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Finally, some good TV: The 2011 Denver Post fall TV preview

When life gets scary, TV lets us face our fears from a safe distance. A haunted house, rampaging dinosaurs and menacing storybook characters bow as antagonists this fall, stand ins, perhaps for a teetering economy, reigning terrorism and incendiary political climate.

Escapist comedies provide relief, too, the best being Zooey Deschanel​’s endearing turn in “New Girl” on Fox. She single-handedly proves it’s still possible to build a bright half-hour around one can’t-miss talent.

Deschanel brings the adorableness, alright. But horror, terror, the prefeminist ’60s and recycled confusion about modern manhood are the bigger themes of primetime’s Fall 2011 TV season.

No matter where it goes for escapism, TV seems to circle back to current anxieties. Jokes about underpaid waitresses get a laugh, but the real-world pain underneath threatens to gut the enjoyment. A serial about a young woman exacting revenge from the super-rich may lead to unwanted thoughts about that top 2 percent of American wealth. An experimental comedy about co-workers struggling after an office affair may be more uncomfortable than entertaining.

At least there are oddities reaching to be more than bland this season.

With 27 new shows, and TV’s traditional failure rate of 80 percent, only five of these newcomers can be expected to stick around.

At a glance:

Tim Allen​’s search-for-manhood shtick feels most dated.

ABC’s “Pan Am” has more depth than NBC’s “Playboy Club,” both revisiting retro-fashions and attitudes.

Sarah Michelle Gellar​ makes the most-welcome return, doing double time as twins in CW’s “Ringer.”

And “Charlie’s Angels” is the most obvious misfire of the season–even more superficial than the jiggle-TV era original.

In many cases, the networks are saving their better, more thoughtful shows for midseason. (ABC’s “The River” and “G.C.B.,” NBC’s “Smash” and “Awake,” and Fox’s “Alcatraz” are among those held for early 2012). For now, here’s what’s new night by night, with premiere dates:


“Once Upon A Time” – One of two fairy tale dramas this season, this one has the more elaborate (and imaginative) backstory. In Storybrooke, Maine, fairy tale figures live frozen in time, with no knowledge of their identities. A 10-year-old named Henry (Jared Gilmore) has figured out that “they’re in the book!” He tracks down his birth mom, Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison), a bail bonds collector who is the daughter of Snow White​ (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Prince Charming (Joshua Dallas), as the action switches back and forth between fairy tale/Storybrooke worlds. From “Lost” writers Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, who have planted several “Lost” references in the pilot. “We can’t help ourselves,” Horowitz said. Premieres Oct. 23 on ABC.

“Allen Gregory” – Animated Fox comedy created and voiced by Jonah Hill, about a precocious seven-year-old homeschooled by his gay father (French Stewart​) and his father’s life partner, along with his adopted Cambodian sister. Since his refined adult tastes lean more toward Pinot Grigio than food fights, Allen has a tough time fitting in at public school. Oct. 30.

“Pan AM” – Coffee, tea or…? At the dawn of the jet age, multilingual Pan Am stewardesses were considered a cultured breed apart. This drama has fun recreating the era, including girdle checks, to give it a romantic air, and interweaves an espionage plot and various sexual entanglements. Christina Ricci, Kelli Garner, Margot Robbie and Karine Vanasse are in uniform and ready to serve. Executive producer Nancy Hult Ganis was a Pan Am stew back in the day and vouches for the verisimilitude: “We were treated as (if) we were hostesses of a dinner party and it was a moveable feast.” Sept. 25 on ABC.


“2 Broke Girls” – In this culture-clash-com, Kat Dennings​ plays Max, a smartaleck Brooklyn waitress working a second job as a nanny, while Beth Behrs plays Caroline, an heiress forced to work in the same diner when her Bernie Madoff-like father is sent to jail. Across the divide, they forge a friendship, become roommates and hope to launch a business. Dennings’ personality jumps off the screen. Sept. 19 on CBS.

