Finally! I somehow made it through the long summer nights filled with only the out-of-contention-by-May Cincinnati Reds and the occasional Colbert Report / Top Chef / The Hills to keep me entertained. The reward is a full slate of brand new episodes of all our favorite shows, as well as some shiny newcomers that just might make their way onto your already busy TV watching schedule. What's worth watching? Once again I've compiled my Night-by-Night breakdown of shows that you should be watching. However, as we've learned from previous years, just because shows are on this list now doesn't mean they'll still be worthy of viewing come the holiday break. Likewise, I'm sure there are some other shows out there that will somehow win me over before the spring. But for now, the following all earn the all-important "Brian Seal of Approval":
8:00 - Prison Break (FOX) - Returning Favorite - September 17th
Last year, "Prison Break" proved that it wasn't a one-act story, and could continue delivering exciting plotlines outside the walls of Fox River Penitentiary. In fact, by the end of the season, Prison Break had firmly wrenched away the "most exciting show on TV" title away from the fading "24". Although there were a few slower episodes, and some pretty absurd plot points (especially how all the characters kept running into each other - isn't America a little bigger than that?), the show proved that it was willing to take chances - killing off main characters, moving the action to Panama for the uber-exciting season ending story arc, and throwing Michael back in prison before the season came to a close.
Having watched the first episode, I can safely say that the show remains as intense as ever. Once again there are some of the aforementioned crazy coincidences (Michael, Billick, Mahone, and T-Bag all in the same prison? Really?), but they somehow make the storyline work. We also have the interesting twist of Michael being on the inside of Prison and Lincoln being on the outside of Prison trying to get him out. The Panamanian Prison offers the opportunity to introduce some new characters, and I anxiously await the inevitable "Michael and Mahone join forces to escape / take down the Corporation" storyline.
During the first season of Prison Break, I read somewhere that the show's creators only saw the show lasting "two or three seasons" due to the nature of the storyline. I hope they keep to their word, and don't drag the show on unnecessarily long for the sake of ratings - because as good as Prison Break is right now, if we have an entire season of Michael breaking out of prison (again), it's going to start feeling like a rerun. I'm hoping this is the last season for the show - and they spend the first half of the year with a tight storyline about Michael getting out of Panamanian prison, and then the second half of the year is devoted to resolving the mystery surrounding their father and the Corporation (a storyline which has faded recently, but really should be front and center).
8:00 - Chuck (NBC) - Promising - September 24th
From creator Josh Schwartz (of "The O.C." fame) comes a show that I can only describe as Seth Cohen meets Alias. It's slick, it's exciting, it's funny, and probably has the highest potential to succeed in the fall based on its timeslot right before Heroes. The same males aged 18-34 that turned Heroes into one of the top rated shows on TV (read: nerds) are going to love this show. The premise is pretty simple - Chuck, an average guy working at the "Nerd Herd" (Geek Squad) at "Buy More" (Best Buy) receives a strange Email from a former college roommate, and unknowingly winds up with all the government's secrets stored inside his memory as a series of images. It's not as weird as that sounds, I promise.
Suddenly Chuck becomes instantly valuable to both the CIA and NSA (represented by the quite attractive Yvonne Strzechowski and the "not actually a Baldwin brother" Adam Baldwin), who are both trying to gain information from Chuck to use to help combat the bad guys of the world. These characters are nicely balanced by Chuck's best friend Morgan, sister Ellie, and her husband Captain Awesome (you're skeptical, but this name actually makes sense, and provides a number of laughs in the first episode). It's similar to the personal / professional life conflicts that we saw on Alias, but from a "nerd" perspective.
I was a huge fan of The O.C. in its early years, and a lot of it has to do with Josh Schwartz. I hope he learned from the mistakes of The O.C. (most notably, burning through too many storylines too fast) - which results in a great first season, but then mediocre follow-up seasons since you're out of material - because by the end of the first episode, you can easily see how "Chuck" could offer both solid stand-alone episodes, as well as larger story arcs that could give the show legs for years.
9:00 - Heroes (NBC) - Returning Favorite - September 24th
Oh "Heroes", you were a kickass season finale away from delivering one of the best first seasons of any television show in recent memory. Instead, we got a season finale that was probably less exciting than a regular episode, leaving some viewers with a bad taste in their mouth over the summer. But in its first season, creator/writer Tim Kring proved that he could deliver exciting individual episodes while still focusing on an overall story arc for the entire season. Sure, the dialogue could be downright laughable at times, and it can sometimes slip into unrealistic comic fanboy territory, but on the whole it was a mighty entertaining television program.
