Just as 2011 is sure to end in a few days, 2012 is equally likely to follow on its heels, which means that the January TCA tour is right around the corner. As such, yours truly is about to be bombarded with the best and worst that the midseason has to offer…and, fortunately, there’s a lot more of the former than the latter. Indeed, there are a couple of shows that the broadcast networks have been unjustly sitting on for almost six months, even though they’re a damned sight better than most of the dreck we got back in September. (Stand up, please, “The Playboy Club.” Or, you know, pick the program of your choice. That one’s just easiest ’cause it was the first to go.) Much as last week found me offering up 11 shows, give or take, that I was sorry to bid adieu to in 2011, this week I’ve pulled together a list of 12 shows that I’m looking forward to checking out in 2012. Keep in mind, however, that I’m basing my excitement either on a rough cut of a pilot or, in some cases, merely on the hopefulness I get when I read about the show. Yes, this does often come back to bite me in the ass, but such is the life of a TV critic. If I’m wrong, I’ll roll with the punches. In the meantime, though, these are my personal picks for what’s looking good in the new year…
So sayeth the network: Based on the best-selling novel by world-renowned author John Grisham, “The Firm” is a new drama series that continues the story of attorney Mitchell McDeere (Josh Lucas), who, as a young associate 10 years earlier, had brought down the prestigious Memphis law firm of Bendini, Lambert & Locke, which had been operating as a front for the Chicago mob. After a difficult decade, which included a stay in the Federal Witness Protection Program, McDeere and his family now emerge from isolation to reclaim their lives and their future — only to find that past dangers are still lurking and new threats are everywhere. Abby McDeere (Molly Parker), Mitch’s supportive, smart and resourceful wife, who had helped her husband expose Bendini, Lambert & Locke, is excited to start a new life in Washington, D.C., as a school teacher and mom to their daughter, Claire (Natasha Calis). Ray McDeere (Callum Keith Rennie) is Mitch’s charming, yet volatile, older brother whose work as an investigator in Mitch’s office is uniquely informed by his past stretch in prison for manslaughter. Despite a gritty past that stands in stark contrast to that of his Harvard-grad brother, Ray shares one key quality with Mitch – a loyalty that is unbreakable. Tammy Hemphill (Juliette Lewis) is Mitch’s feisty, sexy receptionist whose work life is made all the more tumultuous by her on-again, off-again relationship with Ray. With a personality as arresting as her ever-changing hair color, Tammy is leery when Mitch accepts a deal to partner with a top law practice, as she’s not cut out for the conservative culture of a white-shoe firm.
My take: I literally only just got the pilot episode this morning, so I haven’t had a chance to check it out yet, but the combination of Lucas, Parker, and Lewis has me very intrigued, and the fact that Grisham himself is part of the mix makes me hopeful about the possibilities of where this series could go if it’s given the chance. That’s a big “if,” though, because this isn’t the first time a Grisham novel has made the jump to the small screen. Anyone remember “The Client,” with JoBeth Williams and John Heard? It’s become so obscure that there’s neither a Wikipedia page for it nor even a clip from it on YouTube. Let’s hope “The Firm” gets a better go of it than that.
(Premiere date: January 8, 9 PM; regular 10 PM timeslot begins January 12)
So sayeth the network: Meet Marty Kaan (Don Cheadle), the big-money earner at Galweather & Stearn, one of the nation’s largest management consulting firms. Marty is, well, the sh*t and, by default, so is his hot, young team – The Pod – of big-balling power players – Jeannie (Kristen Bell), Clyde (Ben Schwartz) and Doug (Josh Lawson). These white-collar, Ivy League sharks will use anything (or anyone) to get their gullible corporate clients to sign their souls to Galweather and bank millions in oh-so-delicious billable hours. Cha-frickin’-ching, bitches. Their motto? Screw or be screwed. Just that simple. Marty and The Pod’s work life is all first-class, top-shelf, black Am Ex, the best suites at the nicest hotels. Wild nights on the town servicing the clients are all in a day’s work. Caviar, white truffles, Grey Goose and Dom, and the special attention of some sexy…local tour guides (well, really off-duty strippers Lexxie, Destiny and Nikki) – all billed to the bloated corporate client’s bankroll as “entertainment expenses.” Yes, these are the perks. It’s all a win-win…for Marty and his team: they get the account; the client gets a week of reckless debauchery in exchange for useless, indecipherable management directives, all for the low, low price of…millions.
