THE FALL PREVIEW 2011
By Mark Onspaugh
Back when I was just a wide-eyed kid snooping around the Outpost and getting into trouble, The Television Wasteland was a very different place. Only three major networks dominated the landscape (the local stations relegated to old movies, game shows and bizarre local programming), and summers were filled with reruns. In those pre-VCR/DVR days, the only way to catch up on a show that conflicted with another was to watch two sets or wait until summer.
In those halcyon days of witch wives and hot genies, tunnels through time and families lost in space, I would wait eagerly for TV Guide’s Fall Preview issue – a giant-sized version of the videophile’s weekly bible that featured full page color photographs of new shows… Giving us (in those pre-internet, spoiler-free days) our first look at TV’s BATMAN (1966 – 1968), or the Ewings of DALLAS (1978 – 1991).
Fall ain’t just for new shows any more, the schedule is all over the place… It’s less convenient, but there is less overlap, and any of that is easily handled by your friendly DVR.
Still, there are a lot of cable channels that now offer tasty programming, and some of you may have given up on the old majors altogether. Is that a mistake? To help you choose wisely, here is a listing of shows that will debut over the next few weeks. Please note, I am only listing (with a couple of exceptions) shows that are science fiction, horror or fantasy— you’ll need to go elsewhere for your dancing survivalists who hoard better than a fifth grader. I’m putting them in chronological order so you won’t miss out (times are PST)…
DEATH VALLEY debuted on August 29th and airs Mondays at 10:30pm on MTV. This is a COPS-style show where the San Fernando Valley is overrun with vampires, werewolves and zombies. The LAPD forms the UTF (Undead Task Force) to deal with the threat. The humor of the show lost me pretty quickly – humor and horror are an uneasy mix, and rarely do well unless they are as exceptional as TRUE BLOOD (2008-), SHAUN OF THE DEAD (2004), YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (1974), RE-ANIMATOR (1985) or TREMORS (1990). However, I have since heard the kills are very graphic and the writing is sharp, so I may give it a second look.
THE SECRET CIRCLE debuts September 15th and will air on Thursday at 9pm on The CW. I gave up on THE VAMPIRE DIARIES after about five episodes… For me, it was just too teen-angsty like newcomer TEEN WOLF (the new series, not the movie), and cool monsters and some interesting moments don’t make up for constant whining and always-wearying “will they or won’t they?” That said, Kevin Williamson is a sharp and inventive writer, so I am always willing to give any series he creates a chance. In SECRET CIRCLE, orphaned Cassie discovers she is a teenaged witch who must bind with five other witches to uncover the mystery of their witch parents’ death. Conspiracies and illicit love abound… Hopefully, not much whining.
UNFORGETTABLE premieres on September 20th and will air Tuesdays at 9pm on CBS. This is a cop procedural with a slightly sci-fi twist: detective Carrie Wells has hyperthymesia, a condition in which the victim (or super-detective) can vividly recall any moment in her life. Carrie’s super-memory is her toolbox for solving crimes… Hopefully all her memories will be seen from her POV (point of view)—am I the only one who is bugged when we see the person in their own memories?
PERSON OF INTEREST will sneak into your home or mobile screen on September 22nd and continue on Thursdays at 9pm on CBS. This one is from J.J. Abrams who brought us LOST (2004-2010) and the (for me) eagerly awaited series ALCATRAZ. LOST, by the way, is the “lightning in a bottle” everyone wants to recapture – that “watercooler” show that lights up the ‘net and is the subject of billions of tweets, talkbacks, flame wars and fist fights. Everyone wants a show that is weird, compelling and features mysterious characters with teasing flashbacks. PERSON OF INTEREST concerns a billionaire genius (Michael Emerson — Ben from LOST) who devises a program to utilize security cameras, cell phones and other tech to predict what person will be involved in a violent crime. It’s MINORITY REPORT (2002) meets EAGLE EYE (2008), without bald clairvoyants or Shia LeBeouf (but what about a bald, clairvoyant LeBeouf? Get me Spielberg!) Emerson teams with ex-CIA agent Jim Caviezel (FREQUENCY (2000) and THE PRISONER mini-series in 2009), who is being pursued by homicide detective Taraji P. Henson (THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON (2008)). Emerson is a fussy, twitchy brainiac, Caviezel shoots with Jedi accuracy and Henson has some bizarre secret past… Worth checking out.