“Terra Nova” – Dinosaurs! More than a “Jurassic Park” clone, although you’d be forgiven for thinking of this Steven Spielberg-produced series that way. It’s a computer-graphics-heavy saga about a family of time travelers, led by Jason O’Mara and Shelley Conn, who travel back to pre-historic Earth in order to save future humanity. Some of the dinos are sweet-looking plant eaters, others not so much. Could make for fun family fright night. Sept. 26 on Fox.

“Hart of Dixie” – Rachel Bilson​ is the best thing about this misbegotten drama about a big city girl from up north who goes to a small Alabama hamlet to practice medicine. And fall in love. The romantic sudser from Josh Schwartz​ (“The O.C.”) has its moments but gets bogged down in southern stereotypes. Sept. 26 on CW.

“The Playboy Club” – Customers can look, but they can’t touch. When a mobbed up patron gets pushy with a bunny, there’s a murder that sets the tone for an ongoing story that will weave through the portrayal of the Chicago club in the 1960s. Nick Dalton (Eddie Cibriani) is the slick keyholder; Maureen (Amber Heard​) is the newest bunny. Period music will be prominent feature. Sept. 19 on NBC.


“Last Man Standing” – When Mike Baxter’s wife rejoins the workforce, leaving him in charge of three daughters, the homestead and his own feelings of inadequacy, it’s a “laff riot.” Not. Tim Allen resurrects his “Home Improvement” bit, including a segment in which he whines into a webcam about missing the days when men were men. Oct. 11.

“Man Up!” – Continuing the “Last Man” theme, and sharing the hour on ABC’s schedule, this comedy concerns the angst of today’s man-child, forced to grow up in what they believe has become a woman’s world. Mather Zickel, Dan Fogler​ and Chris Moynihan (who also serves as writer-executive producer) are three buddies who’d prefer to play videogames. Viewers may, too. Oct. 18.

“Ringer” – Buffy’s back! Sarah Michelle Gellar isn’t battling sci-fi demons this time but solving a complex mystery pertaining to identity. She plays twin sisters Bridget and Siobhan, one a downscale recovering alcholic on the run, the other a wealthy married socialite. And, after a freak accident, she plays one sister impersonating the other. Nestor Carbonell​ (“Lost”) and Welshman Ioan Gruffudd (“Horatio Hornblower”) have co-starring roles in the promising hour. Sept. 13.

“New Girl” – Best new comedy. This Fox half-hour boasts Zooey Deschanel as Jess, an eccentric, socially awkward girl just dumped by her boyfriend. She’s the kind of geek who makes up her own theme song and soothes herself by weeping to repeated viewings of “Dirty Dancing.” Three bachelors (Max Greenfield, Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans Jr., whose part has been recast) take her in, initially because her friend is a hot model. But wait: Once Jess tries on her pal’s little black dress, things could change. Sept. 20.

“Unforgettable” – Poppy Montgomery​ (“Without a Trace​”) plays a former detective with a rare ability/disability to remember everything she’s ever learned or observed, with one exception: the circumstances of her sister’s murder. Dylan Walsh co-stars in the series based on an actual condition. One of the few people in the country who has the condition, Marilu Henner​, serves as a consultant. Sept. 20.


“H8R” – Mario Lopez eavesdrops on over-exposed reality show “celebrities” as they confront civilians who have posted rants against them. “What do you have to say to my face?” Snooki demands. The “haters” may or may not be convinced to give the celebs a chance. Sept. 14.

“The X Factor” – This will make a big noise, good or not. Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul​ are reunited on a rival to “American Idol,” long a hit in the U.K. The key differences are the age range and the prize money. This show is open to anyone 12 and up (no upper limit), groups can audition, and the winner gets $5 million — a record for TV prize money. Sept. 21.

