1) The Vampire Diaries (Thurs, CW): I kind of get the feeling that The Vampire Diaries is Twilight for people who thought there wasn't enough obsessive stalking in Stephenie Meyer's work. You've got the mysterious, brooding, self-hating vampire,
Edward Stefan, and the brunette-for-TV (but blonde in the books, Wiki tells me) heroine, Bella Elena, in a small town. There's a Bad Vamp running around (HI BOONE IAN SOMERHALDER!) and the vamps can go out during the day without a) burning to a crisp a la True Blood or b) hilariously roasting a la Buffy (I distinctly remember Spike coming into the Summers' kitchen with a cloud of smoke surrounding him...and laughing hysterically). Only here, the whole reason Stefan's back in Mystic Falls (MYSTIC FALLS? REALLY?) is that Elena looks like his old flame, Katherine, from back in the Civil War era. Bella just waltzed into Edward's life, no fault of his (and he tried to run away, as I recall), but Elena is the entire reason Stefan came back, apparently at great risk to himself and his nephew/"uncle" with whom he lives. It's on the CW, so the mediocre writing and acting is par for the course, but I do genuinely enjoy Ian Somerhalder as Damon the Bad Vamp, who's clearly having a fabulous time being the oldest member of the cast and the villain to boot. It's like Alan Rickman in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, but on a much, much, much smaller scale. There are some fun moments, like heavy mist creeping over the ground and crows smashing into windshields whenever Damon rolls in (or, as TV Guide puts it, "[the show] also features a special guest appearance by massive amounts of fog"), and Stefan just awkwardly hangin' at the doorjamb because Elena didn't specifically invite him in, but on the whole, I'll restrict my vampire TV to True Blood. I like my undead with a dash of humor, which VD is lacking. (And besides, my Thursday nights are kind of packed already.)
2) Community (Thurs, NBC): I'm a new member in the Joel McHale fanclub, having only seen The Soup a couple times, but he's really the main reason I decided to give Community a try. Yes, the commercial they ran all summer was funny (you can find a version is here), and I laughed every time Joel/Jeff rattled off his real/fake Spanish, but really? I tuned in because he's a tall, slim, good-looking man. So sue me. Joel plays Jeff Winger, a lawyer whose law license has been suspended because he has a less-than-legitimate undergrad degree from Colombia. That's Colombia, not Columbia. So now, enrolled at Greendale Community College, Jeff is completely uninterested in anything but getting his bachelor's degree with as little effor as possible, and as a result, is a total jerk in the way that most protagonists are. He invites Britta, the attractive blonde from his Spanish class, to a "study group" AKA one-on-one time in the library. Except Britta invites Abed, the awkward kid with Asperger syndrome. And then Shirley, Annie, Troy, and Pierce show up and all of a sudden, it's a real study group. Their antics and Jeff's determined efforts to get into Britta's pants are amusing enough that I'm planning to add it to my TV schedule, in the spot vacated by The Office. Plus, it's got Ken Jeong (AKA the Asian doctor from Knocked Up and the king from the LARP in Role Models) as Señor Chang, the Spanish teacher. There are some painfully awkward moments, but nothing as bad as what we've seen on The Office. I'd recommend watching the pilot, which you can find on CommunityHulu.
3) Eastwick (Wed, ABC): Hoo, boy. So, I saw that Eastwick was available on Hulu, and figured, "Why not?" The series is (I suspect very loosely) based on the John Updike novel The Witches of Eastwick, later adapted into a film starring Cher, Susan Sarandon, and Michelle Pfeiffer. Rebecca Romijn, Lindsay Price, and some other woman I've never seen before are the sekrit underground witches (who aren't aware they're witches, by the by) in this updated version. Romijn is Roxie, the boho artist sleeping with a younger man (who, incidentally, does have a belly button); Price is Johanna, the uptight journalist (glasses, hair in a bun, etc.) pining after the hot photographer coworker; whats-her-face is Kat, the nurse/mother of five with a loser husband. SO they all wish for big changes in their lives and then some super-rich dude rolls in and basically makes everything they wish for come true. Roxie dreams the future, Johanna can make men do whatever she wants, and Kat is Natural Disaster Girl (earthquakes, lightning strikes, etc.). Now that I think about it, not much happened in the pilot...huh. Anyway, the acting's not as horrible as I expected and they seem to be aware of how ridiculous the show is -- and they're having fun with it. Plus, the super-rich, possibly evil dude, Daryl (the Mountie from Due South, if anybody else watched that), is hilarious. I might watch it again if I've got more knitting to do -- it's a good halfway-paying-attention kind of show.
