Is the TV audience ready to embrace a second fantasy series this fall based on fairy-tale legends? ABC's whimsical Once Upon a Time got off to a strong start last Sunday, but NBC's Grimm — launching tonight (9/8c) — faces much tougher odds. You might almost say it's cursed. First, it's on NBC, which struggles nearly every night but Football Sunday. Second, it's on Fridays, a notoriously tough night to draw a crowd. (The upside: Expectations are low.) Third, it's in direct competition with Fox's Fringe and the CW's Supernatural, two already established cult shows with loyal (if small) and heavily invested fan bases, and this feels an awful lot like a third wheel.
If only Grimm didn't also feel like we've seen it before, only executed with more verve and humor back in the glory days of Buffy and Angel. This is your basic supernatural procedural, featuring an earnest young detective (the bland David Giuntoli, who could pass for Brandon Routh's stand-in) who learns he's descended from a long line of "Grimms," hunters of mythological creatures that only he and his kind (including Kate Burton as his severe Aunt Marie, who appears to be dying from too much exposition) are able to perceive under the skin of those who walk among us. His first case is a variation on "Little Red Riding Hood" (here, a jogger in the woods), and he gets unexpected help from a reformed Big Bad Wolf (Prison Break's amusing Silas Weir Mitchell, easily the best thing about Grimm), who tells our hero to lighten up. Which wouldn't hurt the show, either. I'm trying to keep an open mind about Grimm, but given its late premiere date, I'm a little concerned that NBC didn't give us more than the muddled pilot to sample. Not that I'm exactly dying to hear the next story, and I'm usually a sucker for a spookily fractured fairy tale.
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The endgame begins for NBC's Chuck (8/7c) and not a moment too soon, as the fifth and final season of this once-charming Little Show That Could begins with Morgan assuming Intersect duties — a classic case of over-inflating the role of the scene-stealing sidekick (though Joshua Gomez is up to the challenge) — while Chuck learns in fits and starts that it's possible to still be a super-spy hero even without the computer enhancements. The opening hour is a little underpowered, with pallid Craig Kilborn (as a Madoff-like embezzler) a less-than-thrilling villain. I'm not sure how I feel about our heroes going freelance and sweating the bottom line — a reflection of our economy, and the show's own budgetary misfortunes? — but I know I've had enough of the Buy More antics, which by episode's end threaten to become even more central to Carmichael Industries' future.
For a fresher take on the comedic spy genre, check out the British import Spy, premiering Friday exclusively on Hulu and Hulu Plus. This sweetly snarky half-hour comedy — and how often did we speculate how much better Chuck might play at a shorter length? — stars Darren Boyd as a klutz of an accidental MI5 agent, who stumbles his way into a job interview with the fearsome "Examiner" (the great Robert Lindsay), when all he wants to do is exceed his snarky preppy son's depressingly low expectations.
Halloween Highlights: Cable's Chiller channel presents a 90-minute rundown of Horror's Creepiest Kids (8/7c) from the movies, the latest in the Chiller 13 series of specials. Is there anyone scarier than Linda Blair from The Exorcist? ... On CBS' CSI: NY (9/8c), the team looks into a botched Halloween fraternity prank in which a pledge master is found in an open grave.
Cult corner: Tonight's scheduled episode of Fox's Fringe has been pushed back a week by the climactic Game 7 of what is turning out to be a classic World Series match-up between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Texas Rangers (starts at 7:30/6:30c). ... Guest-star alert on the CW's Nikita (8/7c), as Nikita meets her birth father, played by David Keith. ... It's double the Winchester fun on the CW's Supernatural (9/8c) when the brothers are cloned by those pesky Leviathans, and the resulting murder spree lands the boys back on the FBI's "Most Wanted" list.
Discovery takes us North to Alaska with the return of two popular docu-reality series: Gold Rush (8/7c), in which the Hoffmans once again try to strike it rich at Porcupine Creek. An hour-long "The Off Season" special leads into the second-season premiere at 9/8c, which promises a "Twist of Fate" that's likely to present yet another challenge to them realizing their dreams. At 10/9c, the second season of Flying Wild Alaska follows the Tweto family, who operate the regional airline Era Alaska as they battle the extremes to land their planes safely.
Fox welcomes back one of the former staples of its true-crime lineup with the first of a series of quarterly specials: America's Most Wanted: 50 Fugitives, 50 States (8/7c), with John Walsh leading a roundup of the country's most notorious criminals.
See it before anything gets lost in the translation. The engrossing and scandalously entertaining Danish political drama series Borgen ("Government"), reportedly being adapted as part of NBC's development slate, is getting an exclusive U.S. broadcast on Link TV (9:30/8:30c; available on DirecTV, Dish Network and selected cable services, and also streaming on LinkTV.org). You won't need a translator, but you will need to read the subtitles for this very adult, sophisticated examination of politics and media from the producers of the original version of The Killing. It begins as an idealistic political moderate (the refreshingly unpolished Sidse Babett Knudsen) finds herself unexpectedly thrust into power, testing her principles and her family's solidarity.
"You trying to charm me with poetry during the zombie apocalypse?" says a female warrior during one of the few down moments of Syfy's decidedly non-poetic Saturday night creature feature Zombie Apocalypse (9/8c), which is like The Walking Dead minus all the pesky character development and convincing special effects. Ving Rhames and Taryn Manning are the most recognizable members of a ragtag band of survivors, trying to make it to a refuge on Catalina Island. There is no refuge, however, from the laughable writing and acting — and the cheesy CGI, especially when one last nasty surprise awaits the heroes on the pier.
