“the Fien print” Picks the Best & Worst New Shows for Fall 2012

Gotta figure the dood’s probably right. ‘Cuz he usually is:


Normally I do separate “Best” and “Worst” galleries for the various new fall TV shows, but this year I just squished 15 notable shows together into a single gallery.
“Why?” you might ask.
First off, I do it for you, dear readers. This way, you’re only clicking through 15 pictures, rather than 20. Aren’t I conscientious?
But more to the point, I think that combining my Best & Worst galleries is reflective of the degree of ambivalence I feel towards most of this year’s new shows. I doubt that I’m going to have the time to write many full reviews this season. I don’t have the time and I feel pretty awful about that fact. As you know, there’s nothing I enjoy so much as writing 2000 words to say, “Meh.” If, however, I were to be reviewing these new shows, there isn’t a single one that would get an “A” or “A-” or even a “B+” grade from me. I like “Vegas” and “Nashville” and “Last Resort” and “Ben and Kate,” I have reservations on each. Last year, there were four or five “A-” or “B+” pilots.
I have less reticence to call out the bad pilots, but other than “Beauty and the Beast,” I’m not sure I could rank them. There’s a lot of bad.
And then there’s a pile of so-so that this gallery is ignoring. So don’t ask me where “Revolution,” “Animal Practice,” “Made in Jersey” and a couple other shows are. I might regret not coming down definitively on the “Good” or “Bad” side after a week or two, but for now, I’ll just shrug…

“The Fien Print” on NBC’S CHICAGO FIRE

Dick Wolf shoots – but does he score? Let’s ask Daniel Fienberg:

Take Me To The Pilots ’12: NBC’s ‘Chicago Fire’ – by Daniel Fienberg

The Pitch:“Let’s do a network-friendly version of ‘Rescue Me.'” “So ‘Rescue Me’ only without the mature themes, instantly vivid characters, boundary-pushing language and humor?” “Yup. Those weren’t exactly essential, were they?” “As long as we’ve got fires, it’s all good.”

Quick Response: A couple years back — I remember this and maybe one or two viewers do as well — NBC had an EMT drama called “Trauma.” It had strong production values and a very solid cast and it was the kind of show which, if it had had a cable show’s interest in character, could have possibly worked. Instead, I tuned out after three or four increasingly generic episodes. [I heard “Trauma” got a little better towards the end, but I needed something sooner.] Well, the Dick Wolf produced “Chicago Fire” is like “Trauma,” only even more desperately in need of a cable sensibility, especially given how well similar terrain was covered in “Rescue Me.” Directed by Jeffrey Nachmanoff, the “Chicago Fire” has at least one decently executed inferno sequence that might really be a nail-biter if you cared an iota about any of the characters whose lives are ostensibly in jeopardy. Dick Wolf dramas have often struggled with the need/imperative to display deserved respect for the people in difficult and honorable professions, while simultaneously capturing the colorful ways people in those professions act. Here, Michael Brandt and Derek Haas’ script gets bogged down in firehouse jurisdictional squabbles and barely sketched character details and then wallows in an even more frustrating self-seriousness. Jesse Spencer, battling an accent that probably should be dropped entirely, suffers most from the pilot’s earnestness…

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When you read on you’ll get to the section Fien calls “Desire To Watch Again,” in which he writes the magical 1-word sentence: “Very little.” DF, we have a very great desire to “watch” the next thing you write. Your reviews let us know that we aren’t alone in expecting just a tad more than we seem to get.

“The Fien Print” on NBC’s GUYS WITH KIDS

Truth to tell, in principle I don’t mind the idea of a series about dads being dads. But as a dood whose reaction to the sound of any baby crying is total panic the idea of watching this fills my body with dread.

Take Me To The Pilots ’12: NBC’s ‘Guys with Kids’ by Daniel Fienberg

The Pitch: “You know how sometimes babies have fathers? That’s pretty CRAZY, right?”

