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All TV and No Play Make David a Dull Boy

By David Michael Wharton     September 19, 2005


The cast of INVASION.
© ABC
This is both the best and the worst time of year for a TV writer. It's the best because a new season is in bloom, with promising new entertainments across the dial. It's the worst because I suddenly have even less of a social life than normal. I've seen so many pilots in the last few weeks that everything is starting to blur together. Last night I had nightmares about Jason Lee fighting off underwater aliens emanating from a hatch and played by a young Chris Rock. The battle was going well until Brent Spiner showed up sporting Steve Carell's comb-over from THE OFFICE and asked Lee out to drinks with Jason Bateman and Shaun Cassidy.



Could be worse, I suppose. Fortunately none of my dreams involved anyone from SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE.



This week, the premiere-bomb bursts. Monday night is a logjam. Tuesday is even worse. My only small comfort is that at least Sci-Fi's Friday line-up is going on hiatus until January, so at least I don't have to worry about counter-programming to THRESHOLD.



I'm so very tired.



Go on, read this week's season previews. I'm going to try and catch a bit of shut-eye before things get bad later tonight…





Tuesday, September 20




MY NAME IS EARL - NBC

Hands down my favorite new comedy of the season; possibly my favorite new show of the season. Last season was the year of the drama, with LOST and DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES getting all the press, but with plenty of other smaller success stories like BATTLESTAR GALACTICA and VERONICA MARS worming their way into our Tivos like televised crack. This year, although the drama pilots do include some promising entries, there's not a LOST amongst them. The comedies, on the other hand, are stronger than in years. Not only are they funny, but they're actually, dare I say it, original.



MY NAME IS EARL introduces us to small-time crook Earl, the sort of guy who's not above stealing trinkets from a car while the family shops in a convenience store. In a bit of cosmic humor, Earl wins the lottery and stands to pick up gobs of dough. Or he would, were he not hit by a car mere seconds after finishing his scratch-off. Convinced that his the universe is punishing him, Earl decides to pull a Sam Beckett and put right what once went wrong by atoning for every bad thing he's ever done. First on the list, the poor kid Earl picked on all through school.



Jason Lee nails the role of Earl, mastering a kind of affable cluelessness that allows him to discuss how Carson Daly invented the concept of karma without a trace of irony. Along for the ride are THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT's Ethan Suplee as Earl's well-meaning lay-about brother Randy and Jaime Pressly as Earl's redneck ex-wife. The show unfolds like a mixture of PAY IT FORWARD and RAISING ARIZONA, except thankfully without the schmaltz of the former. It does manage to have a more than a dab of heart, but never enough to be nauseating since it packs each heartwarming moment between moments like having Earl and Randy flee in terror when they encounter their first homosexual (after which Earl concedes via voiceover that he may have overreacted).



It's completely unlike any other comedy on television, and it should make a great pairing with…



THE OFFICE - NBC

I was a late convert to this remake, having only caught up thanks to recent repeats. Like a lot of folks, my first inclination was to dismiss the show as another tragic entry in the same column as NBC's COUPLING abortion. The pilot didn't do much to dissuade me of these thoughts. As with the COUPLING pilot, it was more or less a do-over of the British series' first episode, and the original did it better. However, later episodes diverged from the original and the show began to carve out its own territory. Both shows share a similar sense of humor, but the American version has managed to master the awkward silences, the painfully funny humiliations and cruelty, in a way that isn't just a carbon copy of Ricky Gervais et. al. NBC's renewal of this show for a second season was a surprise, but shows that perhaps someone in their offices realizes that JOEY is not, thank God, the way of the future.



NIP/TUCK - FX

Much credit has been given to DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES for reinvigorating the prime-time soap, but NIP/TUCK did it earlier and better. There's no show I can think of that better embodies the concept of "guilty pleasure." The adventures of Drs. Christian Troy and Sean McNamara take place in an alternate reality where nearly everyone is preternaturally beautiful, and the writers include plenty of violence to balance out the sex. This is a show that is practically immune to jumping the sharp, because no plot development or surprise twist can be more over-the-top than the show itself. Famke Janssen as a post-op transsexual? Sure! That guy with the bad hair from THE SINGLE GUY torturing Christian Troy in the filthy back room of a Florida slum clinic? Why not? Joan Rivers playing Joan Rivers? Hell yes!



