Bullz-Eye's 2007 Fall TV Preview: The CW
We'll be honest: we haven't forgiven The CW for clearing their schedule of two of the best hour-long series on television ("Gilmore Girls" and "Veronica Mars"). We're also not in love with their if-you're-out-of-your-20s-then-you're-dead-to-us mindset when it comes to developing their programming. But fair's fair: they've still managed to come up with the best new show of the season.
Gossip Girl (Wednesday, September 19 @ 9:00 PM, The CW)
Starring: Blake Lively, Leighton Meester, Penn Badgley, Chace Crawford, Taylor Momsen, Ed Westwick, Kelly Rutherford, Rufus Humphrey
Producers: Josh Schwartz, Stephanie Savage, Bob Levy, Leslie Morgenstein, Felicia Henderson, K.J. Steinberg
Network's Description: The privileged prep school teens on Manhattan's Upper East Side first learn that Serena van der Woodsen is back in town the way they learn all the important news in their lives -- from the blog of the all-knowing albeit ultra-secretive Gossip Girl. No one knows Gossip Girl's identity, but everyone in this exclusive and complicated vicious circle relies on her website and text messages for the latest scoop. Even Serena's closest friend, Blair Waldorf, is surprised to find that Serena has suddenly ended her self-imposed exile to boarding school and returned to Manhattan. Once the Upper East Side's most notorious party girl, Serena's reasons for returning are mysterious, although they may have something to do with her younger brother Eric. Whatever the reasons, the change in Serena is obvious, especially to Blair, whose friendship with Serena has always been competitive and difficult. When Serena was out of the picture, Blair enjoyed her time in the spotlight and she has no intention of going back to living in Serena's shadow. Their uneasy relationship is further complicated by Blair's boyfriend Nate, a young man uneasy with all the privileges that have been handed to him by his high-powered father Howie "The Captain" Archibald. Now that Serena is back, Blair will have to fight to hold onto Nate's attention. It also remains to be seen whether Blair's loyal lieutenants - Katy and Isabel - will remain by her side or break ranks to follow Serena. The tension between Blair and Serena isn't lost on anyone in this crowd, since they all live for gossip and scandal, along with fashion, shopping and partying in Manhattan's trendiest hot spots. This is a world you have to be born into, full of wealth, power, and people like Chuck. A friend of Nate's since childhood, Chuck leads a reckless life, and constantly pushes Nate to explore his dark side. The proverbial fish-out-of-water at the prep school are Dan and his sister Jenny, middle-class kids whose background keeps them on the fringes of this exclusive clique. Dan and Jenny are attending the school at the insistence of their father Rufus, a former rocker turned art gallery owner, determined to give his kids a first-class education. Rufus has a history with Serena's mother Lily, a socialite who hides her past as a dancer and rock groupie. When a chance encounter brings Dan to Serena's attention, he suddenly finds himself dating the girl of his dreams. The more Dan discovers about the real Serena, the more he's challenged to make sense of her world. Dan's sister Jenny is the youngest of the group and wants desperately to be accepted. The price she'll have to pay for popularity will take a toll, but at the moment, Jenny is just thrilled to have entry into this glamorous world. Dan and Serena's relationship is further complicated by the arrival of Dan's friend Vanessa, a Brooklyn rebel and loner who doesn't approve of Serena's world of money, fashion shows and fundraisers. Vanessa's attempts to pull him back to his roots will cause friction between Dan and Serena. Keeping track of the shifting friendships, jealousies and turmoil in this wealthy and complex world isn't easy, but it's what Gossip Girl does best.
The Buzz: Remember that "Simpsons" episode when Homer praised the Smashing Pumpkins for their effect on his kids because, "thanks to your gloomy music, they've finally stopped dreaming of a future I can't possibly provide"? Well, the rich, spoiled punks on this show are offering the antithesis of that. Plus, critics with teenage daughters are already screaming about how they wouldn't want their kids to watch this sex, drug, and underage-drinking laden show...which probably means that those same kids are going to be want to tune in every week. Awesome: here comes the future...and it's gonna suck.
Pilot Highlight: As a music geek, it has to be the running joke about how Rufus was once a member of a band described by Rolling Stone as one of the "Top 10 Forgotten Bands of the '90s." (They're #9, by the way.)
Bottom Line: Gossip Girl's voiceover is done by Kristen Bell, which only serves to remind us that, frankly, we'd much rather be watching another season of "Veronica Mars." Given how painfully humorless much of this pilot is, better hope that Schwartz hurries up and exerts more of his pop culture influence side that he so often demonstrated threw into "The O.C.."
