By the Channel Guide staff
It’s a big Fall premiere week starting tonight! In addition to the returns of several favorites, including Two and a Half Men (with Ashton Kutcher replacing Charlie Sheen); Dancing With the Stars; Boardwalk Empire; Glee; and plenty more, there are several new programs debuting. Here are our must-sees, must-skips and so-sos for this week among the new shows. And for more Fall 2011 programming information, visit our Fall TV Preview website.
2 Broke Girls
Premieres: Sept. 19, 9:30pm ET/PT
Airs: Mondays, 8:30pm ET/PT
Stars: Kat Dennings, Beth Behrs, Garrett Morris, Jonathan Kite, Matthew Moy
What’s It All About? Max (Dennings) is a streetwise waitress at a rough New York City diner who suffers through cooks and customers hitting on her. Her job gets tougher when the diner hires an inept new waitress, Caroline (Behrs), who turns out to be the now homeless trust-fund daughter of a disgraced Ponzi schemer. The unlikely pair soon form a bond, and decide to save up $250,000 to open a bake shop together. With NYC sass, Dennings fits the part perfectly, but SNL alum Morris as a wisecracking cashier might be what has viewers tipping 2 Broke Girls a little extra.
Premieres: Sept. 19
Airs: Mondays, 10pm ET/PT
What’s It All About? In this new documentary series, journalist Mark Allen Johnson enters some of the most extreme, violent and hard-to-access subcultures in the country, from drug manufacturers to the sex trade, to tell the stories of an underground world that could be right next door. The segments we’ve seen have been powerful stuff, and a totally new look at American society normally only imagined in Hollywood screenplays.
The Playboy Club (pictured at top)
Premieres: Sept. 19
Airs: Mondays, 10pm ET/PT
Stars: Eddie Cibrian, David Krumholtz, Amber Heard, Jenna Dewan
What’s It All About? Academy Award-winning executive producer Brian Grazer has a knack for developing television projects — 24, Friday Night Lights, Arrested Development — that are ripe with the same complex characters, atmospheric settings and pithy plotlines as his iconic feature films (Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind, Frost/Nixon). Here he’s crafted a stunner of a series set at Chicago’s then brand-new Playboy Club in the 1960s — one that is half history lesson, half murder mystery and entirely engrossing. Tune in expecting only boobs, bunny ears and debauchery, and you’ll be surprised to discover you’ve learned more about the Playboy Club culture and its relationship to the mob — and even the birth of the Windy City chapter of grassroots gay rights group the Mattachine Society — in a single hour than you have in a lifetime. And the cast is superb. Scandal-plagued Cibrian is composed and elegant as key-holder Nick Dalton, a one-time mob lawyer who has freed himself to run for D.A. Then there are the Bunnies — enigmatic newbie Maureen (Heard), fun-loving Janie (Dewan), money-minded Alice (Leah Renee), proud “chocolate Bunny” Brenda (Naturi Naughton) and complex smarty-pants Carol-Lynne (Broadway standout Laura Benanti) — all of whom have alternate agendas and plenty to hide.
Premieres: Sept. 20
Airs: Tuesdays, 9pm ET/PT
Stars: Zooey Deschanel, Jake Johnson, Max Greenfield, Damon Wayans Jr., Hannah Simone
What’s It All About? After she catches her boyfriend cheating on her, Jess (Deschanel) becomes the roommate of three guys: bartender Nick (Johnson), social/corporate ladder climber Schmidt (Greenfield) and personal trainer Coach (Wayans). But the guys aren’t quite prepared to have a female in their midst, and don’t know how to deal with her watching Dirty Dancing six or seven times a day. Likewise, Jess doesn’t understand men and why they act like they do (even when it costs them $1 to the “Douchebag Jar”). It doesn’t take long before Jess and the guys are like family, helping each other unwrap the enigmas of the opposite sex. New Girl feels a little like the now defunct TBS comedy My Boys, but with a much stronger lead character in Jess. While the guys aren’t all that interesting, Deschanel plays Jess with the goofy, nerdy-girl charm that’s been her appeal in films, and she’ll make New Girl one of the most successful new comedies of the season.
