Cougar Town (ABC): Yes, the title sucks. We know it, you know it, and series creators Bill Lawrence and Kevin Biegel know it, so just get over it already. It’s not like it’s relevant anymore, anyway, since not only is Jules (Courtney Cox) not out bedding hot young studs, but as of the Season 3 premiere, she’s actually engaged to her beau, Grayson (Josh Hopkins). Call it whatever you want, it’s still a great ensemble comedy about a bunch of fun folks who like to hang out, drink a lot of wine, and, uh, not much else. You know, kinda like you and your friends.
Fringe (Fox): We weren’t sure what to make of the observer’s announcement in last season’s “Fringe” finale that Peter Bishop never really existed. Um…huh? Surely they wouldn’t just eliminate Peter from the storyline — the show wouldn’t be the same without any of its three leads — but how would this all play out? In typical “Fringe” fashion, they added even more layers to the show, with Peter now stuck in an alternate timeline (not to be confused with the parallel universe from which Peter was abducted as a kid) and working with the “alternate” versions of Olivia, Walter and Walternate to get back to his timeline and his people. We repeat: um…huh?
How to Make It in America / Hung (HBO): We’ve combined these two shows into one write-up not because they’re particularly similar (although they both speak to our nation’s economic struggles in their own way) but, rather, because when both series got their walking papers from HBO a few months ago, we couldn’t decide which cancellation depressed us more. “How to Make It in America” wasn’t a fast-moving series, but it was one which paid off handsomely over time as a study of its characters, and while “Hung” had a pretty deplorable second season, it really turned things around in Season 3. Sorry to see you go, Ray. We’d tell you to keep your pecker up, but given what you’re packing, we wouldn’t want you to pass out.
The League (FX): It took longer than we’d hoped, but “The League” finally found its groove last season. The show was more consistently funny in its third season, with the writers solidifying the foundation by finding the right balance between the fantasy football angle and more traditional storylines, and we loved watching the season-long “draft cheat” arc play out in the hilarious two-part finale. These characters finally have some depth, giving us hope that Season 4 will be even better.
The Middle (ABC): The biggest hurdle that “The Middle” has to cross before it earns the respect of a larger audience is that viewers have to learn to appreciate that, no, it isn’t “Modern Family,” but it is just as funny. Granted, the humor’s often coming from a slightly different place, putting a great deal of focus on the economic struggles of a family in the Midwest, one that just barely gets the bills paid, hardly even tries to keep their house clean, doesn’t interact well with others, and, ultimately, comes across more real than any other sitcom family on TV.
Parenthood (NBC): We’ve been bracing for the cancellation of “Parenthood” since it first debuted, and yet the show is in the midst of a typically fantastic third season. Hopefully, it keeps defying the odds because we really want to see Adam and Crosby turn their recording studio into a smashing success. (And their assistant is pretty easy on the eyes, to boot!)
Shameless (Showtime): We wouldn’t want to suggest that this show might not be nearly as much of a must-see if William H. Macy wasn’t playing Frank, the perpetually-drunk patriarch of the Gallagher family, but…we don’t know how else to finish that sentence. That’s not to say that Emmy Rossum isn’t great to look at, and it’s pretty cool having Joan Cusack as part of the proceedings as well. But, c’mon, let’s face it: when you get right down to it, it’s all about what Bill Macy brings to the table.
Suburgatory (ABC): The new kid in ABC’s Wednesday night comedy line-up is, as it happens, actually about a new kid. Tessa (Jane Levy) is less than thrilled when her father (Jeremy Sisto) decides that the best thing for his daughter and their relationship is to move from New York City to the suburbs, but the resulting culture clash has proven pretty funny, thanks to an ensemble cast drawn from alumni of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” (Cheryl Hines), “Entourage” (Rex Lee), “Saturday Night Live” (Ana Gasteyer, Chris Parnell, and Jay Mohr), and even the Whedon-verse (Alan Tudyk, late of “Firefly). With Alicia Silverstone reuniting with Sisto (they were both in “Clueless,” remember?) for a several-episode plot arc, the future’s looking pretty bright for this show.
Alcatraz (Fox): The last time J.J. Abrams brought us a series that blended sci-fi elements with a procedural format – this would be “Fringe” we’re talking about – it soon evolved into an incredibly mythology-heavy show that inspired obsessive fandom but limited viewership. Maybe that’s why his latest endeavor is several episodes in and still seems very cemented in the world of procedurals. Mind you, it’s a series about Alcatraz inmates and guards who mysteriously disappeared from the prison in 1963 and are now suddenly beginning to reappear, so it’s clearly got plenty of sci-fi shenanigans going on, and it is indeed building on its mythology right on, which means that it could well turn out just as awesome as “Fringe.” Let’s all keep our fingers crossed, shall we?