My take: Damn, it’s good to see Don Cheadle back in full-on comedy mode again…almost as good as it is to get to look at Kristen Bell on a weekly basis once more. Showtime’s comedies are notoriously raucous, and this one looks to be no exception.
(Premiere date: January 8, 10 PM)
So sayeth the network: A comedy starring Rob Schneider as a lifelong bachelor who just married into a tight-knit Mexican-American family. Rob is a successful landscape architect who, after a whirlwind romance, marries Maggie (Claudia Bassols), a beautiful, smart book translator, who is way out of his league. After eloping in Las Vegas, Maggie and Rob must break the news to her overprotective, judgmental parents, Rosa (Diana Maria Riva) and Fernando (Cheech Marin), that they are married. Shocked by news that they’ve eloped, the family remains skeptical of Maggie’s choice for a husband, with the exception of her uncle Hector (Eugenio Derbez), the black sheep of the family, who immediately declares himself Rob’s best friend. Rob hopes he will one day win over his new in-laws, aunts, uncles and Maggie’s Abuelita (Lupe Ontiveros), and live happily ever after with his one true love, Maggie.
My take: I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I’m thrilled at the prospect of a Rob Schneider sitcom, but I do think that Schneider can be funny, and if he’s reigned in somewhat by the constraints of being on a broadcast network, i.e. the humor doesn’t descend into low-brow in a big way, then it might actually give us a chance to remember how funny the guy could be on “Saturday Night Live” when given the right material. Plus, Bassols is muy caliente, and who doesn’t like Cheech?
(Premiere date: January 12, 8:30 PM)
So sayeth the network: Napoleon Dynamite (Jon Heder) is a 16-year-old boy convinced – for no apparent reason – that he is destined for greatness and blessed with unlimited “sweet abilities.” He spends his days practicing ninja moves, drawing ligers, soul dancing and bragging about his “girlfriend in Oklahoma” whom nobody has ever seen. Napoleon’s brother, Kip (Aaron Ruell), is an unemployed 32-year-old who lives at home and believes he would be an amazing catch for any girl who would respond to his online come-ons. The Dynamite brothers live with Grandma (Sandy Martin), a crusty woman who can often be found four-wheeling with her lady friends at the local sand dunes. Napoleon’s allies include Pedro (Efren Ramirez), his unflappable best friend who has recently been elected class president; and Deb (Tina Majorino), an incredibly sweet girl who sees the good in Napoleon and dreams of someday being his wife. Napoleon’s Uncle Rico (Jon Gries) lives out of an orange custom van, where he obsesses over his botched high school football career and dreams up ways to become rich and famous. Then there’s Rex Kwon Do (Diedrich Bader), a self-proclaimed martial-arts master who runs the local dojo.
My take: I’m not necessarily the target audience for this series – I’ve seen the movie once, and I didn’t love it enough to see it a second time, let alone join the cult that’s built up around it – but I admit that I’m intrigued by the fact that every single member of the cast has returned to reprise their roles. Oh, sure, a cynic would point out that it’s not like they’ve got a whole heck of a lot else going on…kind of like I just did. But let’s hope that at least part of the reason they came back was because the writing was strong.
