Fall TV Preview

Fall TV Preview: Pan Am, A Gifted Man, Revenge, Homeland, More

Jace Lacob on which new TV shows to watch or avoid.

The fall television season is now upon us, and the offerings seem pretty underwhelming for the most part. From A Gifted Man and Pan Am to Terra Nova and Grimm, Jace Lacob breaks down which new shows you should be watching this fall and which will have you running from the room.

The 2011–12 television season has some strong and risky programming on tap, but unfortunately, most of that won’t be premiering until midseason, as the broadcasters are holding on to some of their more creatively dazzling prospects until the wintertime. Which leaves the fall season in a bit of a rut, really. What is largely on offer is pretty dull and formulaic, with a few notable exceptions (though even those will make you yearn for the day when NBC finally rolls out Awake and Smash).

Yes, there are cringeworthy comedies (Man Up! and Whitney, there you are!), police procedurals (Poppy Montgomery is an ex-cop who remembers everything except the day her sister was murdered), franchise reboots (it’s Charlie’s Angels … in Miami), familiar faces (Sarah Michelle Gellar returns in Ringer), and whatever Grimm is supposed to be, but there are also some shows that take chances, such as Showtime’s political thriller Homeland, ABC’s high-flying period drama Pan Am, and CBS’s medical/supernatural hybrid, A Gifted Man, to name a few.

And then there’s Fox’s Terra Nova, which boasts no fewer than a dozen executive producers (including Steven Spielberg) and finally arrives on screens months behind schedule. (First it was announced as a midseason show for last season; then, after that idea was scrapped, the two-hour pilot was meant to air in May, which also didn’t happen.) I was torn about whether Terra Nova was one to watch or one to skip; ultimately, it’s one to take a wait-and-see approach with, as the redone pilot felt less Lost and more, er, Land of the Lost. The prehistoric/time travel/adventure/mystery hodgepodge follows a family who escapes the dystopian conditions of a desolate future by traveling back in time to breathe the fresh air of the titular prehistoric settlement. But, honestly, with subpar–Jurassic Park special effects, it’s hard to see what all of the numerous delays and fuss have been about.

A few new shows have already launched, including CBS’s 2 Broke Girls, CW’s Ringer and The Secret Circle, and NBC’s Up All Night. But let’s delve into the rest, both good and bad.

WATCH: 'New Girl' (Fox; Tuesdays at 9 p.m.)

It might be a bit of a stretch to envision indie girl and She & Him chanteuse Zooey Deschanel, of (500) Days of Summer, as a lovelorn loser, but Deschanel—who joins her sister Emily of Bones on Fox—commits so completely to the conceit that it’s hard not to fall for her. In New Girl, she plays Jess, an adorably clueless 20-something who catches her boyfriend cheating on her and moves in with three guys who teach her the ways of the dating world. And, oh, she often breaks into song. (Less encouraging: her stereotypically tearful rewatching of Dirty Dancing.) While the pilot, created by Liz Meriwether (No Strings Attached), had some creative kinks to work out, Deschanel makes for a sympathetic and endearing lead and this single-camera comedy could become an offbeat diversion, anchored by Deschanel’s winning performance. Did I mention she’s adorable? (Launches tonight.)

Craig Sjodin / ABC

WATCH: 'Revenge' (ABC; Wednesdays at 10 p.m.)

It’s still too early to tell just how well Revenge will hold up past its jaw-dropping pilot (or past the first season for that matter), but this ensemble soap could develop into the season’s most addictive guilty pleasure … and become a successor for the soapy shenanigans on Wisteria Lane. Revolving around Emily VanCamp’s Emily Thorne, a woman hell-bent on exacting vengeance against the people who destroyed her father’s life and her family’s happiness, Revenge is set in the Hamptons, stars a slew of familiar faces (including Madeleine Stowe, Henry Czerny, Gossip Girl’s Connor Paolo, and Secret Diary of a Call Girl’s Ashley Madekwe), and features mega-rich people being cruel to one another … and getting trampled on in turn. (Plus, VanCamp does her best Lisbeth Salander impression, which is reason enough to tune in.) Frothy and fun, this is a revenge fantasy for our economically uncertain times. (Launches Sept. 21.)

Mitchell Haaseth / NBC

SKIP: 'Whitney' (NBC; Thursdays at 9:30 p.m.)

Created by and starring Whitney Cummings (who is also behind CBS’s 2 Broke Girls), Whitney might just be the worst comedy on the air this year, a successor to that infamous title from last year’s Outsourced, also at NBC. This fall, Whitney has somehow scored the plum post-Office timeslot (while Parks and Recreation moves an hour earlier), but I can’t see this tired and painfully unfunny comedy sticking around for very long. Overflowing with outdated observational humor about the differences between men and women, relationships, dating, and marriage, Whitney goes for cheap and obvious laughs and comes up empty-handed. (Launches Sept. 22.)