So what else is on? ... Showtime relives a chapter of music history, celebrating the 20th anniversary of U2's "Achtung Baby" in Davis Guggenheim's new documentary film From the Sky Down (8/7c). ... Tis the season for Halloween-friendly TV-movies, including Hallmark Channel's The Good Witch's Family (9/8c), the fourth installment in the channel's highest-rated movie series, starring Catherine Bell in the title role of Cassie Nightingale, whose domestic bliss is threatened by the arrival of her wicked-witch cousin Abigail. ... The tone is spookier in Lifetime's Possessing Piper Rose (8/7c), starring Rebecca Romijn and David Cubitt as adoptive parents terrorized by the spirit of their daughter's birth mother. ... Your best bet for classic horror: a TCM tribute to master of moodiness Val Lewton, starting with the original 1942 Cat People (8/7c), followed by Martin Scorsese's documentary salute Val Lewton: The Man in the Shadows (9:30/8:30c) and such haunting classics as The Body Snatcher, Isle of the Dead and The Seventh Victim.
We've come a long way, baby. That seems to be the guiding principle behind the four weekly chapters of PBS' America in Primetime (check local schedules), a free-form TV history lesson focusing on the progression of archetypal characters over the decades, with famous creators and performers providing enthusiastic context. First up: "Independent Woman," which uses CBS' The Good Wife as a starting point to discuss how far the portrayal of women has come since the starched housewives of Father Knows Best vintage. (Even so, there's nothing but praise for the pioneering Lucille Ball, whether for her never-say-die work in I Love Lucy or her business acumen behind the scenes.) Icons include Mary Tyler Moore, Roseanne Barr, Candice Bergen as Murphy Brown ("She got to be Lou Grant!" exults one of the producers of Nurse Jackie) and the frisky foursome of Sex and the City.
The newest entry to Fox's "Animation Domination" lineup is the twisted Allen Gregory (8:30/7:30c), about an insufferably precocious and acerbic 7-year-old snob who's part Richie Rich, part Family Guy's Stewie (voiced by Jonah Hill, who's also co-creator and executive producer). The one-joke comedy begins when the tyke's gay dads force him to take his condescending attitude to public school, where his patronizing ways invariably backfire. The relentless sourness wears a bit thin, but there's fearlessness in the show's zeal to be inappropriate. Most notably is little Allen's unbridled lust for the plus-size principal (Renee Taylor), which has an almost Ren & Stimpy-style luridness.
Allen's launch will get a boost from The Simpsons' 22nd (!) annual "Treehouse of Horror" trilogy (8/7), including spoofs of Avatar and 127 Hours (Homer wedged in a crevice with a bag of candy just out of reach), and my favorite: a twist on Dexter featuring Ned Flanders as a vigilante killer acting on orders, so he thinks, of God.
The best news of the last week was the non-surprise renewals of cable hits Homeland and The Walking Dead, both delivering outstanding episodes this week.
On an intense Homeland (Showtime, 10/9c), Brody comes face-to-face with the guard who tortured him during his long imprisonment. The ever-suspicious Carrie, still chafing over losing her surveillance perch in the Brody home, sees this as yet another opportunity to observe Brody close-up, convinced he's hiding something.
Things get introspective during a dark night of soul-searching on the most existential episode yet of AMC's harrowing The Walking Dead (9/8c). The vigil continues over the wounded Carl as Daryl and Andrea head into the woods to keep looking for lost little Sophia. Meanwhile, Shane and Otis contend with the relentless pack of zombies interfering with their supply run at the high school. "Maybe this isn't a world for children anymore," cries Laurie. This certainly isn't a show for children. There are no easy answers or easy choices in this quest for survival.
Also asking the big questions: Dexter (Showtime, 9/8c), who sets his sights on the Doomsday Killer's insecure accomplice Travis (Colin Hanks) while the rest of the squad seeks mad murdering zealot Professor Gellar (Edward James Olmos). "I understand the urge to end someone's life, but what is this fascination with ending the world?" Dexter wonders during one of the season's most engaging episodes to date, in which Brother Sam (Mos) insists to our tormented vigilante, "There's no darkness that the light can't overcome." Maybe not, but if you know Dexter, you know there will be many dark twists to come before it all plays out.
Guest-star alert: She steals scenes regularly as the hilariously vain vampire Pam on True Blood, and now Kristin Bauer van Straten is the fearsome Maleficent in the second episode of ABC's fantastical Once Upon a Time (8/7c), which promises to reveal just how the Evil Queen's curse was unleashed on the fairytale world (the part of the show I prefer). ... On CBS' The Good Wife (9/8c), Parker Posey plays Eli's ex-wife, who needs him to vet her for political purposes — so naturally he puts Kalinda on the case. ... Diane Farr (Numb3rs) appears as an author of a vampire book series on CBS' CSI: Miami (10/9c), where a victim found hanging in a deserted mansion appears to have been killed by a vampire.
So what else is on? ... CBS' 60 Minutes (7/6c) continues on its news-making roll, featuring Morley Safer's interview with Ruth Madoff about her husband Bernie's colossal swindle and their subsequent attempt at suicide. Their son Andrew is also interviewed. ... The last of three delightful Case Histories movies on Masterpiece Mystery! (PBS, check local schedules) is based on the novel When Will There Be Good News? After surviving a train wreck, Jackson Brodie (Jason Isaacs) becomes attached to a teenager who's desperate to find her missing employer. ... The aprons come off in The Next Iron Chef: Super Chefs (Food Network, 9/8c), as 10 celebrity chefs (including Anne Burrell, Robert Irvine and Spike Mendelsohn) tackle grueling culinary challenges in hopes of joining the elite Iron Chef ranks.
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