(Premiere date: January 15, 8:30 PM)
So sayeth the network: When San Francisco Police Department Det. Rebecca Madsen (Sarah Jones) is assigned to a grisly homicide case, a fingerprint leads her to a shocking suspect: Jack Sylvane (Jeffrey Pierce), an Alcatraz inmate who died over 30 years ago. Given her family history – both her grandfather and surrogate uncle, Ray Archer (Robert Forster), were guards at the prison – Madsen’s interest is immediately piqued, and once the enigmatic, knows-everything-but-tells-nothing government agent Emerson Hauser (Sam Neill) tries to impede her investigation, she’s doggedly committed. Madsen turns to Alcatraz expert and comic book enthusiast, Dr. Diego “Doc” Soto (Jorge Garcia), to help her piece together the inexplicable sequence of events. The twosome discovers that Sylvane is not only alive, but he’s loose on the streets of San Francisco, exacting decades-old revenge and leaving bodies in his wake. And strangely, he hasn’t aged a day since 1963 when Alcatraz was ruled by the iron-fisted Warden Edwin James (Jonny Coyne) and the sadistic Associate Warden E.B. Tiller (Jason Butler Harner). Detective Madsen and Soto must team with Hauser and his technician, Lucy Banerjee (Parminder Nagra), to stop Sylvane’s vengeful killing spree. By delving into Alcatraz history, government cover-ups and Rebecca’s own heritage, the team will ultimately discover that Sylvane is only a small part of a much larger, more sinister present-day threat. For while he may be the first, it quickly becomes clear that Sylvane won’t be the last to reappear from Alcatraz. Through the course of the investigation, Madsen and Soto will learn that Hauser has been awaiting the prisoners’ return for nearly 50 years. Soto will witness his life’s work – the history of Alcatraz – come alive. Madsen will be forced to keep her supportive San Francisco cop fiancé, Jimmy Dickens (Santiago Cabrera), at arm’s length from the highly classified assignment as she sees everything she thought she knew about her family’s past shattered, all while fighting to keep the country safe from history’s most dangerous criminals.
My take: Don’t tell me I’m the only guy who’s spent his life intrigued by Alcatraz. Take the built-in mystique surrounding the prison, throw in the sci-fi / supernatural premise, J.J. Abrams as executive-producer, and a cast filled with familiar faces who know their way around this genre, and you’ve got me hooked. It’s my second favorite hour-long of the midseason.
(Premiere date: January 16, 8 PM; regular 9 PM timeslot begins January 23)
So sayeth the network: Martin Bohm (Kiefer Sutherland) is a widower and single father haunted by an inability to connect to his mute 11-year-old son, Jake (David Mazouz). Caring, intelligent and thoughtful, Martin has tried everything to reach his son who shows little emotion and never allows himself to be touched by anyone, including Martin. Jake busies himself with cast-off cell phones, disassembling them and manipulating the parts, allowing him to see the world in his own special way. After multiple failed attempts at keeping Jake in school, Martin is visited by social worker Clea Hopkins (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), who insists on doing an evaluation of the Bohms’ living situation. Although new at her job, Clea sees a man whose life has become dominated by a child he can no longer control. She believes his attempts to communicate with Jake are just wish fulfillment, and determines that it’s time for the state to intervene. But everything changes when Martin discovers that Jake possesses a gift of staggering genius – the ability to see things that no one else can, and the patterns that connect seemingly unrelated events. Jake is indeed communicating after all. But it’s not with words, it’s with numbers. Martin meets Arthur Teller (Danny Glover), a professor and an expert on children who possess special gifts when it comes to numbers. Now it’s up to Martin to decipher the meaning and connect the numbers to the cast of characters whose lives they affect.
My take: I still haven’t seen the pilot episode for the show, but the trailer really captured my imagination. Sutherland surely had his pick of projects in the wake of “24,” so I have to believe there’s something about “Touch” that really tickled his fancy. The fact that it’s created by Tim Kring, who ultimately disappointed with “Heroes,” makes me mildly concerned, but, hey, Season 1 of “Heroes” was pretty damned good. If Kring learned some valuable lessons from what went wrong with that series, here’s hoping he won’t make similar mistakes on “Touch.” (Please don’t let him make similar mistakes on “Touch.”)
