Critic's Notebook: ABC's Fall Lineup
"Why just watch if you can feel?" As new-season slogans go, ABC's feels ... well, a bit clingy and demanding. Back off, ABC. I'll feel you when I'm good and ready.
But the proof is in the programming, and ABC's new fall schedule — unveiled during Tuesday's Lincoln Center upfront presentation — feels like something I'll be spending a fair amount of time analyzing, and perhaps even enjoying, in the season to come. (See the full lineup here.)
When you've got buzz, best to exploit it, which is why ABC (in one of the bolder moves yet announced this week) is transplanting Wednesday watercooler magnet Revenge to the high-profile Sunday time period just vacated by Desperate Housewives. The logic is undeniable, as the sizzling soap will now enjoy a powerful lead-in with this season's unexpected breakout, Once Upon a Time.
It's part of a high-concept fantasy bookend that includes (at 10/9c) the sleek new supernatural thriller 666 Park Avenue, which at first glance might as well be called Rosemary's Sublet. With Terry O'Quinn and Vanessa Williams as the sinister owners of a towering Dakota-like haunted apartment building, luring the naïve and nubile Dave Annable and Rachael Taylor into their web with a dream gig as the new managers (the previous one relocated to "someplace warmer"), this could be good, scary fun. Or it could turn out to be the next Eastwick. At this stage of things, it's always hard to tell. But I'll give it a shot.
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The next significant programming move happens on Tuesday, when the feisty Happy Endings and Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23 shift from Wednesdays to the 9/8c time period, creating a three-way sitcom logjam with Fox (the established New Girl and the new The Mindy Project) and NBC (the new Go On and The New Normal). Will someone blink, and if so, who? At midseason two new comedies join the season's sitcom explosion with tryouts at 8/7c, forming a two-hour comedy block. The cumbersomely titled How to Live With Your Parents (For the Rest of Your Life) looks like fun, as divorced mom Sarah Chalke reluctantly moves her kid in with her obnoxiously free-spirited parents, played to the irreverent hilt by Weeds' Elizabeth Perkins and Brad Garrett. The Family Tools feels more one-note, a slapstick vehicle for Kyle Bornheimer (Worst Week) as a born loser who returns home to take over his ailing dad's fix-it business, although he's the last guy you should let be around power tools. Calling Tim Taylor!
It also seems counterproductive for ABC to move the Dancing With the Stars results show (for what is now confirmed to be an all-star season of past favorites) an hour earlier to 8/7c, where it will face the results show of NBC's The Voice. But when do these things ever make sense?
ABC's biggest head-scratcher, though, is reserved for Wednesdays, when the week's finest comedy lineup, anchored by Modern Family — touted by ABC as "the defining comedy of our time," because "defining" appears to be entertainment president Paul Lee's favorite hyperbolic word — is joined by the new The Neighbors (9:30/8:30c). There goes the neighborhood.
This deeply silly comedy is a reverse Mork & Mindy or 3rd Rock From the Sun in which a prototypical sitcom family (including Still Standing's Jami Gertz) moves into a gated community and learns everyone else in Hidden Hills is a space alien. Zabrovnians, to be exact. They are creepily conformist and bizarro in every aspect (the men give birth, everyone has an inappropriate pro athlete's name), and I'm sure I'm not the only one thinking of ALF right about now. But here's the thing. While the critical elite (and all of Twitter) cringes in a collective grimace of disdain, Joe Public just might dig it. This isn't as obvious a groaner as this season's abysmally inept low-water mark Work It! Wacky aliens have a proudly undignified track record of success in prime time — Mork and 3rd Rock were hits — and if this stays shameless as it stoops low for laughs, it might pay off. The real problem is the scheduling. Pairing this with the sophisticated Modern Family feels like a slap, an assault on the senses. It should be airing earlier where kids (who might most appreciate the ridiculous slapstick) would better enjoy it.
In more promising Wednesday news, the Revenge time period (10/9c) will be occupied by the sudsy musical drama Nashville, which looks very enticing and juicy as it sets up an All About Eve rivalry between veteran country star Connie Britton (looking so relieved to be rid of American Horror Story) and calculating upstart Hayden Panettiere, channeling Carrie Underwood if she had a dark side. (Who can say?) A twangy and less corny Smash with a political subtext — Britton's husband (Eric Close) is running for mayor, backed by her powerful papa (Powers Boothe) — Nashville is unlikely ever to be confused with the Robert Altman film classic. The clips made me want to see more, but I wonder if it has the melodramatic oomph to attract and appease the Revenge crowd.
I have no such reservations about Thursday's Last Resort, a lavish-looking military adventure cut from Tom Clancy cloth, about the officers of a nuclear sub (Andre Braugher, Scott Speedman) who defy orders to launch a strike on Pakistan and become targets themselves. The crew takes refuge on a remote Pacific island where personal intrigues mesh with the big-picture questions about where the next strike is coming from. Shawn Ryan (The Shield, The Unit) is the well-regarded co-creator, and if this can hit an NCIS nerve with the viewing public, ABC might just be able to reverse the curse that has plagued them for years in this troublesome 8/7c time period. (Charlie's Angels? FlashForward? My Generation?)
Finally, ABC looks back to the future to revive the "TGIF" tradition of Friday-night family comedy, starting in November, moving Last Man Standing and returning Reba McEntire to TV in the cornball Malibu Country, which wastes the great Lily Tomlin as a pothead granny. Past history suggests that shows like these can be critic-proof, in which case: Godspeed. We've plenty else to watch that night, and families deserve a safe haven. But wait: Don't they already have one on Fridays with the hits on the Disney Channel? Oops. Call it a reverse-synergy alert.
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