(8 – 9 PM, Sept. 26)
The competition: Dancing with the Stars (ABC), How I Met Your Mother / 2 Broke Girls (CBS), The Sing-Off (NBC), Gossip Girl (The CW)
Starring: Jason O’Mara, Stephen Lang, Shelley Conn, Andon Liboiron, Naomi Scott, Mido Hamada, Christine Adams, Allison Miller
Executive producers: Brannon Braga, Alex Graves, Rene Echevarria
What the network says: “In the year 2149, the world is dying. The planet is overdeveloped and overcrowded, with the majority of plant and animal life extinct. The future of mankind is in doubt, and its only hope for survival is in the distant past. When scientists at the FERMI Particle Accelerator unexpectedly discovered a fracture in time that made it possible to construct a portal into primeval history, the bold notion was born to resettle humanity in the past – a second chance to rebuild civilization and get it right this time.
The Shannon family joins the Tenth Pilgrimage of settlers to Terra Nova, the first colony established in this beautiful yet forbidding land. Jim Shannon, a devoted father with a checkered past, guides his family through this new world of limitless beauty, mystery and terror. Jim’s wife, Elisabeth Shannon, is a trauma surgeon and the newest addition to Terra Nova’s medical team. Josh Shannon is their 17-year-old son who is angry to leave life as he knows it behind; upon arriving at the settlement, he finds himself instantly drawn to the beautiful and rule-breaking Skye. Maddy Shannon, Josh’s endearingly awkward 15-year-old sister, hopes Terra Nova will give her a new chance to reinvent herself. Although Elisabeth’s medical training secured the family a spot on the pilgrimage, a secret involving their five-year-old daughter, Zoe, soon endangers their place in this utopia.
Upon the Shannon’s arrival, they are introduced to Commander Nathan Taylor, the charismatic and heroic first pioneer and leader of the settlement. Taylor, along with his right-hand man, Guzman, warn the travelers that while Terra Nova is a place of new opportunities and fresh beginnings, all is not as idyllic as it initially appears. Along with blue skies, towering waterfalls and lush vegetation, the surrounding terrain is teeming with danger – and not just of the man-eating dinosaur variety. There is also a splinter colony of renegades led by the battle-hardened Mira, who is vehemently opposed to Taylor and his leadership. Even more threatening than what lies outside the protective walls of the colony is the chilling possibility that something sinister is happening inside Terra Nova. The Shannons will come to suspect that not everyone on this mission has the same idea of how to best save mankind; in fact, there may be forces intent on destroying this new world before it even begins.”
What we say: Critics began sharpening their knives when they heard that Fox was delaying the premiere of the series by several months in order to make sure everything was ready to roll without having to rush, but as a sci-fi geek, I was pleasantly surprised with the depth of the premise and the unrolling of the series’ mythology. Anyone concerned that the whole thing is little more than a bunch of haphazardly-thrown-together plot ideas covering up a bunch of big-budget CGI dinosaurs needn’t be worried. Not that there aren’t quite a few rampaging dinos on the premises, but there’s also a nice amount of family drama, intriguing characters brought to you by established sci-fi guys like O’Mara (ABC’s “Life on Mars”) and Lang (“Avatar”), and a mystery about this strange alternate-universe past the Shannons and their fellow colonists have found themselves in. Fox used to be really awful about letting sci-fi series catch their breath and find a groove, but with the way they’ve kept “Fringe” alive for the past few seasons, there’s a very real possibility that “Terra Nova” will have an opportunity to build a fanbase beyond just the gawkers who want to see dinosaurs.
(9 – 9:30 PM, Sept. 20)
The competition: Dancing with the Stars (ABC), NCIS: Los Angeles (CBS), The Biggest Loser (NBC), Ringer (The CW)
Starring: Zooey Deschanel, Jake M. Johnson, Max Greenfield, Lamorne Morris, Hannah Simone
Executive producers: Peter Chernin, Elizabeth Meriwether, Katherine Pope
What the network says: “Jess, an offbeat girl, moves in with three single guys after a bad breakup and essentially sets a bomb off in their lives.”
What we say: I stand by my position that “Suburgatory” is my favorite new sitcom of the season, but if I had to pick the most imminently watchable new sitcom, it’s “New Girl” by a country mile. I could watch Zooey Deschanel do just about anything, so adorkable is she. My biggest concern about the show for the long haul is that, as it stands right now, all I’ve seen is the pilot for the series, and the funniest non-Zooey person was Damon Wayans, Jr., who – unfortunately for all of us – remains trapped on ABC’s “Happy Endings.” I’m not saying that his replacement on the show, Lamorne Morris, isn’t a funny guy, but Wayans leaves a major void to be filled. Still, the reality of the situation is this: it doesn’t really matter who else is on the show, since it’s unquestionably all about Zooey. Not only is she the playing the title character, but she’s just too freaking cute. Some may have no tolerance for her. I am not one of those people. I will absolutely be watching “New Girl.”