(Premiere date: January 25, 9 PM; premiere March 19, 9 PM)
So sayeth the network: A behind-the-track look at the world of horse racing and gamblingʼs denizens – owners, trainers, jockeys and gamblers. Chester “Ace” Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) is released from three years in federal prison. Heʼs met by his driver and bodyguard, Gus Demitriou
(Dennis Farina), who fronts as the owner of the $2 million Irish Horse that Ace just bought. A brilliant but disreputable trainer, the Peruvian Turo Escalante (John Ortiz), introduces us to their prized Irish thoroughbred, who is being examined by his girlfriend, track veterinarian Jo (Jill Hennessy). Meanwhile, veteran trainer-turned-owner Walter Smith (Nick Nolte) contains his optimism pinned on his promising “Big Horse” because heʼs wary. Of what, weʼre unsure, but we learn thereʼs a dark history and a shadow of scandal behind the horse. Four degenerate gamblers, Marcus (Kevin Dunn), Renzo (Ritchie Coster), Jerry (Jason Gedrick), and Lonnie (Ian Hart), meanwhile, are pooling their meager resources to bet Jerryʼs hunch on the dayʼs long shot, a high-stakes Pick Six winners contest.
My take: I admit it. I’m the dumbass who forgot that HBO was sneak-previewing “Luck” after the season finale of “Boardwalk Empire,” so I didn’t see it. And HBO has yet to send over the screener, so I’m kind of freaking out here, because everyone I know who has seen it has loved it. But, really, it’s David Milch material acted by Hoffman and Nolte, directed by Michael Mann. What’s not to freaking love?
(Premiere date: January 29, 19 PM)
So sayeth the network: “Smash” is a musical drama that celebrates the beauty and heartbreak of the Broadway theater as it follows a cross-section of dreamers and schemers who all have one common desire – to be a “smash.” The series centers on the process of creating a Broadway musical based on the life of Marilyn Monroe – written by the successful songwriting duo of Tom (Christian Borle) and Julia (Debra Messing). Julia recently began the process of adopting a child with her husband Frank (Brian d’Arcy James) of many years, but her focus is torn when she has the opportunity to write another Broadway hit. A rivalry soon forms for the lead role between a youthful, inexperienced Midwestern beauty Karen (Katharine McPhee) – who is trying to find fame in the big city against all odds – and stage veteran Ivy Bell (Megan Hilty), who’s determined to leave the chorus line and finally get her big break. A tenacious producer Eileen (Anjelica Huston) discovers the “Marilyn” project and jumps on board with a brilliant director, Derek (Jack Davenport) – whose talent is matched by his cunning and egocentric amorality. The series stemmed from an idea of executive producer Steven Spielberg. The pilot was written by Theresa Rebeck. David Marshall Grant, Craig Zadan and Neil Meron and Darryl Frank and Justin Falvey also serve as executive producers. Original songs are written by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, who serve as executive producers as well.
My take: If you were wondering, this is my favorite hour-long of the midseason. It may seem like a glorified “Glee” when you watch the trailer, but I promise you that it was amazingly captivating from start to finish. I don’t know if they’re going to be able to maintain that level of awesomeness throughout the season, but for my money, this was a better pilot than anything I saw that premiered in the fall…which was particularly painful, since we’ve had the pilot since then. Thank God the time has finally come for the show to hit the air. I can’t wait.
(Premiere date: February 6, 10 PM)
So sayeth the network: Famed explorer Dr. Emmet Cole (Bruce Greenwood) went looking for magic deep in the uncharted Amazon and never returned. The shocking truth about his disappearance is out there, waiting to be discovered. To the millions of kids who grew up watching his show, Dr. Cole was a hero. To his own son, Lincoln (Joe Anderson), he was more of an enigma. Now, six months after he vanished, Lincoln is finally ready to bury the past when Dr. Cole’s emergency beacon suddenly goes off. At the urging of his mother, Tess (Leslie Hope), Lincoln reluctantly joins her on a search for his father. To fund the rescue, they agree to let Dr. Cole’s cagey ex-producer, Clark (Paul Blackthorne), film the mission documentary-style. The mixed crew of old friends and new acquaintances includes the alluring and resourceful Lena (Eloise Mumford), loyal mechanic Emilio (Daniel Zacapa) and lethal bodyguard Captain Kurt Brynildson (Thomas Kretschmann).
My take: It’s never easy to do horror on broadcast television, but, seriously, this pilot creeped me the hell out. Again, it’s another case where you really have no clue if and/or how they’re going to be able to maintain this level of quality as the season progresses, but the fact that it’s the work of the “Paranormal Event” people has me very curious to see if they can pull it off.