Quick Response: Oh dads. So biologically and evolutionarily unprepared to take even a partial interest in raising their children. I mean, put a person with man-parts together with a baby and that’s just an instant recipe for hilarity, right? I mean, you don’t even have to add water to watch the wackiness ensue. You can just add a little spit-up or some poop and the punchlines write themselves. Don’t they? Hmmm… The team behind “Guys with Kids” seems to be hoping that the punchlines will write themselves. It’s not that there aren’t a couple laughs in “Guys with Kids.” Anthony Anderson makes me chuckle occasionally. And there’s a cameo that was appealingly absurd. And… Yeah. I did laugh a couple times. That’s something. But it isn’t much and I cringed many more times. Anderson is easily the funniest of the core trio. Zach Cregger, who I vaguely remember from “Friends with Benefits” — you don’t want to have been in my brain when I was trying to go through my internal screener queue trying to place him — has comedic timing, but no real punchlines to work with.

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Confession: I hope you click and read on, but I can’t make myself do it. The review so far, coupled with my natural anxiety has produced a 2 Xanax panic attack. I can – unfortunately – all too easily imagine what seeing this series would do to me. Aarghh!

“The Fien Print” Ruminates on NBC’s INFAMOUS

Take Me To The Pilots ’12: NBC’s ‘Infamous’ – by Daniel Fienberg

The Pitch: It’s “Dirty Sexy Revenge”

Quick Response: No. Really. “Dirty Sexy Revenge.” What if “Dirty Sexy Money” had begun with the murder of Samaire Armstrong’s character? [No loss there.] And what if Peter Krause’s character were a cop instead of a lawyer and an African-American woman instead of a man? And what if that interloper returned to the family not to keep them out of trouble, but to get one of them in very deep trouble indeed? What you’d get would be “Infamous.” NBC’s attempt to get in on the Eat the Rich zeitgeist is derivative at every turn, but it’s also yet another midseason drama that introduces plot twists at an almost astounding pace, with characters reversing course and changing their colors two or three times in the opening 44 minutes. Hmm… I used a “but” there as if being twisty were a compensation for being derivative. This is the kind of show that you instantly find yourself distrusting every frame because you know that the truth is like a bet on a roulette wheel: You might get a dose of adrenaline each time your number comes around, but until the ball stops bouncing, *nothing* is going to be the truth, so there’s no point in investing.

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In an era where all too many “critics” have never seen a film or TV show they didn’t like, Daniel Fienberg’s approach is a breath of fresh air. He actually seems to be able to differentiate good from bad, and for that he gets 3 thumbs-ups from TVWriter™. (Why 3? Sorry, that’s our little secret.)

As for INFAMOUS, we have to be honest with you. Even if DF had loved it we probably wouldn’t watch. It’s just not our genre, you know? Now if it were funny…

“The Fien Print” on ABC’s THE ZERO HOUR

Take Me To The Pilots ’12: ABC’s ‘The Zero Hour’ – by Daniel Fienberg

The Pitch: Horologists, Nazis, Rosicrucians and Goose… Oh my!
Quick Response: In previewing “Do No Harm” last week, I mentioned that it was one of “three or four audaciously weird, wacky and possibly terrible (but possibly terribly addictive) new dramas” premiering at midseason. ABC’s “The Zero Hour” is another. Creator Paul T. Scheuring (“Prison Break”) is no stranger to seemingly unsustainable premises that may have been better suited to a miniseries format and I guess you could *kinda* argue that “Prison Break” found ways to regularly reinvent itself frequently enough to justify airing for four seasons, rather than for eight episodes as a Limited Series Event. But “Zero Hour,” with its tenuous and sometimes foolhardy alternate history involving the secret religious orders and scientific exploration and the Holocaust, is possibly even less suited for a long run and even more suited for a strictly capped episode run. Some stories aren’t meant to run for 200 episodes and I get the feeling that with its Rosicrucians, demon babies, underground clockmakers and 12-centric numerology, “The Zero Hour” should maybe run 10 hours, deliver answers and get out while the getting’s good.

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Oh, hell, we disagree with DF on this one. Because we believe that any show “involving the secret religious orders and scientific exploration and the Holocaust…[and] Rosicrucians, demon babies,” et al should run forever. Count us in on this one, baby. No matter what. (Well, there is one thing that could put us off: If it was produced or directed by Steven Spielberg and/or starred Tom Hanks. We’ll leave it to y’all to think on why.)