Looking ahead to the second season, there is no reason to be anything but excited for the future. Hopefully Kring has come up with a way to keep the characters together and interacting with a single cohesive storyline. As much fun as the first season was to see the characters' individual storylines, and how they each eventually came into contact with each other - now that they're all together, I can't imagine each of them going off in their own separate ways. While part of me is a little afraid of the whole "Hiro in the past" storyline taking center stage (in my opinion, Hiro is best when used sparingly), I’m excited that David Anders (aka, Sark from Alias fame) is joining the cast - although I have no idea how the very Anglo Anders is going to play a 1,000 year old Japanese Warrior. Initially, not killing Sylar in the finale seemed like a bit of a cop-out, but I must admit that I'm excited to have his character back, since he's one of the most intriguing on the show. With the addition of another "big bad" (referenced by the creepy girl in the season finale), we might have an even more action packed season than last year.
8:00 - Beauty and the Geek (CW) - Returning Favorite - September 18th
Tale as old as time, song as old as rhyme, both a little scared, neither one prepared, Beauty and the Geek. Ashton Kucher's "great social experiment" is back for a third season, and it will once again have a place on my DVR schedule. It's a simple concept, but I can't help but watch with fascination as superficial hotties learn that they're actually vapid and shallow while mega-nerds learn how to wear stylish clothes and social skills. What's not to like? You have pretty girls, challenges that make you feel better about yourself (since you're probably smarter / more handy / more social than the contestants on the show), and unlike most reality shows, the contestants generally become better people over the course of the show.
If that wasn't enough, this season features not one, but TWO geeks from Cincinnati!
(No, I'm not one of them - although if I was, my subtitle would be "Runs Internationally-Known Lost Blog")
8:00 - Pushing Daisies (ABC) - Promising - October 3rd
I love "Pushing Daisies". It's witty, visually stunning, and heartwarming. That's why it breaks my heart that I know it won't last on network TV.
Why not? Well, here's the premise: the main character, Ned, is a pie maker with the ability to bring dead people back to life by touching them - but there's a catch. When he touches them a second time, they're dead forever. If he doesn't touch them a second time within a minute of touching them the first time, they stay alive - but someone else in the close proximity dies. This leads to some interesting problems (Ned can't pet his dog), some light moral dilemmas (should Ned let one person live at the expense of another?), and a lucrative business at solving murders (by bringing the dead temporarily to ask who killed them).
See the problem? Pitch that premise to 90% of America, and they instantly tune out the show, which is a shame - because this is the best show of the fall.
The first thing that will grab you is the visuals. The Future Wife described them as similar to the movie Big Fish, which is a great comparison. The sets are different and interesting - almost like a Tim Burton movie on happy pills. I have never seen so much color in a television show in my life. It's unlike anything you've ever seen on a live action TV show. The show is guided by a voiceover - but unlike Grey's Anatomy or Scrubs, it's not the voice of any character on the show (at least not yet), and it's almost as though the voice is reading a poem rather than describing the events unfolding… and that's really how the show feels - like some sort of Dr. Seuss or Roald Dahl book come to life.
However, it never approaches being overly sappy, partially thanks to Chi McBride who acts as a Private Investigator working with Ned on solving murders to collect rewards. His straightforward, rational ways offer a nice counterbalance to Ned's idealistic views of the world. He also delivers some hilarious rapid-fire dialogue that gives the show a bit of an edge. If you watch the first episode and aren't smiling when it's over, you don’t have a soul. This is delightful TV.
(Note: the first two minutes of the show are among the most shocking in the history of television, and almost made me turn off Pushing Daisies instantly. Stick through it! It all works out within the first five minutes of the show.)
9:00 - Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares (FOX) - Promising - September 19th
This isn't really a new show, but rather the American version of the British show that I've been watching for two seasons now. In it, Gordon Ramsay (who you may know from "Hell's Kitchen" fame) visits troubled and failing restaurants and spends a week with them to try and turn things around. (SPOILER ALERT!!! The secret is always to simplify their menu and use simple, fresh ingredients!) However, don't go into it thinking that show is the "softer, gentler" side of Ramsay. Although he has the chefs and their restaurants in his best interests, you'll find that getting them to change their current ways often leads to some heated "discussions" in the kitchen, people quitting, or threatening Ramsay's life.
