|Good news about the new fall TV season. The big US networks are not beating one particular genre to death with their programs. Remember last fall and the launch of all the slow moving, creepy paranormal dramas (Threshold, Invasion, Surface), inspired by the success of Lost? Of course you dont, because they all tanked in the ratings and were not picked up for a second season. Thankfully, the new crop of shows is all over the map thematically, as youll see in this first instalment of our three-part fall TV preview.
· Studio Sixty on the Sunset Strip (debuts September 17th on CTV, September 18th on NBC) Its bold prediction time. If this well-written ensemble show stays on the air for a full first season, its going to win awards for the performance of star Matthew Perry. The former Friends actor is an absolute revelation as TV screenwriter Mathew Albie. Perry and Bradley Whitford (The West Wing) are a creative comedy team enjoying major movie success when they are called upon to save the Saturday Night Live-like sketch comedy series that previously fired them. While the entire cast is solid, its Perry, playing a pill-popping, angst ridden, seemingly caricaturized version of himself, that truly shines.
· Heroes (debuts September 25th on NBC) All over the globe, there are people becoming aware that they have superhuman abilities. Heroes introduces us to a small-town cheerleader who is impervious to harm, a Japanese office drone who can manipulate time and teleport, an Internet porn performer with a vengeful mirror image and a male nurse who may or may not be able to fly. With no big names in its cast, Heroes relies on intelligent storytelling and a strong premise to draw viewers. This subtle and intriguing twist on X-Men-like mutant mythology seems deserving of a long series run, but it may take some significant "the ratings will build" patience from network execs to make that possible.
· The Class (debuts September 18th on CTV and CBS) The premise of this new sitcom is ridiculous. A twenty-something guy about to propose to his long-standing girlfriend arranges a grade three reunion and chaos quickly ensues. Heres an obvious question: who grows up and then tries to rekindle relationships with people they knew in frigging Grade 3? Is the bonding that happens over a teachers reading of Charlottes Web really that significant and long lasting? Even if you can get past the stupid setup, youll soon find the jokes on this show are terrible and the chemistry between its no-name stars is non-existent. This is definitely a Class youll want to skip.
· Shark (debuts September 21 on Global and CBS) Academy award-nominated actor James Woods (Ghosts of Mississippi) is in full-on bluster mode in this poorly conceived legal series. Woods plays Sebastion Stark, a famous L.A. defence attorney who switches sides after one of his acquitted clients goes home and whacks his wife. Stark is successfully recruited by a district attorney played by Jeri Ryan (Star Trek Voyager) to teach an ambitious team of young lawyers how to get convictions. Woods shouts a lot in a vehicle full of legal show clichés and one-note characters. How CBS got the talented actor to sign on for this lacklustre show is almost as mystifying as how they got acclaimed film maker Spike Lee (Do the Right Thing) to direct the pilot.
· Smith (debuts September 18 on CTV, September 19 on CBS) The movie stars just keep flocking to TV gigs as Ray Liotta (Goodfellas) and Virginia Madsen (Sideways) headline the cast of this new crime drama. Liotta plays the leader of an elite group of thieves. Madsen is his trophy wife who has a secret rap sheet. Liotta is suitably cool and confident and his crew features a compelling cast of characters, including Amy Smart (The Butterfly Effect) as a femme fatale who is as destructive to herself as she is to others. But the by-the-numbers robbery scenes of the pilot seem to indicate were not going to see anything here we havent seen in better heist films like Heat, or either version of The Italian Job.