“Up All Night” – At deadline the revamped pilot was unavailable for screening. Christina Applegate and Will Arnett co-star as new parents unaccustomed to not being the center of the universe. Maya Rudolph​ (whose role is being rewritten to be more prominent) plays Applegate’s boss and a talk-show host. Lots of comedic talent here, we’ll see how it comes together. Sept 14.

“Suburgatory” – When dad finds condoms in his daughter’s room, he decides to relocate from city to suburb, where life will be pretty, like the lawns. Surprise, the mean girls and desperate housewives lurking in suburbia may be even worse. Jane Levy (“Shameless”) is great as the sardonic Tessa, Jeremy Sisto​ is less perfectly cast as her dad. Cheryl Hines (“Curb Your Enthusiasm​”) plays a housewife type, Ana Gasteyer (“SNL”) is crazy neighbor Sheila. A smart single-camera comedy with a soul. Sept. 28.

“Free Agents” – Hank Azaria and Kathryn Hahn play Alex and Helen, newly single co-workers who have a drunken one-night stand. Now they’ve got to deal with the awful aftermath, and figure out how distant to be, while developing feelings for one another. From John Enbom (“Party Down​”) and Todd Holland (“Malcolm in the Middle​”), and adapted from a Britcom, “it’s all about the messy,” Azaria said. If only it were a bit more about the funny. Sept. 14.

“I Hate My Teenage Daughter” – Bad parenting as a sitcom premise? Jaime Pressly (“My Name is Earl”) and Katie Finneran (“Wonderfalls”) play best friends who learn the hard way that they over-indulged their little daughters to the point of creating monsters. They end up terrified of their teen girls. A couple of funny lines can’t save the awful enterprise. Nov. 23.

“Revenge” – A primetime soap full of beautiful people, led by Emily Van Camp as Emily Thorne, a young woman out to avenge the super-wealthy folks who destroyed her family. Madeleine Stowe​ plays the matriarch of the family, Joshua Bowman plays her son, who will woo Emily. It’s a modern take on the Count of Monte Cristo​, set in the Hamptons (but not shot there; the pilot was filmmed in South Carolina.) Sept. 21 on ABC.


“Charlie’s Angels” – Cartoonish action-adventure romp marked by mediocre acting. The network believes it has a “built-in” audience across generations, thanks to the title. The producer calls it “a show about redemption.” Really, a show about babes — kickboxing, gun-weilding babes. Sept. 22.

“How to be a Gentleman” – Can a mild-mannered magazine writer learn to change his tone to appeal to hip, younger readers? If he’s got an “Entourage” mentor he can. David Hornsby​ and Kevin Dillon portray an “Odd Couple” for modern times. Excruciating. Sept. 29 on CBS.

“Person of Interest” – J.J. Abrams and Jonathan Nolan offer a complex sci-fi mystery built around a former CIA agent, an oddball computer billionaire and surveillance cameras, plus a dollop of paranoia. Michael Emerson (“Lost”) is the billionaire who has created a computer surveillance program able to spot future victims/perpetrators of crime. He taps Reese (Jim Caviezel​) to stop the crimes before they happen. Pay attention, and watch for cameras. Sept. 22.

“The Secret Circle” – Kevin Williamson (“Vampire Diaries​”) switches gears to witches in his new CW series, based on L.J. Smith’s other book series. Orphaned teen Cassie moves to a small town where the folks seem to know more about her than she knows about herself…And so it begins, but with deviations from the written storyline. Sept. 15.

“Whitney” – Comedian Whitney Cummings says her real life echoes her sitcom life and vice versa. She has her hands full. The standup best known from “Chelsea Lately​,” co-created “2 Broke Girls” while starring in this half hour. “Whitney” is a traditional multi-camera with studio audience pilot. My bet is on the “Broke Girls.” Sept. 22.

“Prime Suspect” – Forget the understandable bias toward Helen Mirren​. Maria Bello invents a new quirky and flawed character, Det. Jane Timmoney, in NBC’s reimagined version of the BBC crime show transplanted to New York. Much better than we feared. Sept. 22.


