If you like TV, the coming fall season may suit you just fine. A wave of new crime dramas, a couple of new doctor shows, a bushel of new family comedies. Business as usual if only more of them felt new.
On the other hand, if you love TV, if you thrill to bold, innovative and exhilarating shows that aim to engage the viewer, better luck next fall or, one hopes, mid-season.
A year ago, we were justifiably excited by fresh new series that included 24, Alias, Scrubs, The Amazing Race and Smallville. This year, hardly anything looks like it's even taking a chance.
If there's critical buzz for any new series, it would be for NBC's Boomtown (Sundays, 10 pm/E
Although it's hard to imagine a universe in which Uma Thurman has trouble getting a date, HBO's evocative heartbreaker Hysterical Blindness (August 25, 9:30 pm/ET) convinces us with an '80s slice-of-life study of dead-end working-class Jersey girls consumed by their raw desperation for lasting romance. Big-haired Thurman and single-mom best pal Juliette Lewis strike an often ridiculous yet pathetically touching note as they conduct awkward mating dances at a local dive. As Thurman's weary waitress mother, Gena Rowlands shines with subtle grace in her scenes with lonely widower Ben Gazzara.
Many's the summer I have spent engrossed in the literate detective novels of Elizabeth George, a rarity among writers of English mysteries in that she's an American who spins her stories from California.
In putting her books on film, thankfully, she hasn't gone Hollywood. She's gone to London (BBC) and Boston (WGBH) instead, resulting in a promising series of Mystery! movies that opens with The Inspector Lynley Mysteries: A Great Deliverance (PBS, August 19 and 26, check TV Guide listings).
Crime drama is prevalent on American TV as well, sparked by CBS's CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and NBC's Law & Order franchise. But there's something uniquely compelling about the British landscape, its pastoral settings marred by primal violence.
George's hero, Thomas Lynley (Nathaniel Parker), is a titled aristocrat paired with a working-class frump, the resentful Sgt. Barbara Havers (Sharo
NBC's pandering "reality" filler (Dog Eat Dog, Fear Factor, Spy TV) so often leaves us pining for the relative freshness of summer reruns that the network's Rerun Show (Tuesdays, 8 pm/ET) seems a mixed blessing. Making cheap jokes out of cheap jokes, this series re-creates "classic" episodes of such vintage sitcoms as Diff'rent Strokes and The Jeffersons in sketch-parody form. While it's fun mocking the mannered acting and cornball clichés, there's a crudeness to the way the Rerun troupe exploits the sexual-innuendo subtext of these family comedies. As you'd expect, Nick at Nite beckons as a worthier alternative.
Was it something we said? After years of critics griping about the Emmy Awards process the same TV shows and stars getting nominated year after year, leaving little room for deserving up-and-comers this season the academy woke up and realized what any discerning viewer already knew: It has been a great year for new work.
With HBO's The Sopranos ineligible because it sat out the season, the best (Fox's 24) and trendiest (HBO's Six Feet Under) of first-year dramas made the cut, along with CBS's sophomore phenom, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, forcing out stale perennials like ER and The Practice. Such breakthrough actors as
Anyone seeking a little offbeat humor in a crime-scene investigation should look no further than the brilliant but bumbling Adrian Monk.
As impressively intuitive as Sherlock Holmes yet as anxiously agitated as a classic Don Knotts character in his obsessive-compulsive quirks and phobias, Monk may be, as one observer puts it, a "defective detective." He's also an original, and Tony Shalhoub (Wings, Big Night) evokes both wild hilarity and deep pathos in his intense portrayal of this damaged-goods gumshoe.
If Monk (USA Network, Fridays, 10 P.M./ET) is something short of a great murder-mystery series, it's still a terrifically entertaining character study, more fun than most of the new shows the networks have on tap for the fall season.
"This isn't police work. This is vaudeville," says his former boss (Ted Levine) as Monk absorbs evidence, eyes gleaming, a display that's invariably f
HBO's Sex and the City (Sundays, 9 P.M./ET) is off to a promising start, asking if romance is still possible in the urban jungle its disappointed sirens call home. If the first two episodes weren't especially funny, chalk it up to maturity. Who would have ever thought this season's first glimpse of an exposed nipple would be a shot of Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) trying desperately to breast-feed her baby? And it's good to see the show opening the door to some new funny ladies, most notably Saturday Night Live's Molly Shannon and Strangers With Candy's irrepressible Amy Sedaris as Carrie's (Sarah Jessica Parker) publishers.
I'm not so sure about the group of wailing (so-called) singers vying for fame this summer. But there's no question a TV star has been born in the caustic Simon Cowell, who refuses to patronize either the players or the watchers of the unexpectedly addictive American Idol: The Search for a Superstar (Fox, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, check TV Guide listings).
Look out, Judge Judy. This guy delivers the truth with blunt-force trauma. In an age of coddled celebrities, how refreshing to see someone attempt to torpedo this new wave of wannabe Britney/Christina/Whitney/boy-band clones. I also share Cowell's contempt for the idiot-dude hosts, especially the giddy Ryan Seacrest.
Talent contests have long been a TV staple, but Idol breaks new ground by defusing the glittery rah-rah and letting viewers vote
When the Emmy nominations are announced early on July 18, what a beautiful morning it will be if it turns out to be a wake-up call for the likes of ER, Law & Order, The Practice, Frasier and Will & Grace oft-nominated shows that had subpar seasons and that deserve to sit out the competition this year. Fat chance, given the TV industry's habit of playing it safe while ignoring worthy newcomers. Dynamic first-year shows, including 24, Alias, The Bernie Mac Show and Scrubs, deserve to break through.
This just in (though hardly a bulletin): People who watch TV don't necessarily want to watch shows about TV. And the more self-important the show is, the less inclined we are to swallow it.
The world of TV provides the backdrop for four new shows this fall, mostly tiresome comedies. Before then, there's Breaking News, an earnest ensemble drama about I 24, a struggling all-news network.
TNT ordered 13 episodes a year ago but chose not to air them, most likely more for financial reasons than creative. Enter Bravo, which rescued the series (airing Wednesdays, 8 pm/ET). It's a mixed blessing especially considering it's being paired with Deadline, a horrible newspaper drama yanked by NBC in fall 2000 after five weeks.
Breaking News means well but strains credibility whenever the reporters are turned into crusading detectives or rescue workers. Worse yet is the pompous anchor (The West Wing'