NIP/TUCK's first season features one of the more inspired closures to a season-long story arc I've seen in some time, and last season's cliffhanger ending with the Carver was as unnerving as they come. NIP/TUCK is at times gloriously, hedonistically sudsy, but it also presents a cast full of textured, deeply flawed characters. Beauty may be skin deep, but fortunately there's more to NIP/TUCK than just the surface appeal…even though the surface is quite delicious.





Wednesday, September 21




LOST - ABC

What's down the hatch? What's the nature of the monster/security system? How did the Black Rock wind up marooned in the middle of the jungle? What do the black and white rocks mean? Who were the corpses in the cave? Are the numbers really cursed? Who are the Others? Why did the plane crash?



The writers of LOST have got plenty of questions to answer in their second season, but none more crucial than this: do they actually have a plan? If the answer is no, it's only a matter of time before the audience realizes they're being played, and when that happens, no amount of carrot-dangling may save the show from itself. I truly hope they do have a plan, and that it's a good one, but they've got an uphill battle before them after so many fans were antagonized by last season's non-event of the hatch opening.



INVASION - ABC

Shaun Cassidy brought us AMERICAN GOTHIC, so there's no question that this guy knows his creepy, small-town dramas. We never got to find out who would come out on top in the cosmic struggle between Sheriff Lucas Buck and Caleb Temple, but maybe more will tune in for this story of the silent infiltration of a small Florida town in the wake of a hurricane. While there are three shows this season focusing on alien invasions (although SURFACE's Josh Pate is quick to point out that we don't actually know whether that show's creatures are alien; more on that in our interview with him, to run in this column a few weeks hence), each of them manages to be different enough that there's a slim chance that they might each find an audience. SURFACE bills itself as a family adventure, with a lighter tone than the others. THRESHOLD takes on the X-FILES template of paranormal investigation, but with the characters (so far, at least) working with the government as opposed to just as often against it.



Both SURFACE and THRESHOLD are fairly broad in their scope, with the former following three main characters from various corners of the U.S. and phenomena springing up throughout the world's oceans. THRESHOLD also seems set to send the team far and wide, wherever evidence of alien incursion crops up. INVASION, on the other hand, keeps its focus narrowly targeted on one town, the better to build the paranoia. Don't expect to find INVASION's interlopers blowing up the White House or toppling the statue of liberty anytime soon. They have chosen as their beachhead the last place we would expect, and if there is to be a resistance against them, it will come in the form of ordinary people like park ranger Russell Varon and his family. INVASION has the enviable lead-in of LOST, so it probably has a better chance for survival than most. Assuming, of course, that LOST doesn't chase away its audience this year…





Thursday, September 22




EVERYBODY HATES CHRIS - UPN

The critics sure don't. Chris Rock does the WONDER YEARS thing and recounts his youth in comedic fashion. Haven't seen this one yet, but the critics can't seem to shovel enough love onto it. Good for UPN for giving me a reason to tune them in (aside from VERONICA MARS, of course).





Friday, September 23




GHOST WHISPERER - CBS

Jennifer Love Hewitt sees dead people. The audience sees her cleavage. That assumes, of course, that anybody sees this show. Does it have a ghost of a chance?



Send all questions, comments, and prescriptions for sleeping pills to tvwasteland@cinescape.com. Keep your head and hands inside the television, folks…





MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 19



ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT (7 PM CST, FOX) "The Cabin Show." Mistaken identities! Forbidden love! Mobile cabins! All this and more await you as the new season of one of TV's funniest comedies kicks off. "Hey, those are blue too!" (Season premiere)



SURFACE (7 PM CST, NBC) "Pilot." Strange things are afoot in the seven seas! Quick, alert Aquaman! (Series premiere)



THE ONE (7 PM CST, FX) The One who was, the One who is, or the One who will be?