4) FlashForward (Thurs, ABC): Oh, man. Provided it survives its first season, I think FlashForward has the potential to become my new Lost. That might be jinxing it, but I really liked the first episode. There are more British actors than you can shake a stick at (Joseph Fiennes, Sonia Walger [AKA Penny Widmore/Hume of Lost], Alex Kingston [AKA Professor River Song of Doctor Who, and Jack Davenport [Commodore Norrington!], plus I hear Dominic Monaghan is supposed to show up, too), but the American talent is what pulled me in: John Cho, who I loved in a completely un-platonic way as Sulu in Star Trek this summer, and Courtney B. Vance, who I still miss as ADA Ron Carver on Law & Order: Criminal Intent, were the familiar faces in the commercial that made me seek out the premiere. What I was completely unprepared to see was Seth MacFarlane (yes, Seth MacFarlane of Family Guy), in a totally un-comedic role as one of the FBI agents (I may have had an outburst on Twitter when he showed up on screen). I also recognized Gabrielle Cortese, late of Supernatural, but she was so awful in an already mediocre show that I'm glad her character is supposedly dead at the beginning of the show. Whether or not she's actually dead is of little consequence when you're faced with FBI AGENT JOHN CHO, GUYS. Seriously, he spends most of the episode in a flak jacket and bloody with his gun drawn, menacing a suspected (female) terrorist. Dear ABC: You know what you're doing, don't you? The premise of the show is this: everyone on the planet blacked out for the same two minutes and fourteen seconds, simultaneously, and for those two minutes and change, their consciousnesses jumped forward six months to April 2010 and they had a flash of their lives in the future. Well, everyone but poor Agent Demetri Noh (John Cho), who didn't see anything, and is afraid it's because he'll be dead in six months. FBI Agent Mark Benford (Fiennes), a recovering alcoholic, sees himself investigating the flashforward and drinking again. His wife, Olivia (Walger), an ER doctor, sees herself with another man (Jack Davenport), who is apparently the father of a little boy she saves during the first episode. My favorite of the flashes was Stan Wedeck (Courtney B. Vance), the FBI boss who tells Benford and Noh that he saw himself "in a meeting," which is apparently code for "taking a dump while reading the newspaper." The cause of the blackouts is a mystery, as is the lone
OMGWTFPOLARBEAR kangaroo hopping down the streets of Los Angeles immediately after the blackouts, but the FBI, while looking through security camera footage from around the world, finds one man in a baseball stadium who was awake for those two minutes -- apparently the only person in the world who didn't lose consciousness. I'm super-intrigued by the whole premise of the show; it reminds me a lot of the first season of Lost, when we were still discovering the mysteries and mythology, and the questions were still relatively simple. I have a good feeling about this show, in part because the creators are David S. Goyer (who co-wrote the story for The Dark Knight) and Brannon Braga (of Star Trek: The Next Generation), but also because they've got a good cast and the strength of the story itself (based on a 1999 novel by Robert J. Sawyer) driving it. The script was good, the acting was good, and the action was well-executed and pushed from beginning to end. They even managed to introduce what I suspect will become the central theme of the show: are these flashforwards glimpses of the inevitable, or can these characters change the futures they saw? It should be interesting to see how the story unfolds and how the show's 13 episodes will be structured in terms of reaching the April 2010 date seen in the flashes. I'm putting it in the rotation of my regular shows.
Other series I'll probably give a chance are The Good Wife (Tues, CBS), Trauma (Mon 9/28, NBC) and V (Tues 11/3, ABC) -- the latter mostly because of Elizabeth Mitchell, who will always be HBIC Juliet Burke to me, but also for Morena Baccarin, AKA Firefly's Inara.
