Saturday, September 12, 2009

2009 Fall TV Preview

Some people like to romanticize about spring being in the air - but for me, this is the far happier time of the year. Football returns, the jeans come out of hibernation, and you turn off the AC and throw open the windows to breathe in the crisp, cool, clean air. Say hello to the Fall, or as I call it - THE GREATEST SEASON OF THE YEAR.

If all that weren't enough, Fall also brings new life to the summer television wasteland, giving us real shows to watch after spending the long summer months surviving on reality garbage and DVRed episodes of Conan and Colbert. Finally the 2009 Fall TV Season is upon us! Without further ado, I present to you the 2009 Edition of Brian's "Fall TV Guide". For the uninitiated, this is my take on "what's worth watching" on TV. It's my attempt to save you time and maximize your TV watching schedule. As always, there are a number of returning favorites where I can whole-heartedly vouch for their quality - along with some new shows that I'm going to give a chance this fall… and why I'm doing so.

Here's the day by day breakdown:


9/27 - 8:00 pm - Amazing Race (CBS) - Six years ago, the Emmys created a category called "Outstanding Reality - Competition Program". Each year, one show has walked away with the win - and it's "Amazing Race". There is a reason for that - it's a fun, worldly show that avoids all the normal "trashy elements" that accompany most reality shows. There's no contestants sleeping around with each other. There's no angry yelling from the judges / hosts. The star of the show is the world, seeing places most of us will never visit in our lives, and watching average people deal with challenges that are semi-related to the people who live there. Plus, Phil Koeghan has the greatest job in the history of the world. Travel to a fun location, stand there for a few hours, then tell people what order they arrive in. I could do that.

9/27 - 9:00 pm - Dexter (Showtime) - Given that Lost doesn't return until the Spring, this is far and away the best drama of the fall. Unlike some shows that find a concept and then spin their wheels for years without any drastic changes to the show's dynamic, Dexter has never been afraid of mixing things up and actually letting their characters grow - even if that drastically changes some facets of the show. Last season, Dexter found a "killin' buddy" in Jimmy Smits and ended up getting married to Rita. Will this soften Dexter? Will this just add another element of difficulty and danger to his murders? Will he start to teach Rita's kids his murderous life lessons (as the Dexter books did?) Either way, this show features tremendous acting from all its major players and is able to create suspense, action, and an unexpected amount of humor with a season-arching storyline that doesn't normally have any episodes that feel like "fillers". It's all good stuff - and although I have a small fear that my love for Dexter will accidentally turn me into a serial killer someday, it's a risk I'm willing to take for TV this good.


9/21 - 8:00 pm - How I Met Your Mother (CBS) - I'm late to the party on this one. After spending years complaining about everything CBS (aside from the "Amazing Race"), I finally discovered that they have a scripted show that is worth my time. The wife and I have been burning through Season One DVDs on Netflix, and I can honestly say that I laugh out loud during a good 90% of the episodes. It kinda feels like a Scrubs-like comedy, and not just because Sarah Chalke has guest starred numerous times. It has a winning combination of lowbrow humor, subtle humor, and heart that makes me care about the characters and thoroughly enjoy watching them. I do have a fear (based on some rumors I've heard) that the show starts to go downhill after Season Two - and must admit that the reruns from last season that I've seen this summer don't conjure up as many laughs as the Season One DVDs - but we'll see.


NOW - 8:00 pm - 90210 (CW) - Here is my annual "lose all credibility" show. It seems that every year there's at least one show that I love - but deep down inside know that it's not very good and I shouldn't like it so much. Past shows in this category include such classics as "Laguna Beach" and "The Hills". In the same vein as those shows, 90210 features all the same sort of properties - hot girls, good music, glossy production, and angsty teen drama. It's pure sugar and I love every minute of it - plus it teaches me about what's popular with the kids these days, along with the dangers facing the spoiled rich youth of America. I have to assume all these lessons are going to payoff in my own life at some point in the future.

11/3 - 8:00 pm - V (ABC) - The first of two new shows this season that seem designed to capture the Lost crowd, who will basically be wandering around lost (pun) come May 2010 without a new show to obsess about. In "V", a remake from a 1980's series of the same name, spaceships suddenly appear over all major cities of the world - but instead of laying waste to them, a la "Independence Day", they come in peace (allegedly) and do things like curing the world of disease and giving them fancy fun technology. However, some people are skeptical about their true intentions when they find that the "Visitors" (thus the series title "V") have been here for a long time, and have infiltrated all sorts of positions of power on earth. Drama! The biggest draw for Lost fans (aside from how uber-geeky it sounds) is that the series stars our very own Juliet Burke, Elizabeth Mitchell. I've got my doubts about this one - and fears that it'll be too sci-fi nerdy for me - but I'm going to give it a shot, and you should do the same. After all, you owe it to Juliet, she blew up the Jughead to save us all.


