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Fall TV: There are some potential hits among a variety of new series

SHARE Fall TV: There are some potential hits among a variety of new series

The Fox network's new fall shows were previewed in the Deseret Morning News on Aug. 18.

I know, I know — it's easy, popular and fun to complain that there's nothing good on TV anymore. And some of us get paid to complain about what's on television.

But, as the networks roll out their fall schedules, there are a lot of shows that are, at the very least, worth checking out.

Oh, there are some stinkers, but there are also some genuine gems. Shows that demonstrate huge potential. A few that could well be with us for years to come.

And, with the exception of Saturday — which has no new shows — there's something that's at least worth checking out on every other night of the week.

SUNDAY

THE GAME (Sundays, 7:30 p.m., CW/Ch. 30) is a spinoff of "Girlfriends," and the writers have confused "loud" with "funny." It's definitely the former and only occasionally the latter.

Tia Mowry stars as the live-in girlfriend of a professional football player (Aldis Hodge) who's the new third-string wide receiver for the San Diego Sabers. She reluctantly joins the unofficial wives club, where the competition is more fierce than what's happening on the field.

If you like "Girlfriends," you might like this. Otherwise, steer clear.

Premieres: Oct. 1

BROTHERS & SISTERS (Sundays, 9 p.m., ABC/Ch. 4) is a family drama about a family with more than its share of problems.

Sara (Rachel Griffiths) gave up a corporate career to save her troubled marriage, Tommy (Balthazar Getty) is an ethically challenged womanizer, Kevin (Matthew Rhys) is a successful attorney who happens to be gay, Justin (Dave Annable) is a veteran who isn't dealing with the trauma of war very well, and Kitty (Calista Flockhart) is a right-wing radio host-turned-TV pundit who can't get along with their mother.

Oh, and the family patriarch (Tom Skerritt) dies at the end of Episode 1, leaving behind some big trouble at the family business, and a mistress (Patricia Wettig).

There's been a lot of trouble behind the scenes of this show — recasting, reshooting the pilot, replacing producers — but the first episode shows some promise. Whether it can match the ratings "Grey's Anatomy" had in this time slot last season is highly doubtful, however.

Premieres: Sept. 24

MONDAY

THE CLASS (Mondays, 7 p.m., CBS/Ch. 2) shows every indication of being the best new sitcom to come along this season. And that's not faint praise, even though there aren't a lot of new comedies this fall (and even fewer good comedies). This could well be a show that's with us for years to come.

The premise is hokey and yet somehow works. Ethan (Jason Ritter) is a nice guy who's all set to propose to his girlfriend, who he met in third grade. So he gathers as many of those third-grade classmates as he can at a party where he pops the question — and is promptly dumped. But the third-grade classmates are off and running.

There's good-hearted, unlucky-at-love Lina (Heather Goldenhersh); her cynical twin sister, Kat (Lizzy Caplan); suicidal but sweet Richie (Jesse Tyler Ferguson); Duncan (Jon Bernthal), the guy who peaked in high school and still has a thing for Nicole (Andrea Anders), who's not-so-happily married to an older, former pro football star (David Keith); Kyle (Sean Maguire), the guy who turned out to be gay; and his prom date, Holly (Lucy Punch), who never quite got over it; and Holly's husband, Perry (Sam Harris), who seems sort of, well, flamingly gay.

The first episode of "The Class" is pretty funny; the second and third episodes are great. And that's the best possible sign for a new show.

This could end up being the "Friends" of the 21st century. If we're lucky.

Premieres: Sept. 18

HEROES (8 p.m., Ch. 5) is a show about superheroes, but nobody is wearing tights and a cape. And it gets off to a super start in a pilot that's intriguing, engaging, amusing, dramatic and mysterious.