A GIFTED MAN is haunted on September 23rd and will continue (one assumes) on Fridays at 8 on CBS. Patrick Wilson (WATCHMEN (2009), INSIDIOUS (2010)) stars as a neurosurgeon who is a rich and arrogant jerk. His dead ex-wife (Jennifer Ehle, CONTAGION 2011) begins visiting (haunting) him—she wants him to help the struggling free clinic she left behind. With Julie Benz (BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER (1996-2000), ANGEL (2000-2004), DEXTER (2006-)) as the neurosurgeon’s “New Agey” sister, the show’s exec producer Neal Baer says, “I thought this was an interesting way to pursue questions about healing, faith, and why things happen to people.” This sets off my Cynic-Meter®, but may be just what many are looking for in these dark days.
TERRA NOVA opens a temporal rift on September 26th and continues sending dino-chow… er, people, back to the Cretaceous on Mondays at 8pm on FOX. This, of course, is the big dog in the room – hell, this dog takes up a whole city block, and his name is Spielberg. Already an exec producer on the compelling FALLING SKIES (see my review here) Spielberg gets down to Earth and way back in time. While I might have preferred something in the Age of Mammals (Cenozoic Era), the creators figured we wanted more dinosaur/human squabbles… And who am I to argue with a chance to see velociraptors hunting in packs again? The premise of this $4 million per episode riff on JURASSIC PARK (1993) and THE SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON (1960) (see also LOST IN SPACE, 1965-1968) is that the Earth is a lousy place to be in the year 2149. The world is dying under the effects of pollution and global warming. However, a temporal rift (fracture) is discovered, and people are given the chance to emigrate to the Cretaceous Period, which I assume is the only door open… Those of you who read Robert Heinlein’s TUNNEL IN THE SKY or Julian May’s SAGA OF THE PLIOCENE EXILEmay have a bit of deja-vu, although the idea of people banished, exiled or traveling to the past is hardly new. Of course, I am wondering about that bugaboo of time travel stories, the paradox… We all know what happens if you kill a butterfly in the past, thanks to Ray Bradbury’s brilliant short story “A Sound of Thunder” (which became a perfectly awful movie in 2005). Here people are leaving a huge technological footprint in the distant past and killing critters willy-nilly. So, how does that affect our future? What if it “erases” the person who discovered the time fracture, or the one who figured how to travel through it? Hell, what if it wipes out the earliest hominids? Of course, some STAR TREK-ish technobabble is always a handy script device, and perhaps we are dealing with a “pocket in time”, something that won’t affect the time stream… Then again, the whole point seems to be using the Cretaceous as humanity’s “do-over”, and presumably other creatures and plants will benefit from this self-serving jaunt to dino-land. The truly awesome backstory belongs to the character of Commander Nathaniel Taylor (Stephen Lang, AVATAR 2009), whose name may be a nod to George Taylor (Charlton Heston) of PLANET OF THE APES (1968), and who did recon and survived in the hostile, reptile-ridden past with just a knife and a scowl… Our main story centers around a family headed by Jason O’Mara (LIFE ON MARS (2008-2009) and SPACE TRUCKERS (1996)), his wife and three kids. Having a third child is a crime that landed him in prison. Terra Nova allows him a chance to be reunited with his family and live life as Fred Flintstone, but with guns and nasty, toothy creatures. Some filming was done in Australia, so this show won’t be solely CGI, and that is part of the large budget… Since it is Spielberg, we will get some familiar tropes: a family struggling to stay together, a father-son rift, cute attempts at romance by a younger kid, and some way-cool effects and topnotch production values. Original exec David Fury (BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, ANGEL, LOST) has departed and was replaced by Rene Echevarria (STAR TREK: DS9 (1993-1999), DARK ANGEL (2000-2002), five episodes of THE 4400 (2004-2007) and one episode of the aforementioned crybaby lycanthrope drama TEEN WOLF). Fox and Amblin are betting a lot on TERRA NOVA, let’s hope it pays off.
AMERICAN HORROR STORY will start pissing people off on October 5th and continue on Wednesdays at 10pm on FX. What if you took THE SHINING (1980), made the Overlook Hotel a house, added a strange neighbor and heaped on lots of sex? Well, that’s just part of the appeal of this odd show created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, who worked on NIP/TUCK (2003-2010), but are best known for… GLEE (2009 -). Whatever you may think of GLEE, it certainly insinuated itself into the American consciousness, much like Heinlein’s (him again!) THE PUPPET MASTERS. AMERICAN HORROR STORY stars Dylan McDermott (THE PRACTICE (1997-2004), THE MESSENGERS (2007)) as Ron Harmon, who moves into a Los Angeles home with his wife and daughter. The house has an eerie basement and a creepy neighbor, played by Jessica Lange (KING KONG (1976) and BIG FISH (2003))… Remember the “Dog Man” in THE SHINING? Remember how you were relieved that Kubrick kept most of that scene off-screen? I don’t think this show will be so discrete… Look for lots of scares and bizarre sex, including a guy in rubber and a badly burned man who is a voyeur… The producers of AMERICAN HORROR STORY take pride in the fact that their show will defy convention… always a dangerous (but interesting) choice in The Wasteland.