“A Gifted Man” – A drama that aims to contrast science and faith, the powers of a shaman versus the abilities of high-tech modern medicine. Actually, it’s about a neurosurgeon who starts seeing the ghost of his ex-. Patrick Wilson is the doc; Jennifer Ehle is his ex-wife, who doesn’t know why she’s showing up in ghost form, either. Creator Susannah Grant (“Erin Brockovich”) doesn’t pretend to have answers: “We’re just exploring it and you can come along for the ride.” (Parts of the pilot are being reshot.) Sept. 23.

“Grimm” – What if Grimm’s Fairy Tales come to life and a particular cop, played by David Guintoli, learns his destiny is to protect humans from the storybook villains? “It’s a police procedural with a hint of fairy tale,” executive producer Todd Milliner said. Sounds better than it plays. Oct. 21.


no new series-

The Six Best

“Suburgatory,” Wednesdays on ABC, with Jane Levy. My So-Called Suburban Life.

“Person of Interest,” Thursdays on CBS, with James Caviezel​ and Michael Emerson. Paranoia from J.J. Abrams.

“New Girl,” top, Tuesdays on Fox, with Zooey Deschanel. Fresh and adorable.

“Two Broke Girls,” above, Mondays on CBS, with Kat Dennings and Beth Behrs. Cross-cultural bonding.

“Ringer,” top, Tuesdays on CW, with Kris Polaha​. Buffy plays twins.

“Terra Nova,” above, Mondays on Fox, with Shelley Conn. Spielberg does dinosaurs.

The Six Worst

“Hart of Dixie” CW – Southern medical melodrama

“I Hate My Teenage Daughter” Fox – Moms and their monster offspring.

“How to Be a Gentleman” CBS – Macho manners for modern dudes.

“Charlie’s Angels” ABC – Retread, without winking humor.

“Man Up!” ABC – Overgrown boys being boys.

“Last Man Standing” ABC – Tim Allen laments emasculated modern man.

For further consideration

“Up All Night” NBC Sept. 14. Reworked Maya Rudolph pilot

“An American Horror Story” FX Oct. 5. If psycho-terror is your thing. Ryan Murphy’s latest, with a great cast, including Jessica Lange, Connie Britton​ and Dylan McDermott​.

“Pan Am” ABC Sept. 25. Pre-feminist stewardesses, more than a retro fashion show

“Homeland” Showtime Oct. 2. Political thriller about a U.S. soldier in Iraq who may have been turned into an enemy agent, starring Claire Danes​ and Damian Lewis.

“Prohibition” PBS Oct. 2-4. Ken Burns’ 5-1/2-hour documentary, a slow study of a bad experiment’s unintended consequences

“The X Factor” Fox Sept. 21. Will challenge “American Idol,” with Paula and Simon together again

Breakout stars/fresh faces

Jane Levy, you might know her from “Shameless” on Showtime. She’ll wow mainstream audiences as the high-school teen and sardonic narrator on ABC’s take on sterile suburban life, “Suburgatory.”

Kat Dennings of “Nick & Nora​’s Infinite Playlist” is about to become a familiar sassy waitress on the CBS culture-clash comedy “2 Broke Girls.”

Dan Fogler, Tony winner for “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee​,” has his first TV role in “Man Up!” on ABC.

Henry Simmons​ (“Spartacus”) plays the perfect (shirtless) human specimen on “Man Up!” a guy who exists to make his girlfriend’s ex jealous.

Shelley Conn, known to viewers of “Mistresses” on BBC, is soon to break out on Fox’s “Terra Nova.”

-By JoAnn Ostrow

Mile High Mamas
Author: Mile High Mamas

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  1. Person of interest looks incredible! Cannot wait to watch this!

  2. I know they are totally different from each other but I am totally looking forward to Ringer, The Secret Circle and Terra Nova. I think those will be the 3 decent shows this fall.

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