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Thursday, September 6, 2012
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TV Pilots Of Fall 2012: Which Will Make The Grade?

By Carson Blackwelder
Television Contributor


It’s September, and you know what that means: It’s time to meet new shows in addition to reuniting with your returning favorites.

Each year, networks decide what shows to keep, move around and cancel, leaving open spots for a gaggle of new series. This month, many of the pilots for these shows will make their small screen debut. It may be overwhelming to be faced with 20 new shows this fall, so I’ll explain which programs did and didn’t make the cut for my DVR queue.

Here are my picks for the best new series of the fall TV season. (Note that this ranking did not take into account the mid-season premieres, even though there are some stand-out players in that arena.)

1) Nashville (ABC)

With all of the glitter and swag to expect from Music City, Nashville stuns audiences with catchy original music (as performed by the actors themselves) and an overflowing of drama. Think NBC’s Smash + the 2010 Gwyneth Paltrow film Country Strong.

The incomparable Connie Britton continues her domination of the small screen (coming from NBC’s Friday Night Lights and the creepily amazing American Horror Story on FX). Britton portrays Rayna James, an aging superstar clinging on to the curtails of an industry that values youth and glam over an extended and successful career. Poised as her rival, Hayden Panettiere (NBC’s Heroes) as Juliette Barnes is the ray of youth and beauty emerging on the country music scene. The competition for the spotlight between the two drives Nashville’s plot forward.

The other portion of the series — the music — correctly portrays the landscape of today’s country music scene. There’s the aging talent that has been a staple on music charts for decades (such as singer Faith Hill), the young superstar taking the industry by storm (á la megastar Taylor Swift), and the underground, emerging style most similar to bands like The Civil Wars.

Given the timeliness of the plot and an all-star cast, Nashville is set to take the fall by storm.

Premiere: Wednesday, Oct. 10 at 10/9c

2) 666 Park Avenue (ABC)

666 Park Avenue is a must for anyone looking for a creepy show to enjoy. The owners of The Drake, an expensive and massive apartment building in New York City’s Upper East Side, are none other than the fabulous Vanessa Williams (ABC’s Ugly Betty and Desperate Housewives) and the always sinister Terry O’Quinn (ABC’s Lost). They play the Dorans, who, in the pilot, hire Henry Martin (Dave Annable of ABC’s Brothers & Sisters) and Jane Van Deen (Rachael Taylor of ABC’s Charlie’s Angels) to co-manage The Drake.

What seems like the perfect job and the perfect apartment proves to too good to be true, as the viewer sees the sinister inner-workings of the building. Williams and O’Quinn play incredibly believable characters, and this show is a gem that will round out ABC’s Sunday night programming (which includes last year’s hits Once Upon a Time and Revenge) despite the hour-long pilot’s complexities and heaviness.

Premieres: Sunday, Sept. 30 at 10/9c

3) The Mindy Project (Fox)

Continuing with the “quirky girl” theme of last year’s New Girl, Fox has stolen the hilarious Mindy Kaling from NBC’s The Office for the comedy The Mindy Project.

Kaling portrays Mindy Lahiri, a young, single — and yes, quirky — physician who has everything going for her in her professional life but is still trying to navigate her love life. Joining Kaling are Chris Messina (HBO’s The Newsroom) and Ed Weeks (Channel 4’s The IT Crowd), who play her sexy co-workers.

Aside from starring in The Mindy Project, the multi-talented Kaling created, executive produces and writes for the comedy. Those who have read Kaling’s book Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) and have encountered her writing through The Office will recognize the wit and charm Kaling’s writing can exude.

Premiere: Tuesday, Sept. 25 at 9:30/8:30c

4) Arrow (The CW)

Smallville fans, wait no longer: Your next primetime superhero show has arrived, and he’s looking pretty green.

Oliver Queen, played by Stephen Amell (ABC’s Private Practice), is making his epic return in Arrow. The series will develop the character of Green Arrow, who was introduced on Smallville (where Justin Hartley portrayed the character), providing the backstory of how he ended up leading the life of an arrow-toting and spandex-clad vigilante. Those steeped in Smallville fandom will recognize the mansion in which the Oliver family lives as the unforgettable Luthor Mansion, which was a central location of the Superman-centered show.