While I'll pretty much watch anything food related on TV (I have a problem, I know), there's something quite entertaining about seeing a behind the scenes view of a kitchen - especially one that is having issues, which seems to increase the craziness. Add in that you often find yourself rooting for these "underdog" restaurants that are often nearly going bankrupt, to change their ways and once again find success (what's more American that that?) and you have a recipe for success. The possibility of actually being able to visit these restaurants at some point in real life is an added bonus.
Come to Cincinnati, Gordon!
10:00 - Top Chef (BRAVO) - Returning Favorite - Now Playing
Okay, so apparently Wednesday is cooking show night for me. Good thing I have this Future Wife now to prove that I'm straight!
What can I say about Top Chef that I haven't already said? It gets the most talented chefs of any cooking show on TV, puts them in crazy and highly entertaining challenges, and spends more time on the food than on the drama between the contestants. We're currently down to the final 5 contestants of the third season, and if you haven't been watching so far, I'd recommend finding one of the marathons that Bravo seems to air at least once a weekend and catching up.
If you like food, you'll like Top Chef.
8:00 - My Name is Earl (NBC) - Returning Favorite - September 27th
Have you noticed what has been strangely absent from the Fall TV Preview so far? That's right, not a single half-hour comedy so far! That's because greedy NBC has crammed all the worthwhile ones into one night - "Must See TV", indeed!
Up first is "My Name is Earl", which is coming off a sophomore season that bettered the first in almost every way. The show remained as fresh and funny as ever, sometimes making me laugh more than "The Office" - crazy, I know. Although some people think it's crazy that the season ended with Earl in jail, and are expecting a quick exit at the start of the third season, I think it's pure genius. Due to his sketchy past, not only does Earl probably have a large number of "friends" in jail, but trying to spread his do-gooder attitude there will be harder than ever. It raises the difficulty level up a notch for Earl and his list, and opens the door for some very unique storylines.
I wouldn't be surprised to see Earl spend at least the first third of the season in prison.
8:30 - 30 Rock (NBC) - Returning Favorite - October 4th
Coming fresh off an Emmy win, here's hoping that "30 Rock" can do what "Arrested Development" couldn't - turn an Emmy win into a ratings increase. It’s a smart show that feels like “The Office” from time to time – in that its humor is often uncomfortable, but unlike The Office, 30 Rock contains many more “characters” – people who are so ridiculously over the top that they almost become unrealistic (Alec Baldwin, Tracy Morgan, and Kenneth Parcell). In some cases this distracts from the show, but thanks to Tina Fey playing the normal character we can all relate to, the show works.
With any luck, this show will continue to improve (keep in mind that it actually got much better as last season went on – if this pace improves, it will be fantastic by mid-season) and last for a third season. If I were ranking the Thursday night comedies on NBC, this would come in at #4 – but it’s still better than any comedy you’ll see on CBS or ABC this fall. Plus, it’s right between Earl and the Office, so you don’t have to change channels. Laziness wins out!
9:00 - The Office (NBC) - Returning Favorite - September 27th
Put quite simply, “The Office” is head and shoulders above any other comedy on Network TV. It’s got the quirkiness of an “Arrested Development”, the romance of a “Friends”, and the water cooler buzz of a “Grey’s Anatomy” all rolled into one. Plus, it’s scarily crazy to the reality of working in an office, which adds an element of sadness to the show.
Last season saw the show seamlessly add new characters like Andy and Karen without taking time away from any of the fan favorites. These new players added some fresh new elements to the show that worked perfectly (Andy providing the “enemy” for Dwight, Karen adding the third point to the Jim and Pam love triangle) and provided a change of pace aside from all the traditional relationships on the show.
I enjoy that the writers don’t seem to be sitting comfortably with the current state of The Office, which might lead to eventually staleness. Instead, they’re doing things like promoting Ryan, firing Jan (and having her move in with Michael), and moving Karen out of the picture. This ever-changing face of the show helps keep the storylines rolling along realistically, without feeling forced. It shows the confidence that they have in what they’re doing, and aren’t afraid of taking risks.
Having said that, there is absolutely no way that the Jim and Pam relationship goes anywhere. I can’t point to any forthcoming obstacles that would keep them apart, but there simply must be one. Keeping them together would make the show a little too “relationshipy”, which isn’t what The Office is all about. Rather, it’s about pointing out how insane the corporate world really is, and providing an endless stream of quotes for each of us to use at our jobs on a daily basis.