Premieres: Sept. 21
Airs: Wednesdays, 10pm ET/PT
Stars: Madeleine Stowe, Emily VanCamp, Henry Czerny
What’s It All About? Who says soap operas are dead? Not Twilight producers Marty Bowen and Wyck Godfrey, who created this tasty little combo platter of melodrama and murder mystery starring Brothers & Sisters’ VanCamp and the eternally youthful Stowe (who curiously starred in a 1990 film called Revenge, as well) in a tale of over-the-top love, lies and loss in the Hamptons. VanCamp stars as a cool, calculating young beauty of mysterious means who returns to Long Island to settle a score — or possibly a pile of them — with Stowe’s queen bee and her family. The pilot offers up enough curious connections and loose ends to make this appointment TV for folks yearning for the serialized storytelling of an hourlong drama with all the satisfying “What humans won’t do!” salaciousness of reality TV.
A Gifted Man
Premieres: Sept. 23
Airs: Fridays, 8pm ET/PT
Stars: Patrick Wilson, Julie Benz, Jennifer Ehle, Margo Martindale, Pablo Schreiber
What’s It All About? Successful, abrasive neurosurgeon Dr. Michael Holt (Wilson) has his worldview rocked when he begins seeing his deceased ex-wife (Ehle) visit him from the hereafter. The series comes from the mind of writer Susannah Grant (Erin Brockovich), and the pilot is directed by Academy Award winner Jonathan Demme (The Silence of the Lambs), who also serves as executive producer. Comparing the series to similarly premised shows like Ghost Whisperer and Medium will attract some and repel others, but in truth A Gifted Man comes off — at least in Demme’s pilot — as a much more thoughtful examination of life and death than what we’ve seen before. Wilson, who has done solid but often overlooked work in films such as Little Children and Hard Candy, should finally break through to a wider audience. This was one of those rare, refreshing pilots where you don’t feel immediately after watching it that you know exactly where it’s going to go week in and week out.
Featuring Craig Ferguson, Matt Smith
Hosted By Chris Hardwick
What’s It All About? The popular blog and podcast get the TV treatment in this series that finds creator Chris Hardwick getting his geek on with talk show host Craig Ferguson and Doctor Who‘s Matt Smith as they discuss nerd-friendly topics from pop culture, tech trends and more. Airs as part of BBC America’s Ministry of Laughs.
Premieres: Sept. 25
Airs: Sundays, 10pm ET/PT
Stars: Christina Ricci, Kelli Garner, Karine Vanasse, Margot Robbie, Mike Vogel, Michael Mosley
What’s It All About? The oft-romanticized world of 1960s aviation is the setting for this drama that follows a group of pilots and stewardesses (their word, not ours) for the once-iconic airline. Comparisons to Mad Men will come fast and furious, and while it’s unfair to stack this newbie against a show that will probably go down as one of the best in television history, Pan Am is a lot of fun, and it tells a bit of history from a rather refreshing point of view: the women’s. Add in some surprising wrinkles, including one stewardess being asked to act as an intelligence operative, and it makes for addictive viewing.
Premieres: September 20
Airs: Tuesdays, 10pm
Stars: Poppy Montgomery, Dylan Walsh, Michael Gaston, Kevin Rankin, Daya Vaidya
What’s It All About? Even the most faithful Without a Trace fans could struggle to recognize the once cool blond Montgomery from her days as sleuth Samantha Spade. This time around, she is Carrie Wells, a sturdy, flame-haired and sad-eyed former Syracuse cop whose hyperthymesia — she remembers every detail of every moment of her life — was a boon to her career on the force. But the agony of the single day she can’t recall — that of her sister’s murder — and a failed relationship with fellow detective Al Burns (Nip/Tuck’s Walsh) led Wells to bolt for the Bronx, where she uses her mega-memory to make cash at the casinos and volunteers at a nursing home for a heartrending reason. When a murder in her apartment building reunites her with Burns and reawakens memories of her sister’s demise, Wells considers returning to a life of crime-busting. The hyperthymesia makes for an interesting twist on standard cop fare, but the real reason to watch is the combustible chemistry between Montgomery and Walsh, two no-B.S. actors from whom it’s tough to take your eyes.
The X Factor
Premieres: Sept. 21-22
Airs: Wednesdays, 8pm ET/PT, Thursdays, 8pm ET/PT
Stars: Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul, Antonio “L.A.” Reid, Nicole Scherzinger, Steve Jones
What’s It All About? For all the hoopla about bringing Cowell’s latest Americanization of a U.K. hit to your TV — the ever-evolving judging panel (Sean Combs? Nope. Mariah Carey? Nah.), the surprise return of Cowell’s famed frenemy Adbul, and the abrupt dismissal of Brit pop princess Cheryl Cole — The X Factor ultimately looks an awful lot like American Idol doused in Pepsi logos instead of the ubiquitous Coca-Cola signage.
