Last year I was lucky enough to go to “Watch the Pilots with Aaron” hosted by Aaron Barnhart, a nationally-known TV critic for the Kansas City Star, where he showed clips from the best new television shows for the fall season at a local movie theater. It was a lot of fun, and this year I managed to nab tickets to the 2007 version held last week. The focus last time around was on drama: shows like Daybreak, Studio 60, and Heroes stood out. This year the featured shows were more comedy-based and less formulaic. Here’s the list of what we saw with my review, and whether or not the show is going on my TiVo list. As always – and just like last year – at least one of my favorite shows will be tragically canceled by a hasty network; we’ll see if we can spot which one as we go along.
Aliens in America: This CW sitcom about a Muslim foreign exchange student from Pakistan coming to live with a sheltered and fearful suburban family was more offensive than funny, but after a few scenes I was able to better understand it. Everyone is a jerk except for the Pakistani character, who is a caring, spiritual person and who looks at the Western world with an innocent perspective, even though the show never spares an opportunity for a terrorist joke. Aliens has a lovingly twisted sense of humor, solidly in the Fark/It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia camp of comedy. It’s absolutely worth checking out, though, as the show has a surprising amount of heart to it.
The Sarah Connor Chronicles: Inspired by the Terminator franchise, this drama begins right where T2 left off – apparently the network is going to pretend the film Terminator 3 never happened. Sarah is on the run from bad guys sent from the future, trying to keep the teen-aged John Connor safe so he can someday be humanity’s savior. Lena Headey from this summer’s 300 plays Sarah, who brings a measure of intensity to the role, however the show seems like stuff we’ve all seen before. It had an amateur feel to it – not SciFi Original Movie level bad, but just film-school graduate bad, with a lot of people running in slow motion, mouth open in an unheard “NNNNOOOOOOO” with a heavy percussion soundtrack in the background. Unless they triple the special effects budget and bring in Arnie for some serious stunt casting, skip it.
Women’s Murder Club: Taken from a series of the same name from James Patterson and set in San Francisco, four girlfriends team up to solve crimes. One is a homicide detective, one a medical examiner, one is an assistant district attorney, and one is a reporter. The setup isn’t nearly as cheesy as it sounds, and it does a decent job of balancing the serious murder stuff with of more lighthearted just-friends-hanging-out parts as well. It comes across as Law & Order crossed with Gilmore Girls, if you can imagine it. Angie Harmon does some good work here, but ultimately it’s Not My Thing. My mom, though? She’ll love it.
Dirty Sexy Money: Peter Krause from SportsNight and Six Feet Under stars in this show from ABC. Krause’s character is a do-gooder who gets an ungodly amount of money to become a lawyer, public relations point man, and problem-solver to a rich, spoiled, drug-addled, dysfunctional New York family; hilarity ensues. Krause shines as he attempts to be an island of sanity while the Darling clan envelops him in problem after problem. After he bails a Paris Hilton-like socialite daughter out of jail, he negotiates the handover of a multi-million dollar yacht – complete with a non-English speaking crew – won in a late night poker game by the younger brother. Looks good, and I’ll certainly give it a chance.
Chuck: Now we’re talking. Relentlessly promoted by NBC to the point I’m nearly sick of the show already, Chuck is a comedy version of Alias, all tech-friendly super-spy action thriller with the funneh dial turned to 11. Here’s the deal: all the secrets of a CIA superspy is downloaded into the brain of a underachiever who works at the tech support at a big box retailer. The underachiever teams up the the superspy’s sexy partner to save the world on a weekly basis. All you need to know is that this thing is surprisingly well-written and belongs at the top of your TiVo list. Trust me on this one.
Kid Nation: This will either be the greatest reality show of all time or end Western civilization as we know it. This television show has spawned more controversy than the Alien Autopsy and the Janet Jackson Nipple Flash combined, and it hasn’t even premiered yet. We only got to watch an extended trailer, but it looks like the kids are separated into teams, set loose in an abandoned town, and compete in challenges for status – there’s an upper class that gets most of the food and money and don’t have to work, while the lower class scrubs the pots and cooks the meals. The remaining two classes are merchants and the working class, and everyone trades money for food and goods. It really just looks like a televised version of Exchange City in a Wild West backdrop, but lawsuits are already flying, so who knows how it’s going to go. I’ll certainly be tuning in.
Pushing Daisies: A new show produced by Barry Sonnenfeld about a guy who can bring the dead back to life with a touch, but if he touches them again, they go back to being dead. Yes, it’s as silly as it sounds. Tries way to hard to be cutesy and whimsical. If you’re feeling charitable, give it a few episodes to find its tone – all I know is that it hasn’t found it yet.
Reaper: The best show of the night and, by far, the most difficult to explain. A dark comedy about a loser who works at a Home Depot with his even more loser best friend finds out on his 21st birthday that before he was born, his mother sold his son’s soul to the devil in exchange for a longer life. He now has supernatural powers and is tasked by the devil to track down escapees from an overly-crowded hell. God bless the creators of this show – if I was a television producer, I would have thrown them out on the curb after hearing that pitch. This thing is like Buffy the Vampire Slayer on steroids and played for laughs, but has an amazing about of wit and freshness to it. As a matter of fact, it was the most pleasurable and original thing I saw that entire evening. Of course, it’s on the CW with little promotion and even less attention, so it’ll get filed away under reruns of 7th Heaven and Everwood, so watch it while you have the chance and pray that the FX Channel or MTV has the guts to pick this thing up.