TV's new beginnings

A batch of shows will premiere in the next couple of months, and several are good-looking.

Posted: January 03, 2012

It's the Golden Age of Television, with more provocative and entertaining series premiering in the next few weeks than would appear in the entire season 10 years ago. It's also the Leaden Age, with more schlock reality shows than anyone could imagine in 2001.

You won't see any of them noted here, in this selective preview of new scripted TV to talk about (and watch) in the next two months.

Tuesday

Work It (ABC). Things can only improve after the premiere of this show about clunky guys who decide the only way they can get a job is to dress up as women. Critical consensus puts it right there among the worst sitcoms of the 21st century.

Sunday

The Firm (NBC). The poor Peacock tries to gain some traction with this show based on John Grisham's novel and movie in which a lawyer and his family emerge from 10 years in hiding after destroying a law office that was a front for the Mafia. After a two-hour premiere, it moves to Thursdays at 10 p.m., killing NBC's best new fall series, Prime Suspect. Juliette Lewis plays the "feisty, sexy" receptionist.

House of Lies (Showtime). Don Cheadle heads a team of management consultants in what may be the sassiest new winter series, and timely, too, poking delicious fun at the highest echelons of corporate America. Slick Kristen Bell costars.

Jan. 11

Are You There, Chelsea? (NBC). It started off with the original Chelsea Handler book title, Are You There, Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea. Maybe that was too edgy, surprising, since the whole package, starring That '70s Show's Laura Prepon, looks over the edge.

Jan. 12

The Finder (Fox). Guy gets blown up in Iraq, but there's good news. After two months in a coma, he emerges with special brain powers that enable him to find anyone or anything, no matter how sketchy. His home base is Key West, Fla., which means lots of colorful characters.

Rob (CBS). Rob Schneider marries into a tight-knit Mexican American family. Cheech Marin is his father-in-law. Ay, caramba!

Jan. 15

Napoleon Dynamite (Fox). A new cartoon for Sunday night. Jon Heder, who brought the original Napoleon to life, voices the cult-fave title character, too listless even to be alienated, so slack he brings new meaning to slacker. You'll hear most everybody else playing their characters from the 2004 movie that earned nearly $50 million from a $400,000 budget, and new kids are promised, too.

Jan. 16

Alcatraz (Fox). From J.J. Abrams, this looks like one of the good ones. Sam Neill plays a government agent, and Jorge Garcia segues from Hurley on Lost to Dr. Diego Soto, comic book king and the world's foremost Alcatraz expert. They need him when the 302 mother-rapers, father-stabbers, and just plain dastardly dudes who disappeared from the notorious island prison start showing up 50 years later.

Jan. 19

Unsupervised (FX). Some of the behind-the-scenes guys from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Archer have come up with an animated series about a couple of high school boys who are living the dream: no parents anywhere.

Jan. 25

Touch (Fox). Kiefer Sutherland plays the father of a severely autistic boy who can't speak. Turns out he sees patterns nobody else can and communicates not with speech or words but with numbers. Danny Glover plays a grown-up who has some idea what it's all about. After a special preview, the show resumes on its regular Monday-night schedule March 19.

Jan. 29

Luck (HBO). The premium cabler's Next Big Thing stars Dustin Hoffman, Nick Nolte, Dennis Farina, Jason Gedrick, Richard Kind, Jill Hennessy, and many more in a series set in and around the world of horse racing. "It's very hard to think of a type of personality that the racetrack can't accommodate," says creator David Milch (NYPD Blue, Deadwood), who spent years, and hundreds of thousands of dollars, as a high-stakes gambler himself. Michael Mann (Crime Story, Miami Vice, Heat) directs.

Feb. 2

I Just Want My Pants Back (MTV). Post-college life among a group of friends in Brooklyn. Telecast weekly following Jersey Shore, this series, based on a novel and executive-produced by Doug Liman (The O.C., Covert Affairs, the Bourne movie series), demonstrates the triumph of scripted entertainment over "reality."

Feb. 6

Smash (NBC). If anything can ignite a spark and bring viewers back to NBC, this musical drama about the mounting of a Broadway show focused on Marilyn Monroe is it. The musical numbers are better than Glee, and the story is much more cogent and grown-up. A dream team of behind-the-scenes folk (Spring Awakening director Michael Mayer; Neil Meron and Craig Zadon, who produced the movie versions of Hairspray and Chicago; and the de rigueur Steven Spielberg) manipulates a cast that includes Anjelica Huston, Debra Messing, and American Idol runner-up Katharine McPhee, who forcefully demonstrates the weakness of that show's selection process. It's the most promising series of 2012 so far.

Feb. 7

The River (ABC). Another good one. TV adventurer (Bruce Greenwood) goes missing in the Amazon, and his family sets out, along with a docu-show camera crew, to find him. It's as packed with spooky mystery as the jungle is with creepy vines.

Feb. 19

Life's Too Short (HBO). Actor Warwick Davis (from the Harry Potter and Star Wars films) plays a fictionalized version of himself, struggling to get noticed in showbiz. Ricky Gervais and Steven Merchant are the creators/writers/directors/producers, and the show has attracted some big stars, including Johnny Depp, in cameos.


Jonathan Storm is a retired Inquirer television critic. Contact him at jstorm@gmail.com.

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