Person Of Interest
Premieres: Sept. 22
Airs: Thursdays, 9pm ET/PT
Stars: Jim Caviezel, Michael Emerson, Taraji P. Henson
What’s It All About? In this deeply strange 9/11-based crime drama from producers J.J. Abrams and Jonathan Nolan (Memento), Lost’s Michael Emerson stars as an eerie, wealthy computer scientist named Finch who, in the wake of the terrorist attacks, created a complex computerized tracking system that uses omnipresent street-corner surveillance cameras and pattern-predicting software to determine the next person involved in a violent crime. What the computer can’t determine is if that person will be the victim, the perp or merely a witness — so when the feds put the kibosh on his creation, Finch taps an adrift former CIA agent played by Caviezel, (shamelessly borrowing Clint Eastwood’s breathless snarl) to figure it out and prevent the misdeed. Since the show is already steeped in a dump truck full of earnestness, it will probably be easier on viewers who don’t habitually think of Caviezel as Jesus in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ.
Premieres: Sept. 22
Airs: Thursdays, 10pm ET/PT
Stars: Maria Bello, Aidan Quinn
What’s It All About? She’s hardworking, tenacious and more than a little stubborn, but she gets results. But that doesn’t matter to the old-boys’ network at NYPD homicide, who see Jane Timoney’s (Bello) ambitions to lead homicide investigations as an invasion on their territory. When one of the department’s top detectives dies of a heart attack on the job, she’s quick to throw her hat in the ring — maybe too quick. The men of the department don’t like it, but Jane’s effectiveness gets her the job … and an incredible amount of resentment. It’s going to take a lot of work for her to earn their respect, on one of the toughest jobs for anyone to handle, psychologically. There are a lot of television shows that have come to us from Britain over the years, but this is a risky translation if ever there was one. Anyone who saw Helen Mirren in the original role in the ’90s knows what mighty shoes Bello is going to have to fill, and it’s unlikely she’ll be able to. Probably wisely, the show creators here don’t seem to have tried. Bello is a solid choice for the lead and she makes the character her own. The big question is the same one facing every murder-investigation series that debuts in any given year: How will this series distinguish itself from the myriad other crime procedurals already doing business out there?
Majors & Minors
Premieres: September 23
Airs: Fridays, 8pm ET
Featuring Brandy, Leona Lewis, Sean Kingston, Jordin Sparks, Ryan Tedder
What’s It All About? Think American Idol and a little bit of The Voice. This music competition series follows 12 talented young performers as they are mentored by some of the biggest and most established artists in the music industry.
Long Island Medium
Premieres: Sept. 25
Airs: Sundays at 10pm ET
Featuring Theresa Caputo
What’s It All About? It’s another one of those “I see dead people” type series. The series will follow Theresa Caputo, an average day mom from New York who balances a full family life with her abilities to communicate with the dead. Each episode shows how this gift impacts her live and the lives of those around her.
Premieres: Sept. 22
Airs: Thursdays, 8pm ET/PT
Stars: Minka Kelly, Annie Ilonzeh, Rachael Taylor, Ramon Rodriguez
What’s It All About? About as creative as this turgid update of the fun, sexy 1970s series gets is transforming the Bosley role from a cuddly teddy bear into a muscle-bound hunk (Rodriguez). Otherwise, for a show about a trio of babes who work as secret operatives for an anonymous mastermind, this version just can’t muster much in the way of fun. Maybe the supposedly cheeky humor would work better if it weren’t trying to coexist with a plot (in the pilot) that revolves around the trafficking of young girls as sex slaves. The show is silly, and is supposed to be, but only seems to know it half the time.
Premieres: Sept. 22
Airs: Thursdays, 9:30pm ET/PT
Stars: Whitney Cummings, Chris D’Elia, Zoe Lister Jones, Rhea Seehorn, Maulik Pancholy
What’s It All About? Photographer Whitney (Cummings) has seen her parents divorced three times each, so she’s in no hurry to marry longtime boyfriend Alex. But even though they haven’t tied the knot, they’re starting to turn into an old married couple, and Whitney is determined to keep their relationship fresh. A blight on an otherwise strong night of NBC comedies, Whitney should be left at the altar.
The Playboy Club: Matt Dinerstein/NBC
American Underground: Discovery Channel
New Girl: © Fox Broadcasting Co. Credit: Isabella Vosnikova
Pan Am: Patrick Harbron/ABC
The X Factor: Ray Mickshaw/FOX
Long Island Medium: TLC
Whitney: Jordin Althaus/NBC