In this retelling of the DC Comics series, Queen returns home from a traumatic shipwreck and struggles with transitioning back to his former life while hiding his secret life of protecting Starling City. The feel of the show is definitely similar to that of Smallville, but with a fresh new cast of characters and a new superhero to win our hearts, Arrow is sure to hit the bullseye.

Premiere: Wednesday, Oct. 10 at 8/7c

5) Revolution (NBC)

Everyone needs to take a risk sometimes, and Revolution is my risk on this list.

Revolution follows a civilization that has had to move on and adapt to a world with no electricity. Due to the loss of power and the dissolution of public order, chaos and warlord rule has become the new norm. The Matheson family, who are the main focus of the show, hold the key (literally and figuratively) to understanding what happened to the electricity and how to reverse the loss. It’s their job to protect this key and keep it out of the hands of those who might want to use it for personal gain.

Billy Burke (TNT’s The Closer) plays Miles Matheson, the newly crowned and slightly unwilling patriarch of the Matheson clan, who is sought out by his niece (played by Tracy Spiridakos of Syfy’s Being Human) after her father is killed by men seeking the secret he and Miles know.

Also providing a glimmer of hope for this complex and Hunger Games-esque show is the casting of Lost alumna Elizabeth Mitchell, who will play Rachel Matheson. Fans of AMC’s Breaking Bad will also recognize Giancarlo Esposito, who played drug kingpin Gus Fring, as yet another villain.

Premieres: Monday, Sept. 17 at 10/9c

Runner-Ups: Go On (NBC), Elementary (CBS) and The New Normal (NBC).

Conversely, here are the top five shows I recommend you tune out:

1) Animal Practice (NBC)

Just when we get rid of Fox’s House, we get stuck with yet another doctor — this time a veterinarian — who has trouble relating to people in Animal Practice. Justin Kirk (Showtime’s Weeds) leads this less-than-stellar cast of vets who prefer being around their furry friends than with their fellow Homo sapiens.

This “comedy” proves to be a yawn and is anything but dynamic or memorable. In fact, nothing stands out as a reason to invest in the show. This show is a rotten apple, and it’s clear that it has failed on all accounts (entertainment value, comedy, storyline and memorability).

If there’s any bright spot, it’s this: Crystal the Monkey (The Hangover Part II and NBC’s Community) steals the show as Dr. Rizzo (yes, you read that correctly).

Premieres: Wednesday, Sept. 26 at 8/7c

2) Partners (CBS)

CBS’s Partners focuses on the friendship of Louis (Michael Urie of ABC’s Ugly Betty) and Joe (David Krumholtz of CBS’s Numb3rs), whose main difference lies in their sexual orientation (groundbreaking, I know). Starring as Joe and Louis’ better halves are Sophia Bush (The CW’s One Tree Hill) and Superman ReturnsBrandon Routh.

In the pilot, the unsure Joe proposes to his girlfriend. Louis subsequently informs her of Joe’s commitment issue, which causes friction between the buddies. This bromance, which is also a lifelong friendship and partnership at an architectural firm, appears to be in trouble, but as is with comedies, the friction is gone by the end of the episode (already bored).

This show, which will follow CBS’s hit How I Met Your Mother on Monday nights, seems a bit out-of-date and trite. It would seem that in the six years after NBC’s Will & Grace, creators David Kohan and Max Mutchnick would have come up with a more forward-thinking show. Instead, not enough has changed.

Premieres: Monday, Sept. 24 at 8:30/7:30c

3) The Neighbors (ABC)

Over-the-top comedy The Neighbors features an average New Jersey family, the Weavers (Lenny Venito, Jami Gertz, Isabella Cramp, Clara Mamet and Max Charles), relocating to a suburb where they are the only humans. This suburb, “Hidden Hills,” has been inhabited by a community of aliens named after famous athletes. Led by Wilt Chamberlain (Simon Templeman of NBC’s uneventful The Event) and his wife Jackie Joyner Kersee (Toks Olagundoye of NBC’s Prime Suspect), the neighborhood has remained undisturbed from the outside world for years — that is, until the Weavers come to town.

The awkward extraterrestrials are amusing at first, but their interpretations of what it means to be human are overplayed and can become slightly annoying. It isn’t hard seeing a future for the series. Whether or not I would want to watch it, though, is a different story. My gameplan: Move out of this neighborhood!

Premieres: Wednesday, Sept. 26 at 8:30/7:30c

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