Gavin Bond / NBC

WATCH: 'Prime Suspect' (NBC; Thursdays at 10 p.m.)

Yes, the British original is far superior, presenting taut serialized mysteries that not only exposed the institutional sexism at the Metropolitan Police, but also the heart of darkness that lurked within the criminals pursued by Helen Mirren’s Jane Tennison. No, Maria Bello is not Helen Mirren, and her Jane Timoney (!) isn’t in the same league of fierceness as Mirren’s Tennison. (And that hat she wears in the pilot? So annoying!) So why should you watch? For one, the two shows aren’t the same at all. (This Jane lives with her boyfriend and even likes his kid.) NBC’s version is a strictly episodic police drama that once again finds the central character, a female cop in a man’s world, dealing with misogyny at every turn, but procedural fans will likely gobble up the NYC-set crime stories like candy, and Bello makes for a compelling and strong lead, even if she can’t hold a candle to Mirren. (But who can?) (Launches Sept. 22.)

Heather Wines / CBS

WATCH: 'A Gifted Man' (CBS; Fridays at 8 p.m.)

A Gifted Man, created by Susannah Grant (Erin Brockovich) and overseen by Neal Baer (late of Law & Order: SVU), is an amalgam of several genres: it’s a medical procedural, with genius neurology surgeon Michael Holt (Patrick Wilson) saving lives even as he loses sight of his humanity; it’s a supernatural drama, as Michael is repeatedly visited by the ghost of his dead ex-wife Anna (played with charm by Jennifer Ehle), a do-gooder who ran a clinic in the Bronx; and it’s a family drama, as Michael deals with his flighty sister (Julie Benz) and his troubled teenage nephew. It’s also about the ways in which we heal and need to be healed, and the sacrifices we make along the way. And, oh, did I mention it also stars recent Emmy winner Margo Martindale (Justified)? A Gifted Man is thought provoking, deeply personal, and one show worth staying home on a Friday evening to watch. (Launches Sept. 23.)

Bob D'Amico / ABC

WATCH: 'Pan Am' (ABC; Sundays at 10 p.m.)

Is Pan Am the broadcast networks’ answers to awards bait Mad Men? It certainly could be, if the pilot of the slick and sexy period drama is any indication. Revolving around the 1960s personal and professional travails of the flight attendants and pilots of the world’s premiere international airline, Pan Am fuses workplace romance, espionage, and an exploration of the choices afforded upwardly mobile professional women in a time of intense change. Unexpectedly, it’s far more sexy and stylish than NBC’s similarly themed The Playboy Club, which began on Monday, and the cast—including Christina Ricci, Karine Vanasse, Kelli Garner, Margot Robbie, Michael Mosley, and Mike Vogel—is top-notch. This is compelling television for adults. (Launches Sept. 25.)

The CW

SKIP: 'Hart of Dixie' (CW; Mondays at 9 p.m.)

The CW, known for its loud and sensationalized shows, is attempting to turn the clock back a bit with Hart of Dixie, which seems much more of a throwback to the old WB days. The show, a blend of Northern Exposure, Gilmore Girls, and Everwood, stars Rachel Bilson as a Manhattan cardio-thoracic surgeon who loses her job and her boyfriend, and travels to Bluebell, Ala., to take up residency in a small-town practice. Bluebell, of course, is populated by the sort of lovable eccentrics that only appear on television shows, ones who are named Lemon and who give local crocodiles adorable nicknames. While the show’s cast, which includes Jaime King and Scott Porter, does its best to try to elevate the material, this is slushy, middle-of-the-road fare masquerading as heart-filled. (Launches Sept. 26.)

Karen Neal / ABC

WATCH: 'Suburgatory' (ABC; Wednesdays at 8:30 p.m.)

With single-camera comedy Suburgatory, created by Emily Kapnek, ABC may finally have a shot at finding a compatible lead-in for its Emmy Award-winning comedy Modern Family. While we’ve seen portrayals of the suburbs as hell before, series leads Jeremy Sisto and Jane Levy make for a compelling father-daughter team and the show itself has an unexpectedly mordant wit. The show revolves around George and Tessa, who move from Manhattan to the 'burbs after single dad George (mistakenly) finds a box of condoms in Tessa’s bedroom. What they encounter beyond the pristine lawns of suburbia is a group of highly eccentric neighbors, played to the hilt by Alan Tudyk, Allie Grant, Ana Gasteyer, and Cheryl Hines, among others. (Launches Sept. 28.)

Showtime

WATCH: 'Homeland' (Showtime; Sundays at 10 p.m.)