Returning series premieres
1) Castle (Mon, ABC): I loved the first season (and I'm waiting for my DVD set to arrive in the mail). I followed Richard Castle's exploits on TWitter over the summer (over here). I was super-excited to see how they'd handle Castle returning to the cop team after ignoring Beckett's very clear no-digging-into-my-mom's-homicide-or-you-and-I-are-done rule. Basically, Castle is now promoting Heat Wave, the Nikki Heat novel (you can read the first six chapters at abc.com, by the way), and Capt. Montgomery and the mayor believe that having Castle ride along while he's got a reporter from Cosmo tailing him will be good press for the NYPD. Meanwhile, Beckett's all but giving him the silent treatment (and so is coroner Lanie Parish, who's backing up her BFF Beckett) and we're basically back to day one, when Beckett was most annoyed by having Castle around. The story was perhaps a little convoluted, and they had Stana Katic use her awful Russian accent last heard during the 30 seconds she was on Heroes (but at least it wasn't her even worse French accent from The Librarian: Curse of the Judas Chalice) and strip down to a cardigan, belt, and heels -- no pants, of course -- to save Castle from the murderer. Apart from the gimmicks, the dialogue is just as snappy and smart as last season, I was amused by the incorporation of details from the summer Twitter mystery on the show proper, and I'm glad to see that Beckett and Castle's friendship is on the mend after he, you know, APOLOGIZED for violating her trust. Looking forward to the rest of the season!
2) CSI: NY (Wed, CBS): I've had my issues with my darling, beloved CSI: NY. We've had a couple of spats, a big ol' falling out over the Danny/Lindsay marriage and baby, and I've threatened the writers with bodily harm on more than one occasion. I loathe the punny one-liners they force Gary Sinise to deliver to take them to the credits. I actually cried a little when they killed off the very capable Detective Jessica Angell at the end of last season (which, BTW, is the second female regular they've killed off, and I don't believe we've lost any of the men). There are some actual talented actors on that cast who are given jack shit to work with in the scripts, and are forced to try to sell romantic pairings that have little or no chemistry (e.g. Danny/Lindsay, Mac/any woman except Lindsay, although I may be biased). So I was pleasantly surprised to discover that they'd done a couple relatively brave things with the season premiere: first, Stella and Adam hooked up, which no one saw coming except everyone who knew Adam has had a huge crush on Stella FOREVER. Second, and more importantly, they put Danny in a wheelchair, having lost the use of his legs in the drive-by machine-gun attack that ended last season in a very pale imitation of The West Wing's "Who's been hit? Who's been hit?" cliffhanger. However temporary Danny's paralysis may be (remember what show this is), I'm glad they took the chance on dramatically changing his life and giving him room to really grow as a character for the first time in a long time. Of course, they've added a new blonde character, Haylen Becall, played by quite possibly my least favorite actress to make the rounds of CBS dramas, Sarah Carter (she's been on Numb3rs and the thankfully canceled Shark already) and her little-girl voice. Haylen is a crime scene cleanup tech who wants Adam's job. Bitch, please. It's like Riley Adams over on the CSI mothership: I hate her already. Apart from the high points I've mentioned, the premiere was more of the same. I still don't like Lindsay. Hawkes still doesn't get enough screen time. AND WHERE IS DOCTOR SNAPPY GLASSES? Disappointing overall.
3) CSI (Thurs, CBS): Now, unlike its Wednesday night spinoff, the original crime lab did not disappoint. I mean, sure, there was a lot of gimmicky bullet-time, but the effect was...kind of mind-blowing, actually. Anyway, Riley Adams is gone (HUZZAH!), having left a snippy exit interview criticizing Catherine's leadership and claiming there's no team unity. News flash, Riley: did you ever think maybe it wasn't that there was no team unity, it was just that nobody liked you? So Riley's out, recently departed Sara Sidle is back to help round out the understaffed team's roster for a few episodes this season, Ray Langston (Laurence Fishburne) has earned his CSI Level 2 credentials, and the long-suffering Nick Stokes got promoted to assistant shift supervisor. Meanwhile, Liz Vassey (DNA tech Wendy Simms) and David Berman (Assistant ME David Phillips) are regulars this season, meaning they get to be featured in the opening credits. Selfishly, I hope this means we get a lot more Wendy/Hodges will-they-won't-they this season. They're my CSI OTP, for real. The end of the premiere episode seems to set up a serial killer storyline, according to clips from next week -- I hope this is just a one-episode thing. The last time they did a serial killer, it was the Miniature Killer and it consumed the season in a thick cloud of melodrama that I could really have lived without. Nevertheless, looks like a promising landmark season ten.