9/23 - 9:30 pm - Cougar Town (ABC) - A new series by Scrubs' genius creator Bill Lawrence, starring Courtney Cox. It's about a newly single woman who starts dating again in a town where high school football is king - so, something I can totally relate to in my own life. Or not… But I loved Scrubs and I loved Friends, and there is a definite "comedy void" in middle of the work week, so I'm going to give this one a shot. If it's half as good as Scrubs, I'll be happy… and will cry approximately once per season.

NOW - 10:00 pm - Top Chef (Bravo) - If you are a "foodie" or like to eat food, Top Chef is like crack. It's quite simply the perfect cooking show on TV - honest to goodness skilled chefs competing in fun challenges with likeable hosts and interesting guests. This year's batch of contestants are far and away the best chefs that have ever been on the show, and it makes it all the more enjoyable to watch. Plus, you learn about fun ingredients and foods that allow you to impress strangers when you go to fancy dinners. If I could only watch one hour of TV a week in the fall, it would easily be Top Chef.

NOW - 10:00 pm - Man vs. Food (Travel) - What's not to like? Watching a super likeable average guy explore the local cuisine of various cities in America and attempting to conquer the local "food challenge" - be it eating large quantities of food, really spicy foods, or in some time limit. It gives the average viewer an idea of what foods they should be eating when they travel around the country (hint: not at chain restaurants!), and for idiots like me, it inspires me to attempt to eat things like an 8 pound hamburger or 3 foot burrito, even though my head tells me it's impossible. There is no better way to spend a Wednesday night than watching Man vs. Food during the commercials of Top Chef. It's one solid hour of foody goodness.


9/24 - 8:00 pm - FlashForward (ABC) - The second - and in my mind, far more likely - show to capture the obsessive imagination of the Lost crowd is "FlashForward". Much like "V", it helps us make the transition from Lost by featuring not one - but TWO characters from Lost: Charlie "Dominic Monaghan" Pace and Penny "Sonya Walger" Widmore. The storyline here is pretty simple, but could branch out in a number of really interesting directions. In it, a mysterious worldwide event makes everyone "flash forward" six months in the future, where they experience two minutes and seventeen seconds of their lives at the time. When it is over, many have died due to the world passing out for a few minutes - but everyone who is left is trying to figure out why it happened, what it means, and if they can change their future. Tell me this doesn't sound right up the alley for the average Lost fan! The show is based on a novel by Robert Sawyer, that I intend to read over the course of my Hawaiian vacation. Hopefully it doesn't spoil the entire series for me...

9/17 - 9:00 pm - The Office (NBC) - Is "The Office" as good as it used to be? No. Does "The Office" still bring a few laughs - and quotable lines - for those of us who work in the American workforce? Absolutely. At this point, you know the characters, you have your favorites, and you pretty much know what you're going to get in each episode. Jim being sarcastic. Dwight being outrageous. Michael trying to be liked and accepted. It's predictable, but enjoyable - just like "Friends" was in the tail-end of its run.

9/17 - 9:30 pm - Community (NBC) - "Community" will follow "The Office" for the first few weeks of the season in an attempt to gain a wide audience using The Office's strong lead-in. I've actually seen the first episode online, and can confirm that it's legitimately funny. Joel McHale (from E!'s "The Soup") stars as a lawyer who is forced to go back to college after his degree is deemed to be invalid. He ends up at Community College, where he meets a motley crew of characters including Chevy Chase and John Oliver (from "The Daily Show"). The nice thing about "Community" is that it feels different than any other comedy on TV - unlike a show like "Parks and Recreations", which feels exactly like "The Office". It's nothing groundbreaking, and it's actually closer to a traditional comedy than shows like "The Office" or "Arrested Development'… but a traditional comedy with a cynical, sarcastic edge. I laughed out loud a number of times during the premiere - let's hope they can keep the quality up in subsequent episodes.

10/15 - 9:30 pm - 30 Rock (NBC) - After "Community" ends its short run at 9:30 on October 8th, it moves to its normal timeslot at 8:00 pm - and "30 Rock" returns at 9:30, as usual. Last year, "30 Rock" officially surprassed "The Office" in terms of quality and humor, as well as becoming a far more "trendy" show to watch. However, with it came a seemingly endless stream of guest stars - some of whom worked great, and some of whom felt like guest stars who frustratingly took time away from the funnier, established series regulars. It's understandable, since "30 Rock" barely came back for last season due to low ratings - and by trotting out a series of famous guest stars, it drives ratings up (in theory) - but now that it's solidified itself as the most Emmy-nominated comedy on TV, I hope it returns its focus back to its core cast - who with Liz Lemon, Jack Donaghy, Tracy Jordan, and Kenneth Parcell represent probably four of the ten funniest people on TV today.

So there you have it - the TV shows you should be watching this fall. I'm sure there are shows I'm missing, and there could be a show or two that make their way onto my DVR before the season is over - but for now, these are the 9 hours of television I'll be watching each week. Only 9 measely hours? That's downright healthy! Who says I watch too much TV?