(Premiere date: February 7, 9 PM)
So sayeth the network: An unscripted series set in Smith’s iconic comic shop Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash that captures the world of the neighborhood comic book store and fanboy culture.
My take: Your guess is about as good as mine when it comes to this show, which used to be called “Secret Stash” until just a few weeks ago. There’s no mention of the series on AMC’s website – the above text comes from the schedule for the TCA tour – and there’s certainly no trailer or clips to be had. As someone who spent much of his youth…okay, fine, and into my twenties…frequenting comic book stores, I know the inherent humor to be had in those places, so I’m extremely hopeful that Smith is the man who can make that translate into a funny-ass reality show. But we shall see.
(Premiere date: February 12, 10 PM)
So sayeth the network: Amanda Vaughn (Leslie Bibb), once the ultimate high school “mean girl,” is forced to return home in disgrace after her marriage ends in scandal. Reluctant but desperate, Amanda has no choice but to turn to her mother, Gigi (Annie Potts), for help. Gigi, the quintessential proper Dallas socialite, wants nothing more than to have Amanda back and to give Amanda’s two teenage kids a good southern upbringing. The problem is that Amanda is nothing like the girl she was 20 years ago and is hesitant about re-entering this world of opulence, status and salacious rumor mills. She is hopeful for a new start, but soon finds it’s not that easy to escape your past in this tightknit community. The women of Dallas are none too happy to see Amanda back in town. Carlene Cockburn (Kristin Chenoweth), once the ugly duckling, was tortured by Amanda in high school but has made quite the “assisted” transformation since. Now she has a picture-perfect, lavish life with a gorgeous husband, yet she still can’t seem to let go of old grudges. Then there’s Cricket Caruth-Reilly (Miriam Shor) whose boyfriend Amanda stole and later married. Cricket is now a tough-as-nails, successful businesswoman with a perfect marriage – at least so it appears from the outside. Sharon Peacham (Jennifer Aspen), the fallen beauty queen whose chance at the Miss Teen Dallas crown was snatched away by a malicious rumor Amanda started, hasn’t really been the same since. Finally, there’s Heather Cruz (Marisol Nichols), a bit of an outsider back in high school who has now become fully inducted into this twisted little social clique of affluent, sugary, God-fearing, steely women whose bark is as bad as their bite.
My take: I’m not really a soap-opera guy, but when someone can take soapy elements and find the funny in them, I’m willing to give it a chance, and the pilot for this series made me laugh on several occasions. Chenoweth is always a lot of fun, and although you may not recognize the names of the other cast members, there are plenty of familiar faces in the bunch. It’s clear that ABC is hoping to sell this to audiences as the heir apparent to “Desperate Housewives.” Based on what I’ve seen, it’s got my vote.
(Premiere date: March 4, 10 PM)
So sayeth the network: The struggle goes on in 21st century London as the updated team of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson battle the worst that modern criminality has to offer, including a computer-savvy arch-villain who wants to rule the world.
My take: I really, really, really loved the first one. I cannot wait to see the second one. If I end up getting an advance screener of the three-part miniseries when I get to the TCA tour, I’m going to be the happiest camper this side of Scotland Yard. As it stands right now, however, I’ve seen no more than the brief clips that are on YouTube. Still, they’re enough to show that Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman have had no trouble stepping back into the roles of Holmes and Watson. Do you get the impression that I’m excited? May seems a lifetime away…
(Premiere date: May 6)
Tags: Alcatraz, Anjelica Huston, Benedict Cumberbatch, Bruce Greenwood, Cheech Marin, Claudia Bassols, Comic Men, Danny Glover, Debra Messing, Dennis Farina, Don Cheadle, Dustin Hoffman, GCB, House of Lies, J.J. Abrams, Jack Davenport, John Grisham, Jon Heder, Jorge Garcia, Josh Lucas, Juliette Lewis, Katharine McPhee, Kevin Smith, Kiefer Sutherland, Kristen Bell, Luck, Martin Freeman, Masterpiece, Molly Parker, Napoleon Dynamite, Nick Notle, Rob Schneider, Robert Forster, Sam Neill, Sherlock, Smash, The Firm, The Light from the TV Shows, The River, Touch, Will Harris, ¡Rob!