Shelley Hennig, Moses Jacob Storm, Will Peltz, Renee Olstead, Jacob Wysocki, Courtney Halverson
Technology has become so integral to our daily lives that it was only a matter of time before someone made a movie that unfolds entirely on a computer screen, and though “Unfriended” isn’t the first to use this gimmick (Nacho Vigalondo’s “Open Windows” employed a similar premise, as did a recent episode of “Modern Family”), you can be certain that it won’t be the last. But for as miserable as that viewing experience may sound, Levan Gabriadze’s “Unfriended” actually does a surprisingly good job of holding your interest. Where Gabriadze fails is in creating a horror film that isn’t plagued by the same poor writing, tired clichés and shallow characters that commonly exist within the genre, making this supernatural slasher movie for the social media generation a lot less enjoyable than it could have been.
The film takes place over a Skype call among a group of high school friends who apparently spend their nights chatting with one another from the comfort of their homes instead of socializing in person, because that’s what kids do these days. When an anonymous user enters the chat without an invitation, they initially think that they’re being harassed by a trolling hacker, only to discover that the stranger is posing as Laura Barns, a former classmate who committed suicide exactly one year ago after being cyberbullied due to an embarrassing video posted on the web. Blaire (Shelley Hennig) believes that it might be the vengeful spirit of Laura punishing them for what happened, but she swears they had nothing to do with it. When the stranger begins revealing dirty secrets that turn the friends against each other, and then gruesomely kills them one by one for their apparent role in Laura’s death, they realize that this isn’t some sick prank, but something much worse.
The competition: Dancing with the Stars (ABC), Two and a Half Men / Mike & Molly (CBS), The Sing-Off (NBC), House (Fox)
Starring: Rachel Bilson, Jaime King, Wilson Bethel, Cress Williams, Scott Porter
Executive producers: Leila Gerstein, Josh Schwartz, Stephanie Savage, Len Goldstein and Donald Todd
What the network says: “Fast-talking New Yorker Zoe Hart has her life all figured out: after graduating top of her class from medical school, she’ll follow in her father’s footsteps as a cardio-thoracic surgeon in New York City. But life has other plans for Zoe. Turned down for the prestigious fellowship she had been certain she would get, Zoe is without a job and without a plan. Desperate, she decides to finally respond to the kindly stranger, Dr. Harley Wilkes, whom she met at her medical school graduation and who had offered her a place at his small medical practice in Bluebell, Alabama. She swallows her considerable pride and heads down South – temporarily, she assures herself.”
What we say: If you thought the worst thing about “Hart of Dixie” would be trying to buy Bilson as a surgeon, you’re wrong. In addition to painting the character of Zoe with the sort of broad strokes where she starts the pilot as a complete bitch who’s dismissive of living in a small Southern town and ends it as a thoughtful young woman who believes the people of Bluebell just might have a few life lessons to teach her, the proceedings tend to be little more than cornpone cliches slathered atop a heaping helping of schmaltz. There are a few clever lines and amusing characters, like the mayor of Bluebell, a former football player who regularly refers to himself in the third person, but viewers below the Mason-Dixon line will likely sneer at the way they’re portrayed, while everyone else will just roll their eyes and switch over to…well, just about anything else, really.
(9 – 10 PM, Sept. 13)
The competition: Dancing with the Stars (ABC), NCIS: Los Angeles (CBS), The Biggest Loser (NBC), New Girl / Raising Hope (Fox)
Starring: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Nestor Carbonell, Mike Colter, Ioan Gruffudd
Executive producers: Pam Veasey, Jon Liebman and JoAnne Colonna
What the network says: “Bridget Kelly is a recovering addict, struggling to turn her life around. She’s six months sober, and beginning to get back on track, when she witnesses a professional hit. She’s placed in federal protection under the watch of Victor Machado, an agent determined to see that justice is done. But Bridget knows that Victor can’t keep her safe and she flees, telling no one, not even her close friend and Narcotics Anonymous sponsor Malcolm Ward. Hoping to buy some time, Bridget contacts her identical twin sister, Siobhan Martin, and joins her in New York City, reuniting with her for the first time in six years. Siobhan is fabulously wealthy, with a strikingly handsome husband, Andrew, who has no idea that Bridget exists. When Siobhan suddenly disappears, seemingly taking her own life, Bridget makes the split decision to take on her sister’s identity.”