KITCHEN CONFIDENTIAL (7:30 PM CST, FOX) "Exile on Main Street." ALIAS's Bradley Cooper oversees a motley kitchen crew of vets from BUFFY, FREAKS AND GEEKS, and elsewhere. The plot manages to recycle more than a few clichés, but I still found myself chuckling. (Series premiere)



HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER (7:30 PM CST, CBS) "Pilot." After having hung out with Veronica Mars last season, Alyson Hannigan finally gets her own show. It doesn't hurt that it's supposed to be pretty good, too. (Series premiere)



PRISON BREAK (8 PM CST, Fox) "English, Fitz, or Percy." Michael planned for every contingency in his prison break. Except for getting transferred to another prison. Amateur.



JUST LEGAL (8 PM CST, WB) "Pilot." Hey, kids, it's Don Johnson on TV, and he's not playing Nash Bridges. Where's the fun in that? (Series premiere)



MEDIUM (9 PM CST, NBC) "When Push Comes to Shove…" Allison takes a page from Frank Black and hunts a serial killer. (Season premiere)



CSI: MIAMI (9 PM CST, CBS) "From the Grave." How does Horatio Caine kick off his new season? Gang-bangers in a graveyard, that's how. (Season premiere)



WEEDS (9:30 PM CST, Showtime) "Higher Education." Nancy recruits her son's tutor to deal to college kids. See what they did there with the title, "Higher Education"? That's what's known in the business as "clever."





TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 20



BONES (7 PM CST, FOX) "The Man in the SUV." Seely and Bones dig into the case of what may have been a suicide bomber.



GILMORE GIRLS (7 PM CST, WB) "Fight Face." Rory mopes while performing community service. But doesn't make out with Lorelai, regardless of what FAMILY GUY would have you believe.



HOUSE (8 PM CST, FOX) "Autopsy." A young cancer patient is afflicted with hallucinations.



MY NAME IS EARL (8 PM CST, NBC) "Pilot." Jason Lee dons a mustache worthy of a 70s porn star and takes the lead in my favorite new comedy of the season. In the opener, Earl decides to do right by the poor schmuck he used to torment in school. (Series premiere)



SUPERNATURAL - (8 PM CST, WB) "Wendigo." The guys trade in their ride for an RV. No, wait, that would be "Winebago." Actually, they go looking for a legendary creature that may be snacking on campers.



THE OFFICE (8:30 PM CST, NBC) "The Dundies." Michael emcees employee awards night. (Season premiere)



NIP/TUCK (9 10:30 PM CST, FX) "Momma Boone." Rhona Mitra joins the cast as a British detective and, from what I can tell from the ads, has repeated threeways with Dr. Christian and Kimber Henry. Which is just fine by me, thanks. (Season premiere)




WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 21



DESTINATION LOST (7 PM CST, ABC) Forgot what happened last season on LOST? This special will bring you up to speed, assuming "Not as much as I'd like" isn't answer enough for you.



E-RING (8 PM CST, NBC) "Pilot." Dennis Hopper coordinates black ops for the Pentagon as Jerry Bruckheimer continues his quest to have a show on during every available time slot. (Series premiere)



LOST (8 PM CST, ABC) "Man of Science, Man of Faith." Ready to find out what's in the hatch? No matter what it is, I'll bet at least 50% of the audience will be bitching about it come tomorrow. (Season premiere)



GHOST HUNTERS (8 PM CST, Sci-Fi) "TAPS Trainee/Asylum." It was just a matter of time before the TAPS guys investigated an insane asylum. Hopefully it will work out better for them than it did for the guys in SESSION 9.


INVASION (9 PM CST, ABC) "Pilot." Unfortunate Timing Theater presents this tale of alien encroachment on a small Florida town… in the aftermath of a devastating hurricane. (Series premiere)



OVER THERE (9 PM CST, FX) "Spoils of War." The team finds millions of dollars during a sweep for insurgents. Didn't these guys see THREE KINGS?





THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 22



THE O.C. (7 PM CST, Fox) "The End of Innocence." Parents want Ryan and Marissa to stop seeing each other. When will grown-ups learn that interfering in youngsters' dating lives can only end in tragic double suicides?