9:00 - Grey's Anatomy (ABC) - Returning Favorite - September 27th
Grey’s Anatomy, you’re on notice.
After a fantastic second season which catapulted the show into the most watched show on TV, Grey’s took a definite step backwards last season. The storylines were depressing, seemed to drag on, and almost seemed overshadowed by the off camera action of its cast members. In my mind, this was never more apparent than the season finale, where a full season’s worth of plotting around Cristina and Burke’s wedding was thrown away – possibly for the sake of kicking Isaiah Washington off the show for his “fights” with cast members. The audience invested a heck of a lot of time in that storyline for it to have zero payoff. But enough about last year, how does this season look?
Well, it somewhat concerns me that the most likeable female character on the show, Addison, is leaving for her a spin-off, leaving us with three semi-annoying female leads, and the always solid Dr. Bailey. It worries me that they are introducing Meredith’s sister as an intern / potential love interest for McDreamy – that’s borderline afternoon soap opera storyline, isn’t it? I also wonder how long the show can continue to have such a small core of characters make up and break up.
I hope I’m wrong. When Grey’s is at its best, it’s a quite compelling hour of TV that can make you laugh, cry, and feel good about life in general. I just saw very few of these flashes of brilliance last year. But due to its water cooler presence, it’ll probably stay on my radar through at least the fall (the scary alternative: do actual work from 8:00 – 8:30 on Friday morning. No thank you!).
9:30 - Scrubs (NBC) - Returning Favorite - September 27th
After a real resurgent fifth season, which I would rank as the best since season two, “Scrubs” took a bit of a step backwards last year as well. There were still a number of high quality episodes (the musical comes to mind), but there were also a lot that just seemed like they were walking through the motions. Each character would do their shtick, there would be a lesson learned from a patient, and cool indie music would play in the background. But most of the episodes didn’t stick with you the way that the "classic" episodes from the early seasons did.
This being the final season of the show, Scrubs is given a chance to redeem itself and go out on the top of its game. In reality, I’m just thankful they have the opportunity to do so. For a while, it looked like the show would be cancelled due to lower than desired ratings and the growing draw of major motion pictures for Zach Braff. Thankfully the gang is all back together and show creator Bill Lawrence seems like he’ll be much more involved.
But regardless of what happens in this last season, it’s safe to say that Scrubs will go down as one of my Top 10 favorite television shows of all time. I’ll be sad to see it go.
Monday Through Thursday
11:30 – Colbert Report (COMEDY CENTRAL) – Returning Favorite – Now Playing
I would be amiss if I didn’t also mention “The Colbert Report”, which isn’t really a traditional “Fall TV Show” since it doesn’t really have a season – but does offer more comedic bang for your buck than any other show on TV. With hundreds of episodes produced each year, The Report is always there for you, waiting on your DVR to give you at least a few laugh out loud moments in the early hours of a weekend morning or the early evening hours during dinner.
Stephen Colbert deserves some kind of award – I’m just not sure what. His character on the show is a total act, yet he plays it straight through the news stories and interviews. Does that make him a traditional variety show “host”, an “actor”, or some crazy hybrid of the two? Whatever he is, in my mind this makes him more gifted than Jon Stewart and David Letterman combined. From having airplanes, mascots, and endangered species named after him, to getting into fights with rebel billionaires, Colbert mixes these elements of his “character” in with the usual satire of the news to produce a half hour of pure entertainment.
It’s a smart show that requires a firm grasp of current events to get the jokes – but it also requires dedicated viewing to understand some of the ongoing storylines that also fit into jokes. This has created an insanely dedicated fan base, which has used its power to change Wikipedia articles, win Hungarian bridge naming contests, and even prompted Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to warn Democrats to stay away from Colbert.
I can’t think of any television personality who has ever commanded such power, and Colbert uses it to his utmost advantage. With the upcoming 2008 elections, I can’t even wait to see what’s coming up next. It’s Colbert’s world, we just live in it.
So there you have it, roughly 10 hours of television that you ought to be watching each week. Yes, there are some other shows that could have made the cut (“Reaper”, “Friday Night Lights”) or some I’m probably not watching due to the lack of premium cable channels – but in my mind this represents the best and brightest that the world of TV has to offer. If nothing else, if you watch these shows, it will help you forget that Lost isn’t coming back for another five months.
(Speaking of which, I’m still undecided as to how I’ll handle the Blog for these upcoming five months, so if you have any suggestions, feel free to leave them below!)