It's the opening week of the 2011-12 television season, and with it will come several of the most anticipated new series of the fall, including two sitcom stand-outs: Fox's New Girl and CBS' 2 Broke Girls. Read on and check back next week for more brief reviews.
2 Broke Girls – CBS, Premieres Sept. 19
It suffers from too many vulgar jokes about vaginas and body fluids and such. ("Is that clam chowder?" one character asks of a wet mess on a uniform worn by an over-sexed waitress.) But in every other respect 2 Broke Girls is one of the best new series of the season. Kat Dennings and Beth Behrs, as young women from vastly different worlds who end up working and living together, are as disarmingly funny and thoroughly likeable as the talented actors on The Big Bang Theory, the show I wish this one had been paired with.
The Playboy Club – NBC, Premieres Sept. 19
This should have been a sexy, stylish and nostalgia-drenched drama about the combustible mix of businessmen, lawyers, politicians and bunnies that frequently filled the iconic title locale circa 1960. Instead, it's a timeless bore. Nothing works as it should: Even its personable stars – Eddie Cibrian, David Krumholtz, Amber Heard and Laura Benanti among them – don't quite deliver. The Playboy Club might improve in subsequent episodes, but the audience that shows up for the plodding pilot will probably be long gone by then.
New Girl – Fox, Premieres Sept. 20
Fox's sparkling comedy about a socially awkward young woman who moves in with three average guys after a particularly bad break-up is the best new broadcast series of the fall. Similarly, star Zooey Deschanel is poised to become the breakout star of the season. We've all seen hundreds of comedy series about twenty-somethings looking for love, but New Girl makes that played-out format feel fresh and new. For what it's worth, I shared this pilot with my teenage god-daughters and their friends, all of them young TV fanatics and I have never heard so much laughter from a gaggle of teens in my life. They are already fixated on Fox Tuesday nights from 8-9 because of Glee. I expect that fixation to extend by thirty minutes beginning this week.
Unforgettable – CBS, Premieres Sept. 20
Unremarkable, but I've seen worse. Pleasant Poppy Montgomery stars as a former police officer with a special ability that makes her a natural for solving crimes: She's gifted with Superior Autobiographical Memory, that crazy-rare thing Marilu Henner has. Sounds interesting, but it's anyone's guess how this show will hold up over time, because unless Montgomery's character has some kind of direct connection to every crime she seeks to solve, as she does in the pilot when she investigates the murder of a neighbor, there won't be much for her to remember, will there? Dylan Walsh (Nip/Tuck) co-stars.
The X-Factor – Fox, Premieres Sept. 21
The American version of Simon Cowell's monster British hit is going to bring the same excitement to the fall that American Idol brings to midseason – unless it proves to be one big-budget talent show too many. I mean, how many overnight sensations can the American public be expected to support per year? We're still processing Scotty McCreery (American Idol) and Javier Colon (The Voice) and have yet to even focus on the extraordinary Landau Eugene Murphy Jr. (America's Got Talent). Still, it's the show rather than the fates of its winners that keeps people coming back for more. Given the strength of Cowell's cred and the irresistible allure of his reunion with the ever-unpredictable Paula Abdul I'm guessing The X-Factor is it's going to be huge.
Revenge – ABC, Premieres Sept. 21
A glossy, high-stakes, melodramatic serial set in the Hamptons would be most welcome – if it delivered the goods. Unfortunately, this story about a petulant young woman seeking revenge on the rich people who destroyed her father's life years earlier doesn't deliver much of anything. Five minutes in and you'll be longing for the sublime storytelling, stylized direction, sharp dialogue and award-worthy acting of that comparative classic, The Colbys. My advice to the creative team behind Revenge: Trash it up before viewers toss it out – if it isn't too late. It also wouldn't hurt to add a couple of cast members who know how to have fun with such material rather than taking it (and themselves) so darn seriously.
Charlie's Angels – ABC, Premieres Sept. 22
Quite likely the emptiest and most depressing new entry on any broadcast network this season. The original was a colorful and campy romp that showcased the distinctive talents and individual charms of its three lead actresses. (I'm serious about that, folks. Farrah Fawcett-Majors, Jaclyn Smith and Kate Jackson were perfectly cast and made their one-dimensional characters come vibrantly alive. Their chemistry was like lightning in a bottle; that's why the original began to lost steam when Farrah left in season two despite the wholesome appeal of the actress who replaced her, Cheryl Ladd.) This wrong-headed reboot, with its three interchangeable half-stars and frequent bursts of unwelcome violence is just the opposite, and a total chore to sit through. The only time it shows any life at all is when it's thoroughly unpleasant.
Person of Interest – CBS, Premieres Sept. 22
Michael Emerson – the frequently fascinating but perpetually exasperating Benjamin Linus on Lost -- plays yet another interesting/annoying character in this somewhat promising high-tech procedural crime drama. He's an eccentric rich guy responsible for the creation of a massive surveillance system that pinpoints people who will be involved in attacks but stops short of identifying whether they will be victims or assailants. Jim Caviezel plays the homeless veteran he recruits to help him save people -- or stop them, as the case may be. Yes, it's somewhat muddled, but there are heaping helpings of exciting violence throughout, so I'm thinking the video-game generation will love it.
Whitney – NBC, Sept. 22
The life expectancy of this show will be totally dependent on viewer acceptance of comedienne Whitney Cummings playing a loud, grating, often clueless woman the likes of which any sane person would aggressively avoid. (Maude Findlay and Roseanne Connor appear subdued by comparison.) It won't help that the supporting characters are wholly unlikeable and bear no resemblance whatsoever to real human beings. The only good thing here is Chris D'Elia's very charming portrayal of Whitney's sly, wry and, I think, masochistic live-in boyfriend.
Prime Suspect – NBC, Sept. 22
Maria Bello is just great in an otherwise below-average police drama about a tough female homicide detective who puts up with endless crap from the men on her squad while dealing with weighty personal issues of her own. Unavoidable comparisons to the British original won't do this show any favors, even with so many great actors (Aidan Quinn, Brian F. O'Byrne and Kirk Acevedo among them) supporting Bello, who deserves huge praise for taking on a role that Helen Mirren mastered and somehow holding her own. Too bad NBC didn't have the balls to create an original concept for her.
A Gifted Man – CBS, Sept. 23
Patrick Wilson plays a professionally brilliant but personally flawed neurosurgeon who receives guidance from the ghost of his ex-wife. Yes, you read that right. Questions abound here: Why couldn't they still be married? Why does she have to be dead? How did this ridiculous concept make it through development? And how long will it be until the very gifted Patrick Wilson lands a better series? A smart network executive would pair him in a series with Maria Bello. I think they'll both be available next year.