March 14, 2009
Try not to laugh.
No really, go ahead. Just try it.
That is your mission while watching the best TV shows coming out this spring, which are...wait for it...yes, comedies! After many years of drama reigning supreme on the boobalicious tube, this year's midseason offerings are finally proving that TV comedy might not be dead after all.
There are a slew of new dramas and comedies premiering in the next few weeks. So which ones are most worth your time? Here's the skinny...
ABC/RON TOMBETTER OFF TED (ABC)
Wednesday, March 18, 8:30 p.m.
Cast: Jay Harrington, Portia De Rossi, Andrea Anders, Jonathan Slavin
Imagine a workplace comedy set at Fringe's Massive Dynamic, and you'll begin to grok Better Off Ted. As Portia De Rossi says, "Better Off Ted is kind of like a crazy [show] about a very moral guy who works in this very immoral, giant corporation." Ted's (Jay Harrington) workplace would seem bizarre and evil if it weren't so dead-on truthful in describing the life of a modern corporate drone just trying to get the cute girl's attention while furiously managing upward, defrosting the lab rats and weaponizing ornamental gourds. (What?)
Verdict: Harrington, Portia De Rossi and Andrea Anders are all top-notch, and this is great stuff.
Carole Segal/Sci FiCaprica (DVD, digital download)
Tuesday, April 21
Cast: Esai Morales, Eric Stoltz, Paula Malcolmson, Polly Walker
This Battlestar Galactica prequel series is another space opera (of sorts) that explores the rise of the Cylon race and the darkest secrets of the Adama family and their rivals, the Greystones. As star Paula Malcolmson tells us, "All the actors on this are really human and really real and really flawed, and the producers have made this [sci-fi] blueprint, but they wanted us to flesh it out." Grim and atmospheric, the series questions what happens when a society's technology gets too far ahead of its morals, while setting the stage for an epic struggle between Caprica's haves (never mind the have-nots), colonial mobsters, law-abiding do-gooders, religious fundamentalists and, above all, the Little Children who aspire to lead them and who have access to artificial intelligences that might allow them to do so.
Verdict: Highly anticipated and rightly so-if the pilot is any indication, Caprica will be another noir masterpiece from Moore & Co.
ABC/PATRICK HARBRONCASTLE (ABC)
Airs: Mondays at 10 p.m.
Cast: Nathan Fillion, Stana Katic
Nathan Fillion, as millionaire playboy mystery author Richard Castle, and Stana Katic, as edgy N.Y. detective Kate Beckett, are midseason TV's most charming odd couple. Beckett's hard-driving nature and finely honed detective technique mesh nicely with Castle's brilliant instinct for sussing out means, motive and opportunity-he did it for his fictional characters, and he easily transfers the skill set to actual crimes. As Nathan Fillion tells us, "[Castle's] having a blast, but he's not driven to find justice-he just wants the beginning of the story. The end is murder, he wants the beginning. He's fascinated by story. That's what drives him."
Verdict: Nathan Fillion is back on TV playing a lovable scamp-how could you possibly say no?!
ABC/ERIC LIEBOWITZCUPID (ABC)
Tuesday, March 24, 10 p.m.
Cast: Bobby Cannavale, Sarah Paulson, Rick Gomez, Camille Guaty
Washington Post writer Lisa deMoraes described Cupid as this decade's Love Boat, and we certainly see the romance-of-the-week resemblance. As Bobby Cannavale explains about his character, Trevor "Cupid" Pierce, "Trevor has a goal. He's got to match up 100 couples to get home [to Mount Olympus]." Cupid is meant to be a lighthearted romp, but the tepid series-lead chemistry between Cupid and his psychiatrist (aka his mythological bride Psyche, get it?), played by Sarah Paulson, is not quite there yet.
Verdict: If you're looking for a new Rob Thomas (Veronica Mars) series to watch, we respectfully recommend his other new show, Party Down.
HARPER'S ISLAND (CBS)
Thursday, April 9, 10 p.m.
Cast: Christopher Gorham, Katie Cassidy, Harry Hamlin
What It Is: A bunch of people go to an island for a wedding. People are killed. People scream. More people are killed, until finally they run out of people. The end.
Verdict: Save yourselves!
NBC Photo: Eric LiebowitzKINGS (NBC)
Sunday, March 15, 8 p.m.
Cast: Christopher Egan, Ian Mcshane, Sebastian Stan, Susanna Thompson
Not since The West Wing has so magisterial a series aired on television. As creator Michael Green (Heroes) says, "I think the job of network television is...also to create larger shows that will be cultural touchstones...things that are more akin to summer-blockbuster movies rather than just pitching the fastball of another cop show." Set against the backdrop of an alternate-universe monarchy (Ian Mcshane plays the king, obviously), Kings reaches back to the biblical tale of King David for inspiration. In this story about a peasant Prince who would (although not necessarily on purpose) be king, Chris Egan is gorgeous as David, and McShane's imperious Silas will give you goosebumps-but the real intrigue lies with Susanna Thompson's not-to-be-underestimated queen. (She will cut you.)
Verdict: Anyone who enjoys an epic saga (like Lost and Battlestar Galactica) will love NBC's Kings. The pretty boys don't hurt either.
IN THE MOTHERHOOD (ABC)
Thursday, March 26, 8 p.m.
Cast: Megan Mullally, Cheryl Hines, Jessica St. Clair, Horatio Sanz
Motherhood is a spinoff of the original Web series about the real-life horror stories of mommydom.
Verdict: The commercials are pretty darn good, plus Megan Mullally and Cheryl Hines know their funny, so we're crossing our fingers.
Keith Bernstein /HBOTHE NO. 1 LADIES' DETECTIVE AGENCY (HBO)
Sunday, March 29, 8 p.m.