CW Now (Sunday, September 23 @ 7:00 PM, The CW)
Starring: Tanika Ray, J. Boogie
Producers: Lisa Gregorisch-Dempsey and Mike Miller
Network's Description: Blends news and entertainment to create the ultimate source for everything that's hip, hot and happening right now in the world of young adults, and the place for anyone who needs to know what everyone is buzzing about today and what they'll be talking about in the week to come. With a team of experts focusing on the topics and trends that appeal specifically to The CW generation, this new series will feature informative and entertaining reports on the hottest fashions, the coolest music, the must-see movies and the must-have gadgets and technology. The show will be everywhere young adults are: from cyberspace profiling the best of the web, to hitting the streets and getting inside the most popular hotspots. With young adults' insatiable appetite for all things celebrity, each episode will report on the latest news and gossip from inside the glitz and glamour of Hollywood.
The Buzz: If it sounds dumb, you're too old, and the producers don't mind telling you as much. At the press tour, Gregorisch-Dempsey was throwing out blanket statements like, "We don't watch black-and-white TV anymore." What you mean "we," kemosabe? They're weeding out the elderly, people, and their definition of "old" is getting younger all the time; if you're lucky, you'll be dead of natural causes before "Logan's Run" becomes a reality series.
Pilot Highlight: No pilot available.
Bottom Line: If you'd rather watch "60 Minutes," they don't want your stinking viewership, anyway...which is fine, because they ain't getting mine.
Online Nation (Sunday, September 23 @ 7:30 PM, The CW)
Starring: Stevie Ryan, Joy Leslie, Rhett McLaughlin, Lincoln Neal
Producers: David Hurwitz and Paul Cockerill
Network's Description: Young adults have taken their quest for fame into their own hands as the amount of user-generated entertainment continues to explode across the Internet. Now The CW is giving them a nationally televised stage to show off what they've got. "Online Nation" scours the nearly infinite number of websites, blogs and user-generated materials on the Internet to find the best, the hottest, the funniest and sometimes the flat-out bizarre, and presents it on The CW audience's other favorite screen: the TV screen. This fun, irreverent weekly series features everything and anything that has captured the attention of the online world, from the most popular sites to the addictive viral videos being shared by millions, to insights from the digital tastemakers. Born of the internet and tailored specifically for this generation, this series also features an innovative interactive element as viewers will be able to see what others are saying and communicate with them live on the air. The CW is turning mouse potatoes into couch potatoes by putting all the greatest internet clips in one ready to use package.
The Buzz: I'm sorry, did you read that last line? It all but says, "Too lazy to surf the web? Turn on the TV and get the highlights!" I weep for this planet sometimes, I really do.
Pilot Highlight: No pilot available.
Bottom Line: At least there's still 30 minutes of "60 Minutes" left to watch.
Reaper (Tuesday, September 25 @ 9:00 PM, The CW)
Starring: Bret Harrison, Tyler Labine, Ray Wise, Missy Peregrym, Rick Gonzalez, Valarie Rae Miller, Donavon Stinson, Andrew Airlie.
Producers: Michele Fazekas, Tara Butters, Mark Gordon, Deb Spera and Tom Spezialy.
Network's Description: For the first 20 years of his life, Sam wondered why his parents went so easy on him. Whether it was school, sports or career choices, Sam's mom and dad always let him get by with the least possible effort. As a result, Sam skipped college, took a dead-end job at the local Work Bench home improvement store and now wastes endless hours playing video games. Everything in his slacker world changed the day Sam turned 21 and discovered the ungodly reason his parents let him slide: they sold his soul to the devil before he was even born. Though his guilt-ridden parents try to explain the circumstances that led them to the forfeit his soul, Sam can't wrap his mind around what is happening to him. He's always been the under-achieving son, while his younger brother Kyle was pushed to get straight A's, excel at every sport and join every club. Kyle resents the easy ride Sam has enjoyed, and Sam can't help but feel jealousy over Kyle's achievements. What neither brother realizes is that their lives have been shaped by forces they can't yet begin to understand. When Satan himself drops by to personally explain that Sam must now serve as his bounty hunter, tracking down evil souls that have escaped and returning them to Hell, Sam refuses to accept his bizarre fate. After getting just a glimpse of Satan's temper, however, Sam realizes that breaking a deal with the devil has consequences that are very, very bad. Still, Sam is fascinated by the devil's charm and his flattering insistence that Sam is full of untapped potential. Armed with a constantly changing series of vessels -- starting with a Dirt Devil mini-vacuum -- to collect the escapees, Sam finds that his new line of work is dangerous and frightening, even with the goofball help of his friends and co-workers Bert "Sock" Wysocki and Ben, along with Sock's former-girlfriend-turned-paralegal, Josie. Sock has been Sam's closest friend and slacker role model for many years and was the first person Sam turned to with the news about his gig with the devil. A perennial adolescent who attended high school on the six-year plan, Sock is perfectly happy with his life and his job at The Work Bench, where he is a thorn in the side of the assistant manager, Ted. Sock thinks Sam's news is totally cool, and is happy to help with Sam's assignments from Hell. Ben, on the other hand, immediately grasps the seriousness of Sam's situation. A college student and the son of a reverend, Ben is also on board to help, but he knows that dealing with the devil is no game. Sam knows he'll have to go to great lengths to hide his new identity from the person who matters most in his world: his smart and pretty co-worker Andi. Trapped by his lack of self-confidence, Sam has loved Andi from afar, despite Sock's constant urging that he ask her out. Andi had gone away to college, but came home to her mother and her job at The Work Bench after her father died. Now she's stuck in a safe job and a safe friendship with Sam. Though his life has suddenly turned weird and scary, Sam is surprised to find that he somehow feels good about his newfound "mission" -- removing evil-doers from the world and sending them back where they belong. Back when nothing was expected of him, Sam never had to push himself to achieve. Now, with his friends and his trusty vessel-of-the-week at his side, Sam is ready to face his destiny as the Reaper.