“The Fien Print” Ruminates on CBS’ MADE IN JERSEY

Take Me To The Pilots ’12: CBS’ MADE IN JERSEY – by Daniel Fienberg

The Pitch: “My Cousin Vinnie,” if you got rid of Joe Pesci and it just turned out that Marisa Tomei was a talented lawyer, in addition to being a hilarious ethnic stereotype.

Quick Response: Janet Montgomery *is* a star. I agree with FOX, which brought her in in an unsuccessful attempt to goose ratings for “Human Target” and I agree with CBS, which cast Montgomery in a show called “Made in Jersey,” despite a natural accent that’s distinctly from the wrong side of The Pond. I don’t really know what to make of “Made in Jersey,” unfortunately. CBS has been running trailers which focus more on Fish Out of Water humor than the actual tone of the show, which is closer to a straight-forward character-driven legal procedural with hints of cartoony local color. Montgomery, whose Jersey accent is acceptable, if not flawless, is very good playing a woman who comes off as kinda a Sherlock Holmes for trashy, blue collar details. She’s sexy and straight-forward and Montgomery really isn’t mugging or over-relying on stereotypes. The same cannot be said of Donna Murphy and Erin Cummings as two members of the main character’s Big Stereotypical Italian Family, an element that the producers said at TCA press tour that they intend to play up. Ugh. Bad idea.

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MY COUSIN VINNIE sans Joe Pesci? But…but…but Joe Pesci is MCV. He’s all that film has. OTOH, Marisa Tomei was far more interesting in that than she’s ever been in anything since. Is it because the character was/is inherently awesome? Or because Pesci brought it out of her? Guess we’ll find out when this hits the air.

“The Fien Print” on ABC’s NASHVILLE

Even we can enjoy a good soap. (Hey, can’t always be supercool, y’know?) And wouldn’t it be wonderful if this turned out to be just that? Gotta love the smell of betrayal in the morning! Yeah!

Take Me To The Pilots ’12: ABC’s ‘Nashville’ – by Daniel Fienberg

The Pitch:“Take ‘Dallas,’ replace oil with country music, transplant it to Nashville and… BAM!” Or, if you prefer… “You know how NOBODY saw ‘Country Strong’? We could ditch the title, turn it into a TV show and nobody would ever know.”

ABC’s “Nashville” has every element in place to be a potentially great show. Or at least it has every element in place to be a fun primetime soap in an underutilized location with perhaps a little extra substance. And maybe the problem that I have with this pilot, which is solidly written by Callie Khouri and solidly directed by R.J. Cutler, is that it just has too many elements in place and no way to do justice to all of those elements in 42 minutes. Every time I got into one plotline or another, I was abruptly yanked out and forced into another and just when I settled in and decided I was interested in that plotline, it was off to something else. I got no cumulative impact out of the pilot at all, but I could see how I’d happily watch a series that ACTUALLY focused on Connie Britton’s Reba-esque Raya (kinda an inverted Mrs Coach, as a woman whose long overshadowed husband decides he wants his own profile) or Hayden Panettiere’s Taylor Swift-esque Juliette (kinda an emotionally wounded, sexually voracious singing dwarf) or Powers Boothe’s Lamar (kinda JR Ewing, only played by Powers Boothe) or the sweet dynamic between Sam Palladio and Clare Bowen (like a country-tinged “Once”).

What I didn’t buy was the attempt, at least in the pilot, to pretend like all of the storylines had equal value, when they clearly don’t. Boothe and Britton are, of course, two actors who I’d watch do just about anything and this has the potential to be the best project for Britton since “Friday Night Lights” and for Boothe since “Hatfields & McCoys” (yes, I’m well aware that those projects were two years and one year ago). Panettiere doesn’t have their chops, but she’s actually perfectly cast in this role and I love the visual dexterity required to frame her in a way in which she looks full-sized.

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EDITED TO ADD: Speaking of NASHVILLE, this just in. The original showrunner, Jim Parriott, has been replaced by Dee Johnson. Hmm…