Nuggets - not a wealth - of good shows

Posted: September 06, 2007

A muffled clap and a whispered "cheerio" are about all you'll get this fall from anybody who has seen the TV networks' new series.

The landscape's as uninspiring as it has been in years, especially in contrast to last season's surfeit of surefire winners, most of which, sadly and strangely, dried up and blew away. Still, there are a few new series worth waiting for, and some worthy returnees that merit mention in a season preview.

Following in the footsteps of Heroes, fantasy is big. Two notable new series, Chuck and Reaper, feature lovable slackers battling bad guys, real and imagined.

Proving the first law of television, two of the best new series, Pushing Daisies and Kid Nation, are on at the same time, and the only decent new nighttime soap, Cane, faces the lovably quirky veteran Boston Legal.

Ken Burns' blockbuster PBS documentary about World War II may be the most anticipated fall show. At 14 hours, it will last longer than most new network series.

Little CW has two of the best new shows, while Fox has basically given up for fall, with only one new drama and one new comedy, both uninspired. ABC has thrown so many new series at the wall, it may have wound up with the best one.

Pushing Daisies ABC. Wednesdays, 8 p.m. From Bryan Fuller, who created Fox's darling ratings dud Wonderfalls, comes this story of a man who can raise the dead. It's flat-out delightful.

Produced with a heightened palette, it looks like nothing else on TV, and, as the story of two lovers who must never touch, it unspools like nothing else on TV.

Chi McBride and Kristin Chenoweth have supporting roles, as Olive Snood and Emerson Cod, and Swoosie Kurtz and Ellen Greene play former synchronized-swimming champs, the Darling Mermaid Darlings, who are also the eccentric aunts of one of the lead characters. One of them wears an eye patch.

Interested yet?

Reaper CW. Tuesdays, 9 p.m. Ray Wise, once the father of Twin Peaks' Laura Palmer, plays the devil, so things are off to a good start in this spoof, heavy on special effects, about a regular guy with very special duties.

Slacker Sam's in sales, at one of those giant home stores, when he learns that he must help Satan round up hell's escapees, using a different mundane device from his emporium each week. In the pilot, it's a Dirt Devil. Sam's buddy, "Sock" Wysocki, is no help at all, but he sure is funny.

Chuck NBC. Mondays, 8 p.m. Not in the same league as Pushing Daisies and Reaper, Chuck nevertheless is worth a look - and it looks a lot like Reaper. This time, the big-store slacker's a geek, who inadvertently downloads decades' worth of sensitive spy secrets directly into his brain.

Can he escape a steady stream of assassins and torturers? Will the super-hot CIA agent assigned to him be able to help?

The War PBS. Sept. 23-Oct. 2. Talking to the folks who manned the home front in four communities, as well as the ones who went to war, Burns weaves a tapestry that provides a solid understanding of the way things were in World War II.

The War is once-in-a-lifetime viewing. (OK, maybe a couple of times, since it has a similar feel to some of Burns' other big docs.) Lamebrained PBS has scheduled it smack in the networks' premiere week, but you can always catch up with the new series.

Kid Nation CBS. Wednesdays, 8 p.m. There's plenty of controversy about this show, in which CBS stranded 40 kids for 40 days in an old ghost town in New Mexico to see if they could establish their own society.

But the result is insightful, inspiring and entertaining, with nary a trace of Lord of the Flies.

Cane CBS. Tuesdays, 10 p.m. Sprawling drama set in the surprisingly glamorous world of sugarcane. Jimmy Smits and Nestor Carbonell square off as stepbrothers, each with a different idea of how the family business should be run.

Aliens in America CW. Mondays, 8:30 p.m. Viewers with limited vision might see trouble in a comedy about a Wisconsin family that takes in, reluctantly, a Pakistani Muslim exchange student.

But the comedy, which carries traces of Malcolm in the Middle and That '70s Show, is sweet and shines a light, rather than casting a dark curse, on cultural differences. It's one of the best new family sitcoms in years.

Samantha Who ABC. Mondays, 9:30 p.m. The recommendation here is more for the work of Christina Applegate (remember Kelly Bundy?) than for the show, which could use more work.

But Applegate is scintillating as a woman whose amnesia hides her from her previous life as an unreconstructed rhymes-with-witch.

Among the worthy returning shows

Boston Legal ABC. Tuesdays, 10 p.m. Some people can't take the cracked attorney antics of Denny Crane and Daniel Shore, and others snore when Shore goes off on another of David E. Kelley's moralistic speeches. For the rest of us, this show strikes a perfect and unique balance of fantasy and civics, and William Shatner and James Spader are just a joy.

Brothers & Sisters ABC. Sundays, 10 p.m. The most improved show since its start last season, this star-studded (Sally Field, Rachel Griffiths, Calista Flockhart, Ron Rifkin, Patricia Wettig - to name a few) family drama has added heft and characters, including Rob Lowe as a presidential candidate and Emily VanCamp, such an angelic presence in Everwood, as a long-lost "love child." This season, Justin the addict returns from the war in Afghanistan.

CSI: Crime Scene Investigation CBS. Thursdays, 9 p.m. Humor and personality distinguish America's favorite scripted series from so many other "procedurals," and last season was perhaps its best. When it ended, Grissom's secret girlfriend, Sara, was lying pinned under a car, and rumors abound that Jorja Fox, who plays her, is leaving the show. Sexy Jessica Lucas (Life as We Know It) has been signed as a hotshot new CSI. She's not replacing Fox, say those in the know, but that doesn't guarantee that Jorja's back. She'd better be.

Dexter Showtime. Sundays, 9 and 11 p.m. As serial killer and medical examiner Dexter Morgan, Michael C. Hall was TV's best actor last season, and his show was one of TV's best, too. Combined with Brotherhood, which also returns Sept. 30, and the ongoing Weeds and Californication, it makes Showtime the current must-have premium network.

Many of the best shows of the new season won't appear until next year:

In part to bank material against the possibility of a Writers Guild strike (current deadline: Oct. 31), and in part to assure continuity (Remember how many shows got hammered in the ratings when they went on long breaks last season?), the networks have plenty of good new shows waiting on the bench.

There are plenty of blockbusters and old friends set for January and beyond. American Idol comes to mind, along with Lost, 24, Medium, Law & Order, The New Adventures of the Old Christine, The Amazing Race, and HBO's The Wire, perhaps the highest-quality show with the fewest viewers anywhere on television.

Don't forget Jericho, peanut lovers. And then there's The Apprentice, celebrity version, which could be a train wreck or a barrel of laughs. I'm betting on derailment. NBC also has its eye on some paranormal folderol starring that old spoon-bender, Uri Geller.

But the networks are touting two new takes on Sex and the City that may be promising if you like that sort of thing. ABC's Cashmere Mafia, premiering in November, stars Lucy Liu and others and is produced by S & C producer Darren Star. NBC's Lipstick Jungle stars Brooke Shields and others and comes from S & C writer Candace Bushnell.

Better bets are on Fox: Canterbury's Law, in which Julianna Margulies is outstanding as a no-holds-barred defense attorney; The Sarah Connor Chronicles, an update on the Terminator movies; and a sitcom, The Return of Jezebel James.

The pilot of Jezebel was a tad raucous, but the show stars two wonderful actors, Parker Posey and Lauren Ambrose, and it comes from Gilmore Girls guru Amy Sherman-Palladino.

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