Arriving 10 years after the tragedy of 9/11, Showtime’s Homeland is a taut psychological thriller that revolves around disgraced CIA officer Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) who believes that an American soldier (Damian Lewis), thought to be dead and who was recently rescued from Afghanistan, has been turned by the enemy and poses a threat to national security. While facing dark demons of her own, Carrie is hellbent on exposing the truth behind the return of Sgt. Nick Brody … and prove that he’s not as innocent as he appears. Danes and Lewis are joined in the searing and provocative Homeland—created by 24’s Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa (and based on an Israeli format)—by Morena Baccarin, who plays Nick’s wife, Jessica; Diego Klattenhoff as Jessica’s boyfriend, Mike, and Mandy Patinkin as Carrie’s grizzled CIA mentor, Saul Berenson. Homeland is one show that is not to be missed. (Launches Oct. 2.)

SKIP: 'American Horror Story' (FX; Wednesdays at 10 p.m.)

Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk’s new horror drama strives for Grand Guignol terror, but instead feels as though the duo have taken a kitchen-sink mentality to horror tropes, dumped them in a blender, and then thrown the resulting slurry at the screen. Everyone—from the emotionally overwrought Harmon family (Dylan McDermott, Connie Britton, Taissa Farmiga) who moves into the house to their oddball neighbors, including Denis O’Hare’s burn victim/murderer, Frances Conroy (and, alternately, Alexandra Breckinridge) as the spooky housekeeper, and Jessica Lange as vicious Southern dame Constance—is haunted in some way, everyone has secrets, and weird things happen with an alarming, and ultimately exhausting, frequency. There’s not a second that’s not filled with something creepy, something scary, or something bizarre (the albino?) happening, but the characters never become sympathetic or indeed worthy of our desire to make it out of the house alive. (Launches Oct. 5.)

Craig Sjodin / ABC

SKIP: 'Man Up!' (ABC; Tuesdays at 8:30 p.m.)

The unnecessary exclamation mark in the title is just the starting point of what’s wrong with this shockingly unfunny comedy created by Christopher Moynihan, who also stars here alongside Amanda Detmer, Dan Fogler, Henry Simmons, Mather Zickel, and Teri Polo. Yet another entry this season in explorations of manxiety, Man Up! is about men realizing that they’ve lost their masculinity and try to get back in touch with what makes them men. (Yawn.) After all, unlike their fathers and grandfathers, they’ve never fought in a war but instead pretend to via multiplayer online videogames. (Believe it or not, guys, you can enlist if it makes you feel better!) Leaden does not even come close to describing how much of a thud this dud makes. (Launches Oct. 18.)

Scott Green / NBC

SKIP: 'Grimm' (NBC; Fridays at 9 p.m.)

Angel co-creator David Greenwalt is behind this supernatural drama, which finds Portland, Ore., cop Nick Burkhardt (David Guintoli) battling real-life fairy-tale creatures after learning that he comes from a long line of fairy-tale hunters (they’re called Grimms!) and must continue the war that his ancestors—including his aunt—have been enmeshed in for centuries in order to keep the balance of the world from tipping over to the supernatural. If all of this sounds to you like Grimm is a cheesy Saturday-afternoon Canadian syndicated show from the 1990s, you wouldn’t be wrong. How this made it onto the air under new NBC chairman Bob Greenblatt remains a mystery. (Launches Oct. 21.)

SKIP: 'I Hate My Teenage Daughter' (Fox; Wednesdays at 9:30 p.m.)

When the men of Man Up! are worried about their lost masculinity, the mothers—played by Jaime Pressly and Katie Finneran—of I Hate My Teenage Daughter are concerned that their brood are turning into the sort of mean girls that made their life hell back in high school. (Yes, these are all First World problems writ large.) That’s about as deep as this awkward, humorless, and mean-spirited comedy goes, really. These women might hate their kids (one of whom is played by one of the annoying teens from Terra Nova), but I couldn’t feel too sorry for them. Rather, I felt bad for the actresses having to play these unsympathetic and cloying characters. Fox, do viewers everywhere a favor, and put this terrible show out of its misery quickly. (Launches Nov. 30.)

John Russo / NBC

SKIP: 'The Playboy Club' (NBC; Mondays at 10 p.m.)

This should have been a slam-dunk for NBC: a '60s-set show that’s associated with the playful Playboy brand, the accidental murder of a mobster in the pilot episode, and beautiful women in slinky attire. But the finished product is anything but sexy: it’s downright stodgy, especially compared with ABC’s Pan Am. The murder itself is tawdry and tired at the same time, and while Eddie Cibrian attempts his best Don Draper impression, he is no Jon Hamm. The result, which already has viewer-watchdog groups up in arms, feels vapid, and the characters don’t spring to life with any sense of vivacity or reality. This is one club of which you’ll be happy not to be a member. (Launched Sept. 19.)