Awake (NBC): As of this writing, you probably haven’t seen “Awake” yet, since it’s not set to premiere until March 1, and given that A) it’s on NBC, B) it’s a serialized drama, and C) it’s got a premise that will probably blow the minds of way more viewers than it will intrigue, there’s a pretty good chance that it will be gone by the time the next TV Power Rankings roll around. But, damn, is the pilot good. Brought to you by Kyle Killen, whose last series, “Lone Star,” looked great but was gone after only two episodes, “Awake” is about a police detective (Jason Isaacs) who, after a car accident, finds himself living in two realities: one where his wife died in the crash but his son lived, the other where his son died in the crash but his wife lived. Also, he has different partners in each reality. And different therapists. (Like you’re surprised he’s in therapy.) See what we mean? It’s crazy stuff. But the pilot delivers in a big way. It’s all down to how many people will give it a chance.
Don’t Trust The B—- In Apt. 23 (ABC): Nope, you haven’t seen this one, either – it won’t hit ’til April 11 – but it’s another case where the pilot is so good that it warrants mention. Krysten Ritter, who you may remember as the dearly-departed Jane on “Breaking Bad,” plays the titular character here, a total con artist whose new roommate (Dreama Walker) refuses to be taken advantage of. It’s a really quirky piece of work, aided in no small part by the inclusion of James van der Beek playing a highly exaggerated (hopefully) version of himself, and it’s more than a little bit dark at times, too. As such, it’s hard to say if the average viewer will embrace it. But if you’re a fan of series like “30 Rock,” “Community,” and the late, great “Better Off Ted,” you owe it to yourself to check it out when it premieres.
Key & Peele (Comedy Central): It’s been awhile since Comedy Central had a proper sketch comedy series that really delivered, but these “Mad TV” alumni have put together something that’s a little bit “Chappelle’s Show,” a little bit “Mr. Show,” and probably some “SNL” and “In Living Color,” too, covering a lot of different bases with the topics they’re mining for comedy. Since it’s only a few weeks into its run and has already earned a pick-up for a second season, “Key & Peele” probably have a better chance than any other series in this bunch to make it onto the next Power Rankings, and based on how much we’ve laughed so far, they might just be near the top. Time will tell…
Luck (HBO): All things being equal, we probably could’ve slipped this series into the top 25 without seeing a single moment of it, since the people both in front of and behind the camera are so amazing. Created by David Milch, directed by Michael Mann, starring Dustin Hoffman, Nick Nolte, Dennis Farina, Michael Gambon, Jill Hennessey, Jason Gedrick, Richard Kind, Ian Hart, Kevin Dunn…man, we’re exhausted just trying to comprehend how much awesomeness is in this thing. Of course, as a David Milch show, it could be the next “Deadwood” or it could be the next “John from Cincinnati,” so rather than guess how good it’s going to get, we’re leaving it here for the moment. But suffice it to say that we have nothing but the highest of hopes for how it’ll pan out.
The River (ABC): It’s all too easy to dismiss a potentially fascinating show with the words, “Ah, they’re just trying to be the next ‘Lost,’” so try to keep that phrase out of your mind when watching this series, which involves the host of a nature documentary series (Bruce Greenwood) going missing in the Amazon while on a mysterious quest, leading his wife, son, and the crew of his series to search for him. Not only has Steven Spielberg affixed his name to the show, but the folks behind “Paranormal Event” have so far infused the show with a seriously off-putting vibe…but, y’know, the good kind, like you find in horror movies.
Smash (NBC): Given that the ad campaign makes it look like the sort of thing that would appeal strictly to “Glee” fans, a show which longtime TV Power Rankings readers will note has fallen so far out of favor that it doesn’t even rate Bubbling Under status, we can appreciate your skepticism about this series, especially since it revolves around the not-exactly-testosterone-heavy concept of the making of a Broadway musical. But it’s a Steven Spielberg production, it’s got a cast peppered with some serious street cred (two words: Anjelica Huston), and the occasional singing and dancing segments have thus far featured some damned sexy women. It’s cool to pretend you don’t want to watch, but the reality is that it’s been pretty damned watchable thus far.
Touch (Fox): At the moment, all we’ve seen of Kiefer Sutherland’s new series is the pilot episode, which Fox sneak-previewed on Jan. 25 in an effort to get the buzz building in earnest, but we really dug what we saw. The premise revolves partially around widower and single father Martin Bohm (Sutherland) as he comes to grips with the realization that his autistic-ish son Jake ((David Mazouz) is tapped into the numeric inter-connectivity of everything in the universe. Or something like that. Anyway, the show comes courtesy of Tim Kring, who proved with “Heroes” that, if nothing else, he’s really good at setting up a cool premise. Let’s just hope that experience has taught him a few things about how to keep a cool premise going.
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