’s murder is solved. ”Not only is it going to be hard for Nick to avoid doing the things his father did,” Wright says cryptically, ”it could be impossible.” —Jessica Shaw
Back to You
Fox, Wednesdays, 8 p.m.
Disgraced L.A. anchor Chuck Darling (Kelsey Grammer) retreats to his old job at a Pittsburgh station, where the oddball news crew — including Chuck’s former lover and coanchor Kelly Carr (Patricia Heaton), dim-bulb sports guy Marsh McGinley (Fred Willard), and sour-grapes reporter Gary Crezyzewski (Ty Burrell) — isn’t too thrilled about his return. Explains Heaton, ”Kelly’s got a lot of pressure on her because she has to work side by side with someone she kind of abhors and yet has a child with. And, she’s got to keep this secret at work.”
Why We Love It
Back to You proves that an old-school, traditional sitcom, — filmed before a live audience, as Grammer reminds us each week — can still be damned funny. Credit goes to its simple but classic conceit (boy trades zingers with girl, sexual heat ensues!) and sophisticated yuks like this one from Kelly to an overeager Chuck: ”You were like a dingo in a maternity ward!” ”One thing I keep thinking is ‘Wow, this show already feels like it’s been on the air for many years,”’ says Just Shoot Me‘s Steven Levitan, who created the sitcom with Frasier’s Christopher Lloyd. Adds Heaton, ”’Resigned’ may be too strong of a word, but I was open to the idea that something wonderful like Everybody Loves Raymond may not come again. But then this came two years later.”
The news crew gathers at Kelly’s house, where a rodent gets stuck in the attic and everyone starts to question who’s ”man enough” to get rid of it. In another episode, Chuck begins to feel paternal instincts toward daughter Gracie when she visits the newsroom, and later, a younger anchorman from a competing station begins to get a lot of attention — and a date with Kelly — much to Chuck’s chagrin. —Lynette Rice
NBC, Wednesdays, 9 p.m.
They can rebuild it. They have the technology. They can make it better, stronger, faster…. That’s the idea behind this reboot of the classic 1976 — 78 show about a woman who gets superpowered cybernetic implants after being mangled in a car accident. This version, developed by Battlestar Galactica‘s David Eick, isn’t nearly as cheesy as the original — ”There will be no bionic dogs,” insists star Michelle Ryan — but there’s still plenty of robotic acrobatics and rock-’em, sock-’em action. And the special effects are a lot more dazzling than slo-mo jogging.
Why We Love It
The show has had some behind-the-scenes shuffling, with exec producer Glen Morgan (The X-Files) leaving and Jason Katims (Friday Night Lights) signing on as a consultant, but from our side of the screen, the tone has been right on from episode 1. ”It’s a lot darker than the original,” explains Miguel Ferrer, who plays Jaime Sommers’ boss, Jonas Bledsoe, of the secret antiterrorism force that bankrolls her mechanical upgrades (these days they cost $50 million, not 6). ”It’s a different time — you couldn’t get away with making it too campy.” Agrees Ryan, ”Lindsay Wagner made the original her own. She was incredible in it, but we want to bring it to a modern audience.”
What’s Next Jaime’s scientist boyfriend (Chris Bowers) was killed in the debut, but it’s never too early to start dating again, especially when the ratings need perking up. Enter Jordan Bridges (Conviction) as a CIA agent who catches Sommers’ bionic eye. ”There’s a sort of Mr. & Mrs. Smith dynamic to their relationship,” promises Erin Gough Wehrenberg, NBC’s exec VP of current prime-time series. ”Also, the show will be getting more international in scope. There’s an episode coming up in November, for instance, in which they go to Paris.” La Femme Bionic. We can’t wait. —Benjamin Svetkey
Aliens in America
The CW, Mondays, 8:30 p.m.
After seeing a glossy brochure featuring a Nordic-looking stud, Wisconsin housewife Franny Tolchuck (Amy Pietz) signs up her family to host an exchange student so her nerd of a 16-year-old son, Justin (Dan Byrd), can be more popular, like younger sis Claire (Lindsey Shaw). There’s one problem: Said exchange student is Raja (Adhir Kalyan), an earnest Pakistani…whom the town nevertheless treats like a terrorist. Introducing Muslim in the Middle!
Why We Love It
It may boast sweet family values, but Aliens gets downright saucy while exploring high school humiliations (”You don’t love those? What are you, gay?” a bully asks Justin about his sister’s breasts) and examining post-9/11 prejudice (Raja is detained while trying to buy a fuse and detonation caps for Rocket Club). The underdog-affirming comedy offers ”edge with a subtext of progressive social and political thought,” says co-creator David Guarascio. ”If we don’t go too far once in a while and offend some people, it probably means we’re playing it too safe.” Adds Kalyan: ”We can focus one week on the sociopolitical element, then we can focus on what it’s like being a 16-year-old in high school, or the difficulties of parenthood and unemployment. We’ve got a lot to play with.”
Eccentric dad Gary (Scott Patterson) and Franny bust Justin pleasuring himself to Madame Bovary, which leads Mom to embark on a crusade to have the book pulled from the school. Claire puts birth control on her Christmas list. Franny makes Justin perform with her in a production of Rent, which includes the romantic duet ”Light My Candle.” (”It seemed like the perfect Oedipal take on our show,” notes Guarascio.) Meanwhile, oblivious to the stereotype, Raja gets a job at a convenience store. ”The owner is Indian, and Raja being Pakistani doesn’t sit well with him,” says Kalyan. ”There’s a lot of lines like ‘Hey, East-facer, come here!’ or ‘One God, what’s wrong with you?’ That’s definitely a story I’m looking forward to seeing up on screen.” —Dan Snierson