The Buzz: Based on two weeks at the TCA press tour, it seems as though virtually every critic who's watched this show has fallen in love with it from the get-go. It plays like a guy's version of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," and Ray Wise's demonic grin as The Devil is as good as the personification of evil gets. The fact that Kevin Smith directed the pilot adds seriously to its indie cred, too.
Pilot Highlight: Ray Wise's sudden and dramatic change in tone and facial expression when Sam informs The Devil that he's not gonna do any more of this soul-catching stuff.
Casting Caveat: Nikki Reed, who originally played the object of Sam's affections, has been replaced by Missy Peregrym.
Bottom Line: Best show of the 2007 season on any network. Even factoring in that it's an hour long rather than 30 minutes, it's still probably about ten times funnier than any of the season's new sitcoms. This ringing endorsement has been brought to you by the same person who envisioned a bright and prosperous future for "The Knights of Prosperity" and "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip," of course, but it's no less heartfelt for that track record.
Aliens in America (Monday, October 1 @ 8:30 PM, The CW)
Starring: Dan Byrd, Adhir Kalyan, Amy Pietz, Lindsey Shaw, Scott Patterson
Producers: Tim Doyle, Moses Port, David Guarascio, Richard Day and Michael Glouberman
Network's Description: Justin Tolchuck is a sensitive, lanky 16-year-old just trying to make it through the social nightmare of high school in Medora, Wisconsin, with the help of his well-meaning mom Franny, aspiring-entrepreneur dad Gary and his beautiful and popular younger sister Claire. Although he's bright and funny, Justin is also shy, socially awkward and pretty much resigned to the fact that he'll never be one of the cool kids. Franny, however, is the kind of take-charge mom who micro-manages her family, and she's come up with a plan to help Justin: she signs up for the school's international exchange student program. Picturing an athletic, brilliant Nordic teen, Franny is sure this new friendship will bestow instant coolness on her outsider son. However, when the Tolchuck's exchange student arrives, he turns out to be Raja Musharaff, a 16-year-old Muslim from a small village in Pakistan. Raja is thoughtful, responsible and wise beyond his years. To the Tolchucks and everyone else in Medora, he's also just about as foreign as a foreigner can be. While the rest of the family is slightly freaked out by the Muslim in their midst, Gary is comforted by the fact that the host family receives a monthly check to help with expenses. This fits right in with Gary's money-making schemes, and when he sees how hard-working and respectful Raja is, he's totally on board. As for Claire, she's too busy with her friends and her new boyfriend to pay much attention to their houseguest, but Raja is smitten from the moment he first sees her. After the initial shock wears off, Justin is quickly won over by Raja's humor, gestures of friendship and by their common status as outsiders. Despite the cultural chasm between them, Justin and Raja develop an unlikely bond that just might allow them to navigate the minefield that is contemporary high school. It's going to be a very interesting year for Raja, Justin, his family and the entire population of Medora.
The Buzz: All it takes is the phrase "from one of the producers of 'Arrested Development,' and the critics are on board. There's some concern, however, about how the politically-correct crowd will take a sitcom that makes fun of the close-minded by poking fun at the ridiculous things they say. ("All in the Family" would never get on the air today, you realize.)