Something is causing a few people around the world to develop super powers. A nurse (Milo Ventimiglia) is convinced he can fly, although his politician brother (Adrian Pasdar) is skeptical. A high school cheerleader (Hayden Panettiere) is indestructible. A stripper (Ali Larter) seems to have a doppelganger who lives in her reflection. A drug-addicted artist (Santiago Cabrera) can see the future. A young Japanese misfit (Masi Oka) can bend time — and, possibly, teleport himself.

And, as the series progresses, we'll meet a fugitive (Leonard Roberts) who can't be caged and a cop (Greg Grunberg) who can hear people's thoughts.

There's a big mystery about what's causing these mutations, who or what is behind it — and some sort of apocalyptic event on the horizon.

The first episode is spellbinding. Let's just hope it can maintain that quality.

RUNAWAY (Mondays, 8 p.m., CW/Ch. 30) is "The Fugitive" with a family. Donnie Wahlberg stars as a man accused of a crime he didn't commit, so he goes on the lam with his wife (Leslie Hope) and three children (Dustin Milligan, Sarah Ramos and Nathan Gamble).

They settle in a small town where they have to keep their identities a secret to avoid the police, protect themselves from the real killers, solve the crime and live with lots of teen angst.

It's intriguing, but it's going to take a lot of skill to make the concept work as a weekly series.

Premieres: Oct. 1

STUDIO 60 ON THE SUNSET STRIP (Mondays, 9 p.m., NBC/Ch. 5) is a show that has the seemingly impossible task of living up to the lofty expectations NBC (and critics) are creating for it. And yet it does.

Aaron Sorkin, who created "The West Wing" and "Sports Night," combines the two in this new series set behind the scenes of a "Saturday Night Live"-esque show. It's full of smart people who talk fast, characters who quickly stand out (despite the sheer volume of them) and a fully realized, fully believable world.

When the producer of the fictional show-within-a-show has a meltdown, the network's new top programmer (Amanda Peete) turns to a successful writer (Matthew Perry) and director (Bradley Whitford) to save the show. Just one problem — they were fired from the show by the network president (Steven Weber) several years earlier. Oh, and Perry's character just went through a nasty break-up with one of the show's stars (Sarah Paulson).

This is set in Hollywood, but there's just as much political maneuvering as there was on "West Wing." It's smart television that's hugely entertaining.

Not that I want to set expectations too high or anything.

TUESDAY

FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS (Tuesdays, 7 p.m., NBC/Ch. 5) is closely patterned on the 2004 movie of the same name — the pilot is a virtual remake of the film, as a matter of fact. But that's a good thing.

This drama about a high school football coach (Kyle Chandler) and his team in rural Texas is brilliantly done. The show is populated by a lot of teen characters, but this is not "90210" — it's a show that's smart and emotional enough to engage everyone from teens to adults.

You don't have to like football to love 'Lights." It's a drama in which all the stakes are artificially high — just as they are in the real world where football is a religion in the state of Texas.

My only reservation is that the documentary, almost cinema-verite style of filmmaking — while extremely effective in the film and in the pilot — is going to wear on viewers after a while.

I'm just hoping we'll have a long time to get used to it. This is a show worth cheering for.

Premieres: Oct. 3

THE KNIGHTS OF PROSPER-ITY (Tuesdays, 8 p.m., ABC/Ch. 4) has some funny bits in its pilot episode. They feature Mick Jagger, who, unfortunately, won't be on the show every week.

A group of lovable losers (Donal Logue, Sofia Vergara, Lenny Venito, Maz Jobrani, Kevin Michael Richardson and Josh Grisetti) decide to get rich quick by robbing Jagger's palatial New York apartment.

The funny moments are few and far between. The pilot drags in spots, and that's not good.

Premieres: Oct. 17

HELP ME HELP YOU (Tuesdays, 8:30 p.m., ABC/Ch. 4) marks the fourth time Ted Danson has headlined a network sitcom. If this one doesn't kill his sitcom career, nothing will.