EVERYBODY HATES CHRIS (7 PM CST, UPN) "Everybody Hates the Pilot." A critically acclaimed comedy. And it's on UPN. I keep checking outside, but the world doesn't seem to have imploded yet. (Series premiere)



INTOLERABLE CRUELTY (7:15 PM CST, Cinemax) Best use of an asthma inhaler ever.



REUNION (8 PM CST, Fox) "1987." TV Guide actually claims this will be "1988", the third episode, but since Dubya's speech pre-empted things last Thursday, I'm betting it will actually be episode two. Either way, expect the soundtrack to feature music by bands with large hair.



CSI: CRIME SCENE INVESTIGATION (8 PM CST, CBS) "Bodies in Motion." They tend to stay in motion, so I've heard. (Season premiere)



CRIMINAL MINDS (9 PM CST, CBS) "Extreme Aggressor." Mandy Patinkin plays yet another FBI profiler with yet another talent for getting inside the minds of even more serial killers. I stifle a yawn. (Series premiere)





FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 23



GHOST WHISPERER (7 PM CST, CBS) "Pilot." Jennifer Love Hewitt's breasts communicate with the dead. Okay, okay, I realize the "Jennifer Love Hewitt's breasts" jokes have been played out, but who am I to break with tradition? (Series premiere)



STARGATE ATLANTIS (7 PM CST, Sci-Fi) "Aurora/Lost Boys." Two words, children: The Ancients. (Last ep til January)


KILLER INSTINCT (8 PM CST, FOX) "Pilot." You know what we need? Another cop show. Yeah. (Series premiere)



THRESHOLD (8 PM CST, CBS) "Blood of the Children." The team investigates a military academy that may have been infiltrated by them weird aliens what make the cockroaches dance.

BATTLESTAR GALACTICA (9 PM CST, Sci-Fi) "Pegasus." Look,
everybody, it's Ensign Ro! Or Amanda Zero, depending on your fondness for internet bootlegging. (Last ep til January)


INCONCEIVABLE (9 PM CST, NBC) "Pilot." I do not think that word means what you think it means. (Series premiere)



NUMBERS (9 PM CST, CBS) "Judgment Call." Don and Charlie investigate the murder of a judge's wife. (Season premiere)





SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 24



CATCH ME IF YOU CAN (7 PM CST, ABC) Here's a hint: he can.



I, ROBOT (7 PM CST, HBO) You, Jane.



TEEN TITANS (7 PM CST, Cartoon Network) "Homecoming, Part One." You want geeky? I'll give you geeky. Tonight's episode introduces animated versions of the Doom Patrol. (Season premiere)



PATH OF DESTRUCTION (8 PM CST, Sci-Fi) Nanites destroy the world.



JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED (9 PM CST, Cartoon Network) "Heart of Stone." Supergirl, Stargirl, and Green Lantern venture to the Earth's core.



JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED (9:30 PM CST, Cartoon Network) "Elegy." Wonder Woman fights for our rights, in her satin tights.





SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 25



THE SIMPSONS (7 PM CST, Fox) "Milhouse of Sand and Fog." Milhouse's folks get back together, but the results are not as Milhouse would have hoped.



THE WEST WING (7 PM CST, NBC) "The Ticket." Who will replace Bartlett in the Oval Office? Actually, I think we still won't find out just yet. (Season premiere)



CHARMED (7 PM CST, WB) "Still Charmed & Kicking." Congrats, CHARMED fans: it's still on. (Season premiere)



FAMILY GUY (8 PM CST, Fox) "Jungle Love." Carrie Fisher voices Peter's supervisor at his new gig at a brewery.



DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES (8 PM CST, ABC) "Next." Let the water-cooler gossip commence. (Season premiere)



ROME (8 PM CST, HBO) "The Ram Has Touched the Wall." This show just got picked up for a second season. Not bad for a program only five episodes in.



AMERICAN DAD (8:30 PM CST, Fox) "All About Steve." Stan recruits an athletic kid to stand in for his geeky son at a father-son softball game.





This concludes our broadcast.

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