Cast: Jill Scott, Anika Noni Rose, Lucian Msamati, Idris Elba
As with most quirky detective shows, this series overcomes formula through humor and heart. Taken from the popular novel series and set in the south African country of Botswana, Jill Scott is motherly and kind as her country's first, only and best lady detective. Scott says of her role, "This character has such faith and hope and such a belief in her country, that I wanted to play her...I just wanted to believe again." Mma Precious Ramotswe is a keen observer with a surplus of Common sense, and her quirky secretary Grace Makutski (the hilarious Anika Noni Rose) makes a marvelous partner in solving crimes small and large. The African scenery and the local-language songs on the soundtrack round out the completely pleasant experience.
Verdict: Between True Blood and this, HBO seems back on track.
NBC Photo: Mitchell HaasethParks and Recreation (NBC)
Thursday, April 9, 8:30 p.m.
Cast: Amy Poehler, Rashida Jones, Aziz Ansari
Billed as a "mockumentary about a local government public works project," Parks and Recreation is really a clever way for the intelligent folks who run The Office to comment properly on popular politics. As Amy Poehler explains about her character Leslie Knope's worldview, "She slams into the reality of how things are done behind the scenes, how things become very bureaucratic and complicated." The talking-heads bits in the pilot capture the absurdity of modern politics as well as Michael Scott's proclamations capture the absurdity of corporate doublespeak. Worried about an Office ripoff? Don't be-the tone and style are similar, but the characters and environment instantly become their own thing.
Verdict: Watch Mose Schrute's TV show or the hill witch will get you. (Oh come on. Kenneth The Page and Mose totally have the same family legends!)
Ron Batzdorff/StarzPARTY DOWN (Starz)
Friday, March 20, 10:30 p.m.
Cast: Ken Marino, Ryan Hansen, Jane Lynch, Lizzy Caplan
Every cable network that turns to original programming pokes at it for a while and then eventually stumbles across a hit that defines the channel for years to come. FX found itself with The Shield, AMC won big with Mad Men, and now, with Party Down, Starz gets its turn. The story of L.A.-area cater-waiters who supplement their Hollywood dreams by serving appetizers at fancy events, Party Down is genuinely moving-you want these losers to win-but it's also straight-up funny, with wicked cracks on hand for suburbia, politics and showbiz. Staffed with a combination of producers and actors from the Rob Thomas Players and the Judd Apatow-Comedy Central Axis of Humorous Creatives, Party Down is about to become the discerning TV fan's next status-symbol series. (Plus, !)Kristen Bell
Verdict: Funny, dirty, transgressive, lovable, smart and smartass, Party Down is a must-see comedy.
Style NetworkRUNNING IN HEELS (Style)
Airs: Sundays at 8 p.m.
Cast: Joanna Coles, Lucy Kaylin, Zanna Roberts
You loved The Devil Wears Prada, right? Well, this new reality series set in the halls of Marie Claire magazine is another fractured fairy-tale Cinderella story, wherein three interns dream of someday becoming professional Fashionistas. Will their editor bosses be fairy godmothers or evil witches? Do any of them get the gig before the clock strikes season finale? Tune in to find out!
Verdict: Saucy reality-series fun.
FOXSIT DOWN, SHUT UP (Fox)
Sunday, April 19, 8:30 p.m.
Cast: Jason Bateman, Will Arnett, Kristin Chenoweth, Cheri Oteri, Tom Kenny
From the creator of Arrested Development, Mitch Hurwitz, Sit Down, Shut Up is an animated-against-a-live- action background look at high school, told through the eyes of the demented teachers and administrators. The cast means it's a sure thing, and we're not the only ones who feel that way. As Kristin Chenoweth told us, "My manager got a call about the show and asked would I read the script, and I said, 'Who's in it?' And they said Will Arnett and I said, 'I don't need to read it, don't even send it to my house. I'll just show up.' "
Verdict: Bateman, Arnett and Cheno? We are so there.
NBC Photo: Mitchell HaasethSOUTHLAND (NBC)
Thursday, April 9, 10 p.m.
Cast: Benjamin Mckenzie, Tom Everett Scott, Regina King, Michael Cudlitz, Kevin Alejandro, Arija Bareikis
Ben Sherman (Ben McKenzie) is a rookie cop who's being shown the ropes by his partner, John Cooper (the great Michael Cudlitz). As he learns about the streets and struggles with a cop's life in L.A., which includes shooting a man dead on his first shift, the audience learns along with him. As McKenzie says, "This [cop's life] is a way of being. This is a tribe you are entering, and you are going to do it for the rest of your life, or [you are going to] die doing it."
Verdict: With this cast, a John Wells gritty cop drama in ER's old time slot is almost an unbeatable proposition.
ABC/PATRICK HARBRONThe Unusuals (ABC)
Wednesday, April 8, 10 p.m.
Cast: Amber Tamblyn, Jeremy Renner, Adam Goldberg, Harold Perrineau
A motley crew of New York detectives split their time between solving crimes and working out their wacky personal problems. Amber Tamblyn is a rookie detective just promoted from undercover-hooker work, Jeremy Renner (Angel) is her hot but unsympathetic new partner. Meanwhile, Adam Goldberg's character has brain cancer (maybe he and Izzie could be friends?), but he would rather die in the line of duty than get chemo. His partner, played by Lost's Harold Perrineau, is the exact opposite: He was shot and survived, but now refuses to take off his bulletproof vest and pretty much bubblewraps his life.
Verdict: Promising, but hard to tell without seeing more.
Which of these spring series are you anticipating the most? Do you have any early faves? Post your picks in the comments-we want to know what you think!