What we say: With so many unabashed “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” fans among the writing staff, no one wants to see Sarah Michelle Gellar succeed in a series more than Bullz-Eye, but for that to happen, viewers are going to have to get past the painful sequences at the beginning of the pilot where Gellar interacts with herself. If you can get beyond that, Gellar’s interactions with the trifecta of Carbonell, Colter, and Gruffudd may offer enough charisma to keep people coming back, but given that we weren’t even halfway through the pilot before we started wondering incessantly just how long Bridget was going to be able to perpetuate her chicanery, things are going to have to get really interesting really quickly for the show to maintain the initial “welcome back to the small screen, Sarah Michelle” momentum in the ratings.
(8 – 9 PM, Sept. 14)
The competition: The Middle (ABC), Survivor (CBS), Up All Night / Free Agents (NBC), The X Factor (Fox)
Host: Mario Lopez
Executive producers:Mike Fleiss, Lisa Gregorisch-Dempsey, Mario Lopez and Jeremy Spiegel
What the network says: “Celebrities are constantly in the public eye – but not everyone is a fan. Each week, celebrities from the world of television, sports and music will come face-to-face with their biggest ‘haters’ to try to win them over.”
What we say: All we’ve seen thus far is a “presentation” to give us a feel for what the show will be like, but it now appears that the season premiere is going to feature the same material, namely Snooki from “Jersey Shore” and Jake Pavelka from “The Bachelor” each confronting a “hater.” The concept itself isn’t so awful – it’s about time some of these internet trolls were taken to task by the people they’re mouthing off about from the safety of their computers – but based on the sampling of future “stars” who’ll be appearing on the show, it’s clear that the word “celebrity” is going to be pretty relative. Given the competition, it’s hard to imagine that reality-show alumni facing off against their “haters” are going to pull sufficient ratings to make much of a ratings dent against actual reality shows like “Survivor” and “The X-Factor.”
The Secret Circle
(9 – 10 PM, Sept. 15)
The competition: Grey’s Anatomy (ABC), Person of Interest (CBS), The Office / Whitney (NBC), Bones (Fox)
Starring: Britt Robertson, Thomas Dekker, Gale Harold, Phoebe Tonkin, Shelley Hennig, Jessica Parker Kennedy
Executive producers: Kevin Williamson, Andrew Miller, Les Morgenstein and Gina Girolamo
What the network says: “Cassie Blake is a normal, happy teenager, leading an everyday life with her devoted single mom, Amelia. But when her mother dies in what Cassie thinks is a tragic, accidental fire, her world is turned upside down. Cassie moves in with her warm and loving grandmother Jane in the beautiful small town of Chance Harbor, Washington – where the residents seem to know more about her than she knows about herself.”
What we say: The fact that it’s from Williamson, most recently known to CW viewers as the man who brought them “The Vampire Diaries,” may lead everyone who’s aged out of their teens to believe that “The Secret Circle” will be at best no more than another guilty pleasure that they’ll never publicly admit to watching. “Circle,” however, begins without the bandwagon-jumping feel that “Vampires” had at the outset – “It’s just like ‘Twilight,’ except it’s on every week!’ – and instantly offers a dark, intriguing premise as well as all the teen angst you’ve come to expect from a Williamson project. Yes, many oldsters will smile knowingly at the similarities to “The Craft” when the bitchy teen witches hit the screen, but it feels more like an homage than a rip-off. This could prove to be one of the more enjoyable series of the season. Stay tuned.