In this painfully unfunny show, Danson plays a therapist who's in the middle of a midlife crisis.

On 1970s "Bob Newhart Show," the patients were offbeat and lovable, but this group — played by Charlie Finn, Jim Rash, Suzy Nakamura, Darlene Hunt and Jere Burns — are, for the most part, just unpleasant and unlikable.

Cancel this session at once.

Premieres:Sept. 26

SMITH (Tuesdays, 9 p.m., CBS/Ch. 2) is the third show this year about a gang of thieves. It's not as good as "Thief" nor as bad as "Heist."

Ray Liotta stars as Bobby Stevens, who's leading a double life. A devoted husband, father and working man, he's also a master thief who leads a team (Franky G, Simon Baker. Amy Smart and Johnny Lee Miller) that pulls off big-time heists.

And they're hardly good guys. In fact, Baker's character is a cold-blooded killer.

A job goes wrong in the pilot and people die. Now Bobby has an FBI agent (Chris Bauer) on his tail, a suspicious wife (Virginia Madsen) and a restless crew.

The bigger problem is that the pilot episode just isn't involving. Its prospects as a weekly series seem iffy.

Premieres: Sept. 19

WEDNESDAY

JERICHO (Wednesdays, 7 p.m., CBS/Ch. 2) is sort of a landlocked "Lost" — a group of people cut off from the rest of the world, unsure about how they've gotten into this predicament or how to get out of it. With a touch of apocalypse thrown in.

Jericho is a small Kansas town full of mostly fine folk who see a mushroom cloud rising from Denver, off in the distance. They don't know if it's a single event or part of a global disaster, but they do know they're on their own. And the cast of characters (led by Skeet Ulrich, Gerald McRaney and Pamela Reed) have plenty of backstories for the writers to work with.

The first couple of episodes set up an intriguing, disturbing series. The challenge is to keep the story going — and to make such a dark concept work.

Premieres: Sept. 20

30 ROCK (Wednesdays, 7 p.m., NBC/Ch. 5) is, like "Studio 60," a show set behind the scenes of a "Saturday Night Live"-esque show. But this is a half-hour comedy written, produced by and starring "SNL" alum Tina Fey.

Fey stars as the head writer of that fictional show, which is shot at NBC's New York headquarters (at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, hence the title). A network executive (Adam Baldwin) forces her to add an erratic comedian (Tracy Morgan, another "SNL" alum) as a star of the show — a move that, bizarrely enough, works.

Fey, Baldwin and Morgan are all excellent. The pilot is good — not great, but good. NBC needs to be patient and let the show grow and find an audience.

Premieres: Oct. 11

TWENTY GOOD YEARS (Wednesdays, 7:30 p.m., NBC/Ch. 5) is the single worst new show on any of the broadcast networks this fall — a loud, obnoxious and unfunny "comedy" that could be used as a textbook example of why traditional sitcoms are in decline.

The big gag in the pilot is John Lithgow in a Speedo. 'Nuff said.

Lithgow and Jeffrey Tambor stars as two buddies in their 60s who decide they've only got 20 good years left to them and vow to live life to the fullest. The result is painfully unfunny and downright embarrassing.

Perhaps we could file a class-action lawsuit against NBC for comedy malpractice.

Premieres: Oct. 11

THE NINE (Wednesdays, 9 p.m., ABC/Ch. 4) is a drama about a group of people who meet under the most unusual of circumstances — they're held hostage during a bank robbery. We're not privy to what happened during the standoff, which ended with two people dead.

It's a disparate group — a police detective (Tim Daly), a family man (Chi McBride) and his teenage daughter (Dana Davis); an assistant district attorney (Kim Raver); a surgeon (Scott Wolf) and his girlfriend (Jessica Collins); a bank teller (Camile Guaty); a suicidal nerd (John Billingsley); and one of the bank robbers (Owain Yeoman).