(8 – 9:30 PM, Sept. 21)
The competition: The Middle (ABC), Survivor (CBS), Up All Night / Free Agents (NBC), H8R (The CW)
Starring: Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul, L.A. Reid, Nicole Scherzinger, Steve Jones
Executive producers: Simon Cowell, Cecile Frot-Coutaz, Siobhan Greene, Richard Holloway, Andrew Linares, Rob Wade
What the network says: “Judges Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul, L.A. Reid and Nicole Scherzinger search for undiscovered talent 12 years old and over – both solo artists and vocal groups – who are worthy of the largest prize in television history: a $5 million recording contract with Syco/Sony Music.”
What we say: Is there really any point in a TV critic offering an opinion of a reality competition series? I’m sure some cynics will say that Paula Abdul’s failure to succeed with her own show means that Simon won’t be able to pull it off, either, but I’d bet a hell of a lot more people are interested in what Mr. Cowell has to say to prospective pop stars than what Paula had to offer up-and-coming dance divas. The promotional blitz has been ridiculous for this series, so there’s little doubt that it’s going to come out of the starting gate with a big-ass bang, but let’s see how the ratings look as the season progresses.
(9:30 – 10 PM, Nov. 30)
The competition: Happy Endings (ABC), Criminal Minds (CBS), Harry’s Law (NBC), America’s Next Top Model (The CW)
Starring: Jaime Pressly, Kate Finneran, Kevin Rahm, Julia Ling, Chad Coleman, Rosa Blasi, Aisha Dee, Kristi Lauren, Eric Sheffer Stevens
Executive producers: Sherry Bilsing, Ellen Kreamer
What the network says: “Single moms, life-long friends and former nerds Annie and Nikki fear their privileged and overly indulged daughters are turning out to be just like the girls who picked on them in high school.”
What we say: Say hello to the worst sitcom of the new fall season. Seriously, it’s absolutely excruciating. I love Jaime Pressly, and if you liked her as Joy on “My Name Is Earl,” you’ll still like her here, but she’s not the problem. That honor belongs to Kate Finneran, who has been allowed to indulge in the broadest slapstick imaginable, up to the point where she literally buries her face in a pie. But let’s not put the whole thing off on Finneran. The writing’s straight out of “ABC TGIF” territory, so much so that there’s even a “joke” at one point about how one of the moms grew up so deprived that she never even got to see an episode of “Full House.” Plus, the combination of being painfully unfunny and getting the choice post-“X-Factor” timeslot leads me to presume that someone in Fox’s programming department has brain damage. What a complete waste of high-value prime real estate. There’s a good show to be made about parents dealing with ungrateful teenage children, but if this is the one America chooses to embrace, then I weep for our future…and, yes, it really is that bad.
(8:30 – 9 PM, premiere date Oct. 30)
The competition: Once Upon a Time (ABC), The Amazing Race (CBS), Sunday Night Football (NBC)
Starring: Jonah Hill, Will Forte, French Stewart, Nat Faxon, Joy Osmanski, Cristina Pucelli
Executive producers: Peter Chernin, Jonah Hill, Andrew Mogel, Jarrad Paul, Katherine Pope
What the network says: “Allen Gregory is the world’s most celebrated seven-year-old embarking on the greatest challenge of his life: attending elementary school with regular kids.”
What we say: As of this writing, I haven’t seen any more of “Allen Gregory” than you have, which is to say that all I’ve seen is that little two-minute-long presentation reel that paints the title character with really broad strokes: he’s a little kid, but he’s some sort of upper-class super-genius who comes across like Stewie Griffin if he was raised by Frasier and Niles Crane…uh, if they were a gay couple instead of brothers. I laughed a few times during the clip, and I cringed a little, too, which currently puts the series on par with the majority of the other “Animation Domination” series, but I have no way of knowing if it’s going to prove successful with Fox’s Sunday night audience. I will say, though, that they made “Bob’s Burgers” into a hit, so I guess the chances are about as good for a non-Seth-MacFarlane series to find viewership as they’re ever going to be .
Tags: 2011 Fall TV Preview, Aisha Dee, Alex Graves, Allen Gregory, Allison Miller, Andon Liboiron, Andrew Linares, Andrew Mogel, Brannon Braga, Cecile Frot-Coutaz, Chad Coleman, Christine Adams, Cristina Pucelli, Elizabeth Meriwether, Ellen Kreamer, Eric Sheffer Stevens, Fox, French Stewart, Hannah Simone, I Hate My Teenage Daughter, Jaime Pressly, Jake M. Johnson, Jarrad Paul, Jason O’Mara, Jonah Hill, Joy Osmanski, Julia Ling, Kate Finneran, Katherine Pope, Kevin Rahm, Kristi Lauren, L.A. Reid, Lamorne Morris, Max Greenfield, Mido Hamada, Naomi Scott, Nat Faxon, New Girl, Nicole Scherzinger, Paula Abdul, Peter Chernin, Rene Echevarria, Richard Holloway, Rob Wade, Rosa Blasi, Shelley Conn, Sherry Bilsing, Simon Cowell, Siobhan Greene, Stephen Lang, Steve Jones, Terra Nova, The X Factor, Will Forte, Zooey Deschanel