4) How I Met Your Mother (Mon, CBS): Now that all the pregnancies are out of the way, I can stop getting distracted by Lily and Robin's huge, billowy shirts and suspiciously large purses and get back to just watching the show. I wasn't bowled over by the premiere, mostly because I hate super-awkward situations as comedy (I get too embarrassed for other people to actually appreciate how funny it is), so Ted's classroom mixup on his first day as a professor -- well, technically he'd be just an instructor, I think, but whatever -- was more painful than anything else, and I'm not sure how I felt about Lily's whole Barney-and-Robin-MUST-define-the-relationship thing. I mean, normal people might have to have that kind of conversation, but Barney and Robin aren't exactly normal people. I mean this in a good way, of course. There wasn't quite enough Marshall for me, but I'm just so pleased that Jason Segel's cut his hair that I'm fine with what we got.
5) Criminal Minds (Wed, CBS): My heart beats only for SSA Spencer Reid, Ph.D., which is why I was pleased to see him be heroic in the CM premiere (even if it was only so he could get shot to explain Matthew Gray Gubler being on crutches due to his dislocated kneecap...ouch). They had a bit of a split narrative, working a case on just four hours of sleep after their horrific season finale case in Canada while wondering where team leader Hotch is. Turns out Hotch was stabbed a bunch by a serial killer that got away before, then dropped off at the hospital in an Elaborate Mind Game that will surely consume the season. Wonderful. Still won't stop me from watching, if only because I hope to see more of JJ with her Louisiana babydaddy and see what Paget Brewster does with her hair this season (are the bangs gone for good?!). I mean, those are the reasons people watch, right?
Other returning shows I'm keeping an eye on include Bones, Law & Order SVU, Law & Order, Numb3rs, and Lie to Me. I did watch The Mentalist's premiere, but I just can't get over my impression of Simon Baker as untrustworthy, and apparently everyone hates Robin Tunney's character? But I liked her (because she kicked Baker out of her car for being rude and childish, mostly). So...we'll see.
Shows I've given up since last season? House (too much melodrama, I can't stand House/Cuddy, not enough Cameron and too much Thirteen) and The Office (sorry, Jim and Pam, but I'm so sick of Michael, Dwight, and Andy that I can't give a crap about your wedding and baby and whatever else happened after episode...two? of last season). Also, fond as I am of Sylar, I haven't watched the Heroes premiere yet, and I'll probably wait a while before I do. Just don't feel like it.
Speaking of House (as I was under the cut), news broke yesterday of Jennifer Morrison (Cameron) being written out/leaving, which just sealed the deal for me -- I've officially broken up with the show. I don't care how good Hugh Laurie is or if he's found new ways to make House sympathetic (per Neal Justin, the Star Trib's TV critic), I JUST DON'T CARE. Also! USA Network has essentially killed Law & Order: Criminal Intent: Vincent D'Onofrio (Det. Bobby Goren) and Kathryn Erbe (Det. Alex Eames) are leaving after the season premiere, as is Eric Bogosian (Capt. Danny Ross). Julianne Nicholson (Det. Megan Wheeler) had previously decided not to return after having her second child, leaving Jeff Goldblum as the last man standing. He's apparently supposed to carry the show on his own, with new partner Saffron Burroughs (with whom I am Not Best Pleased). Now, I love Detective Nichols. I think bringing Goldblum in as, essentially, Detective Jeff Goldblum revived a flagging show that had become Law & Order: The Bacon Years, but I think Nichols is too quirky to pull off being the focus every week. It was nice to alternate weirdo Nichols with Goren, who had become sadly sluggish since his mother's death, and it was especially fun to watch Nichols and Eames together; I think Kathryn Erbe and Goldblum were a great team, and if D'Onofrio wanted out, they should've paired Eames and Nichols if the actors were amenable. If Erbe also wanted out, fine, but this big a casting shakeup reeks of Bureaucratic Asshaberdashery to me. The fact of the matter is this: Jeff Goldblum is a showkiller. Others have tried to rest a series on his shoulders and failed, miserably (see Raines). I don't think we'll be seeing L&O:CI in 2011. That's my prediction.
And that's that, if anyone made it this far. Being unemployed makes keeping up with television very, very easy. Imagine how much fun it would be to be a TV critic and get paid to watch TV! Maybe I ought to have some new career aspirations.