Critic's Notebook: The Fox Upfront
There's not much that Fox, sitting so pretty, and coming-from-behind NBC have in common. But as each network demonstrated in their noisy Upfront presentations on Monday, music is key to their future.
NBC has The Voice and the midseason musical drama Smash. Fox has Glee (which opened the Upfront with a Warblers number and a diatribe by Jane Lynch as Sue Sylvester), American Idol (which closed the show with a medley sung by this season's also-rans, accompanied by So You Think You Can Dance veterans) and the upcoming fall "tentpole" The X Factor, which will take over Idol's Wednesday and Thursday berths. This newest network singing competition was the centerpiece of Fox's event, with Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and the rest of The X Factor talent taking the stage — with Randy Jackson tagging along until Simon shooed him off, and Paula Abdul cooing "I love you, Simon," when prompted to speak.
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Unless we suddenly tire of this genre, which the resurgence of the reinvented American Idol seems to argue against, there's no reason to think The X Factor won't be a major fall player. Also qualifying as a Fox "event" series is the pricey, dicey and special effects-heavy Terra Nova, a family-friendly adventure thriller in the Jurassic Park mode — Dinosaurs! Time travel! — which sets up house in front of House on Mondays. What we've seen looks gorgeous, but after a long period of production, we still haven't seen much of this pilot, whose originally planned sneak peek this month was delayed by the complicated effects work. Curiosity should drive a substantial audience to this show, but will it be able to pull off the spectacular every week?
I'm just as intrigued by the creepy Alcatraz, currently scheduled to spell Terra Nova at midseason on Mondays, following House. (Don't hold Fox to this. Their midseason plans almost always change fairly drastically.) With a mythology mystery that seems borrowed from The 4400's playbook, involving criminals from the notorious prison's murky past, this could appeal to fans of both Prison Break and Lost. Or it could just mystify everyone and flop. That's why shows like this are considered risky. (But when they click, generating buzz and media attention, they're almost always worth the risk.)
Fox's other priority this season is comedy, including live-action — and the could-be-a-winner in this batch is New Girl, inhabiting the enviable hammock between Glee and Raising Hope on Tuesdays. Zooey Deschanel is quite fetching as the zany title character, who moves in with three guys who alternately patronize and, more charmingly, protect and cheer on their exasperating new roomie. The other newbie, I Hate My Teenage Daughter, appears more problematic. As the moms who are horrified and terrorized by the spoiled brats they've raised, Jaime Pressly (My Name Is Earl) and stage star Katie Finneran (a Tony for Promises, Promises) are clearly gifted clowns, but the tone feels awfully cartoonish and broad. Which may not be the worst thing for a family comedy aimed at the masses that Fox hopes will be addicted to The X Factor on Wednesdays.
The new Sunday toon, Allen Gregory (from Jonah Hill), has an inspired premise — a ridiculously precocious 7-year-old goes to public school, majoring in inappropriate behavior — but the clips fell a bit flat, seeming more ironic and droll than outrageous (although the scenes of him hitting on the battle-axe principal were kind of riotous). Still, it looks infinitely more entertaining than the animated Napoleon Dynamite redo Fox is planning for midseason.
And both projects were forgotten the instant Fox announced that Seth MacFarlane is planning a reboot of The Flintstones for 2013. Which for purists may feel like turning The Smurfs over to the South Park guys. I believe that MacFarlane's fondness for the Hanna-Barbera original is sincere, but will he be tempted to cross the line into scatological yabba-dabba-doo-doo? It only seems fair to wonder.
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