The pilot episode is promising — good writing, good characters, a good cast and enough of a mystery to grab your interest.

Premieres: Oct. 4

KIDNAPPED (Wednesdays, 9 p.m., NBC/Ch. 5) is the better of two serials about — that's right, kidnapping — on the networks this fall. (Fox's "Vanished" being the lesser show.) It's very much in the style of "24" or "Prison Break" — a seasonlong drama surrounding a high-stakes crime.

In the premiere, the teenage son (Will Denton) of wealthy parents (Timothy Hutton and Dana Delany) is kidnapped by a gang of armed men. Enter a professional investigator (Jeremy Sisto) whose relationship with the FBI agent (Delroy Lindo) in charge of the cast is more than a bit antagonistic.

As with all such shows, we'll have to wait and see how this one plays out. But the pilot does an excellent job of setting up the story, so there's reason to hope.

Premieres: Sept. 20

THURSDAY

UGLY BETTY (Thursdays, 7 p.m., Ch. 4) is an unexpected delight — a warm, funny, almost magical series based on a Colombian telenovela.

Betty Suarez (America Ferrera) is an ugly duckling, what with her braces, bad glasses and complete lack of fashion sense. She's very bright, but she's a fish out of water when she goes to work at a fashion magazine as the assistant to the new editor, Daniel (Eric Mabius). He got the job because his father (Alan Dale) owns the publishing company. At home, she's got a loving family; at work, she's surrounded by superficial sharks (with Vanessa Williams as the chief shark). There's also a big mystery surrounding the death of Daniel's predecessor — if she's really dead, that is.

There are a lot of similarities to "Desperate Housewives" here — larger-than-life characters, over-the-top situations and that big mystery. Ferrera is so great as Betty that you almost can't help but be won over.

I love "Ugly Betty."

Premieres: Sept. 28

SHARK (Thursdays, 9 p.m., CBS/Ch. 2) isn't anything new and different, but it's so well done it doesn't much matter. James Woods stars as super-successful defense attorney Sebastian Stark. But, after a guy he got off commits a heinous crime, Stark is talked into switching sides and joining the district attorney's office.

Stark has an uneasy relationship with his new boss/former foe (Jeri Ryan) and has a staff of young lawyers (Sam Page, Sophina Brown, Alexis Cruz and Sarah Carter). And he's got all the high-priced assets prosecutors generally lack — for instance, a mock-courtroom inside his fabulous home.

The personal side of the story — Stark has a teenage daughter (Danielle Panabaker) — is weak, but it's the legal cases and the towering ego of the character Woods plays that carries "Shark." And carries it very well.

Premieres: Sept. 21

SIX DEGREES (Thursday, 9 p.m., ABC/Ch. 4) draws its title from the whole six-degrees-of-separation thing. Which is the conceit used to bring together a group of disparate individuals into an ensemble drama.

This group starts with a grieving single mother who's connected to a successful woman with boyfriend problems, who's connected to a struggling photographer, who's connected to a young man whose brother is a criminal, who's connected to a young woman who's hiding her past, who's connected to a good guy (Jay Hernandez) with a crush on mystery girl.

The characters are way too self-absorbed, but we'll have to wait and see where this goes.

Premieres: Sept. 21

FRIDAY

MEN IN TREES (Fridays, 8 p.m., ABC/Ch. 4) is pretty much a remake of "Northern Exposure" with a female lead — Anne Heche stars as Marin, a life coach who thinks she has a handle on men and relationships. That is, until she finds out her fiance is cheating on her.

She discovers this on her way to a speaking engagement in Alaska, where she ends up staying to find out what the real world — and real men — are all about. She's a fish out of water in a town full of quirky characters. Most of them men.

Heche is personable and charming. The situation is contrived but cute, with the promise of romantic comedy to come. Could work.

Premieres: The pilot aired Tuesday; Episode 2 airs tonight.


E-mail: pierce@desnews.com