ABC's Once Upon a Time
ONCE UPON A TIME enters our world on October 13th and will continue its attempt to bewitch us every Sunday at 8pm on ABC. Looks like this is the year fairy tales outstrip Philip K. Dick for genre source material. Using a story structure similar to LOST (indeed, the execs worked on that series), ONCE UPON A TIME concerns the exploits of the people of Storybrooke, who seem ordinary but are actually characters from fairy tales, cursed by the Evil Queen to forget their true identities. The series will present origins for many familiar characters as part of its flashback structure (ala LOST), and has some interesting mash-ups as a result of being made by a Disney-owned studio. My favorite quote from exec producer Edward Kitsis: “There’s a ‘war council’ scene that includes Grumpy, Pinocchio, the Blue Fairy, Snow White and Prince Charming.”
GRIMM comes out of the woods on October 21st and lurks in the shadows every Friday at 9pm on NBC. A police procedural with a fairy tale slant, GRIMM centers around a detective who discovers he is a “Grimm”, a hunter/slayer of monsters who can see through the disguises and glamors of supernatural creatures and beasties. A serial killer whose victim of choice is a girl in a red hoodie? The Grimm is on the trail before you can say “Big Bad Wolf” through your crushed windpipe. GRIMM has some fantasy/horror cred, coming to us from writer-producers David Greenwalt (BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER) and Jim Kouf (ANGEL).
VAMPIRE DIARIES joins the children of the night on September 15th and continues necking on Thursdays at 8pm on The CW. Not a fan, but creator Kevin Williamson is promising hot” werewolf-on-vampire” action… Insert necrophilia/beastiality joke here. By the way, today’s fun fact, “beastiality” is also known as “zoosexuality”, which is an automatic win in Scrabble.
FRINGE returns on September 23rd and will defy the laws of physics every Friday at 9pm on FOX. If you are not watching this show, you should be – in some ways better than THE X-FILES (1993-2002), and John Noble is one of the most awesome mad scientists since Victor Frankenstein took up sewing. I won’t spoil anything here, just rent or buy the DVD’s and catch up. If you’re a fan, like me you are wondering how they can possibly go on from last season’s cliffhanger and are praying they don’t pull a latter season X-FILES on us.
SUPERNATURAL is also resurrected on September 23rd and stakes its claim to Fridays at 9pm on The CW. We at the Outpost tried very hard to like this show, but just couldn’t buy into the conceits of two young guys in a muscle car passing themselves off as everything from DEA agents to members of the DAR. However, Sam and Dean have been fighting the good fight for six seasons before this, so there is an audience out there… It is possible the Outpost will revisit them on video.
WALKING DEAD rises up on October 16 and searches for living flesh every Sunday at 9pm on AMC. How great is it that we have a zombie series with great writing, acting, directing, effects and gore? Sadly, Season 2 will be without the participation of Frank Darabont, but the writing is still in the hands of creator Robert Kirkman and other talented individuals. The premiere will take us to within seconds of last season’s cliffhanger, and propel the survivors into a whole new direction.
RINGER will see the return of genre fave Sarah Michelle Gellar (BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER) on September 13th, and she’ll be doing double duty as twins every Tuesday at 9pm on The CW. Lovely Siobhan is mega-rich and presumed dead by her sister, the identically lovely ex-stripper Bridget. Bridget, on the run from the FBI, assumes her sister’s identity, trying to fool everyone including Siobhan’s husband, played by Ioan Gruffudd (THE FANTASTIC FOUR (2005)). Unbeknownst to everyone, Siobhan is lying low (in more than one way) in Paris. Bridget must also fool her sister’s lover and avoid being assassinated by whoever is after Siobahn. According to SMG, “Bridget is driven by redemption, Siobhan is driven by revenge.” Oh, and the FBI agent? He’s played by Nestor Carbonell, who was Richard Alpert on LOST, the mayor in THE DARK KNIGHT (2008) and was hilarious as Batmanuel in the live action version of THE TICK (2001-2002).
HELL ON WHEELS steams into town on November 6th and hits the rails every Sunday at 10pm on AMC. This is a post-Civil War Western with a vengeful gunslinger played by Anson Mount (ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE (2006), HOOD OF HORROR (2006)). Rather than a frontier town or out in the badlands, HELL ON WHEELS takes place in a railroad work camp in Nebraska, and will feature guest stars and cameos from all over. We love Westerns at the Outpost, and tip our hat to the creators and wish them well.
© Copyright 2011 by Mark Onspaugh