Pilot Highlight: When Raja attempts to defend himself after a classmate says she feels angry toward him "'cause his people blew up the buildings in New York," the teacher interrupts and says, "Okay, Raja, in America, you have to wait until you're called on, and I'd appreciate a raised hand. Okay, now, who else is angry at Raja?"
Casting Caveat: The role of the dad, originally played by Patrick Breen, will now be played by Scott Patterson, late of "Gilmore Girls."
Bottom Line: The pilot is pretty damned funny, but Patterson is so different from Breen that we're a little unsure about how the series will play with this change in the family dynamic. Being paired with "Everybody Hates Chris," however, makes us willing to give it a shot and see what transpires. The real issue is whether Middle America will think it's as funny as the critics do.
Life is Wild (Sunday, October 7 @ 8:00 PM, The CW)
Starring: D.W. Moffett, Stephanie Niznick, Leah Pipes, Andrew St. John, Calvin Goldspink, Atandwa Kani
Producers: Michael Rauch, Charlie Pattinson, George Faber. Sue Tenney, Dana Baratta and Jim Sadwith
Network's Description: Katie Clarke may never forgive her veterinarian father, Danny, for dragging their entire blended family out of New York City to spend a year living in a broken-down lodge called The Blue Antelope on a game reserve deep inside South Africa. In fact, the one area of agreement among Katie, her 11-year-old brother Chase, their rebellious teenage step-brother Jesse and 7-year-old step-sister, is that Danny has lost his mind. For Danny and his second wife, Jo, however, the reasons for the move are very clear. Once they married and brought their children together under one roof, it soon became obvious that the kids had little in common and the family was drifting apart. In New York, Katie was a good student with close friends and a serious boyfriend. Mature beyond her years, Katie took on even more adult responsibilities when her mother died, helping her younger brother Chase deal with the loss. Jo's children had to deal with their parents' divorce after their father went to prison for a white-collar crime. Jesse reacted by cutting school, rebelling against every rule and resenting his mother's remarriage, while little Mia comforted herself with her obsession with the New York Mets. While they worried about the family, Danny and Jo had their own demanding careers to deal with. Jo was a sought-after divorce attorney who worked long hours, while Danny's skills as a vet made him a favorite with wealthy New Yorkers and their pampered, overweight pets. When Danny learned of the urgent need for vets in South Africa, he saw the opportunity for a fresh start and a chance to change all their lives for the better. Once the family arrives in South Africa, Danny realizes his motivations go beyond his desire to keep his troubled family together while making a difference in the lives of the people and animals of this amazing place. His deceased first wife Claire grew up at The Blue Antelope, and the lodge is still home to her reclusive father Art. The Blue Antelope was once a thriving safari business, but after the loss of his daughter, Art let the lodge slip into disrepair. Now that Danny has arrived with Art's grandchildren and a new family, Art may finally find a reason to get his life back on track. The adjustment to this strange land is difficult for Jo and the children, but not for Danny. He's instantly at home working with the locals to vaccinate their cattle, and using his skills to heal wounded wild animals as well; in their first few days in South Africa, the family encounters an injured lioness, a lost cub and a gentle giraffe. Katie and Jesse spend the first days in Africa resenting the upheaval of their lives and feeling completely out of place. Things begin to change when they meet a few of the locals, including a handsome and somewhat reckless young Brit, Oliver Banks, and Tumelo, who dreams of becoming a veterinarian, against the wishes of his doctor father. Katie is intrigued by both boys -- one British and one South African -- and by their knowledge of local customs and culture. Meanwhile, Jesse can't help but notice Oliver's sultry twin sister Emily, as well a beautiful, mysterious young woman named Mbali, a singer/bar tender at a local hangout called Ant's Hill. While they are definitely strangers in a strange land with a lot to learn about their new home, Katie, Jesse and the rest of the family are nevertheless beginning to love the breathtaking vistas of the bush country, the wild animals and the vibrant culture enveloping them. A year in this strange but beautiful place might not be so bad after all.
The Buzz: Like a "Daktari" for the new millennium...which, of course, is exactly what the kids have been clamoring for! Okay, actually, it's more like "7th Heaven in Africa," if that does any better for you.
Pilot Highlight: When Katie's cell phone suddenly rings as she and Jesse are standing only a few feet away from an approaching lion, and she sobs, "We're gonna die because I finally got service!"
Casting Caveat: Dad and Mom Clarke -- Brett Cullen and Judith Hoag -- have been replaced by D.W. Moffet and Stephanie Niznik, respectively.
Bottom Line: Talk about a pleasant surprise. What seemed on the surface to just be an excuse to look at cool animals in between scenes of family angst turns out to be a pleasant family drama. If there's any justice, "Life is Wild" will become a Sunday night family viewing staple.