Fall TV 2011 hits, misses and mehs: Week of September 26

By the Channel Guide staff

Fall season premiere madness continues in full swing this week. Among the returning series highlights are Gossip Girl, Cake Boss, The Little Couple, Extreme Couponing, Luther, Happy Endings, MythBusters, Private Practice and Dexter. Here are our thoughts on some of the new shows premiering this week. And for more Fall 2011 programming information, visit our Fall TV Preview website.


Terra Nova

Premieres: Sept. 26 (two-hour premiere)
Mondays, 8pm ET/PT
Jason O’Mara, Shelley Conn, Landon Liboiron, Allison Miller, Naomi Scott, Stephen Lang
What’s It All About?
The long-delayed sci-fi epic finally makes its debut this fall, and audiences will get to see if the wait has been worth it. The Steven Spielberg-produced spectacular begins in a future where Earth has become virtually uninhabitable (think WALL-E, before all the people left on spaceships), and humanity’s only hope lies in finding a new home. Instead of looking to the stars, however, the answer is found in the past — 85 million years in the past, to a time when civilization didn’t exist and dinosaurs still roamed the earth. The special effects are as eye-popping as promised, and the drama manages to hold up, too. This is really good news, because the charm of watching dinosaurs chomping on people — enjoyable as it is — only gets you so far.

Rocket City Rednecks
National Geographic Channel
Sept. 28
Airs: Wednesdays, 9pm and 9:30pm ET/PT
Features: Travis Taylor, Rog Jones, Charles Taylor, Michael Taylor, Pete Erbach
What’s It All About? Comedian Jeff Foxworthy once lamented that whenever anybody heard his down-home Southern accent, they’d automatically deduct 100 IQ points. This new Nat Geo series sets out to prove that tendency wrong, following second-generation Alabama rocket scientist Travis Tyler — who looks like actor Thomas Jane and sounds like Larry the Cable Guy — and his whiskey-loving band of buds and relatives as they combine their scientific know-how with good ol’ backwoods fun, sometimes creating genuinely useful stuff, sometimes not. Why is the show as addictively tasty as a platter full of Southern-fried chicken? What other show will teach you how to make moonshine AND a rocket that is powered by it, all in the name of creating alternative fuels? Or make you think hard about national unity during the creation of a homemade moon buggy? Two thumbs, one red neck and a million IQ points up!

BBC America
Oct. 1, 10pm ET/PT
Saturdays, 9pm ET/PT
Charlotte Salt, Theo James, Will Young, Hugo Speer, Ashley Madekwe
What’s It All About?
A swanky new apartment building, Bedlam Heights, is the setting for this British creepfest. What the hot, young tenants don’t know is that their new home was once the site of a mental asylum where unimaginable horrors took place, and that the ghosts of the victims are still around. One newcomer, Jed (James), is able to see how the former inmates died, and tries to ease their vengeance-driven spirits over to the other side. Creator David Allison, who lists The Shining and Japanese horror films like Ringu among his influences, says much of the horrors depicted in the asylum are based on actual cases. But the focus won’t be on gore as much as suspense, he says. “I’ve always felt that less is more. Sometimes it’s not necessarily what you see as much as what it represents. … I wrote an episode that’s really about this box that keeps coming back. It’s a simple device, but it’s what it means to that character, why they recognize the box and the things that come with it. That’s a pretty dark void. But actually you don’t see much. It’s no gorefest.”

Airs: Oct. 2-4, 8pm ET (check local listings)
What’s It All About? Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s latest documentary film, airing in three parts and over three nights, goes beyond the oft-told tales of gangsters, rum runners, flappers and speakeasies to chronicle the rise, rule and fall of the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. As with most of Burns’ works, the most interesting elements come from quotes and readings from people of the time. In a technical sense, the film feels familiar to his other films, especially with the panning over and zooming in on photos, and the use of the reliable Peter Coyote as narrator. But that style definitely works, and combined with a fascinating story that adds to a further understanding of our country’s history, along with a great score by Wynton Marsalis that recalls the music that came to prominence during the Prohibition era, it makes for intoxicating viewing.


Premieres: Oct. 2
Airs: Sundays, 10pm ET/PT
Claire Danes, Damian Lewis, Mandy Patinkin
What’s It All About?
When American POW Nicholas Brody (Lewis), captured in Iraq and held for years in Afghanistan, is located and returned to a hero’s welcome, CIA officer Carrie Anderson (Danes) becomes convinced that all is not as it seems, and that Brody may have switched sides, acting as a covert al-Qaida operative intent on carrying out a plot on U.S. soil. V’s Morena Baccarin costars as Brody’s wife, and Patinkin plays Carrie’s boss, who, for whatever reason, refuses to concede the possibility that she might be right. Someone is lying. And a lot of suffering and grief hangs in the balance. The premise behind the series is as compelling as anything we’ve seen all year.


The Chew
Premieres: September 26
Weekdays, 1pm ET
Mario Batali, Michael Symon, Carla Hall, Clinton Kelly, Daphne Oz
What’s It All About?
Okay, soap opera fans, this is part of what ABC is clearing out its daytime schedule for. The Chew is a lifestyle series that explores life through food — everything from cooking and home entertaining to food trends, restaurants, holidays and more, all aimed at making life better, fuller and more fun. The big question is going to be — do we really need another lifestyle/cooking show in daytime? Some hardcore soap fans, upset with ABC axing All My Children and One Life to Live to make room for shows like this, have already answered that question by creating a #screwthechew hashtag on Twitter, which may be enough to give execs indigestion.

How To Be A Gentleman
Sept. 29
Thursdays, 8:30pm ET/PT
David Hornsby, Kevin Dillon, Dave Foley, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Rhys Darby
What’s It All About?
Andrew (Hornsby) writes the “How to Be a Gentleman” column for Marquis Magazine — that is, until the magazine plans to relaunch with edgier, sexier content for 30-year-olds who still act 15. Andrew is forced to coarsen up his column pronto or face being fired. Fortunately, he runs into old high-school nemesis Bert (Dillon), a rough-and-tumble personal trainer who decides to teach Andrew how to be a real man.

Love’s Everlasting Courage
Oct. 1, 9pm ET/PT
Hallmark Channel
Cheryl Ladd, Bruce Boxleitner, Wes Brown, Julie Mond, Morgan Lily
What’s It All About? The second prequel to the wildly popular Love’s films based on Janette Oke’s novels, this Hallmark Channel original tells the story of parents Lloyd and Irene Davis, and how they come to the support of their son, Clark, as he’s devastated by the sudden loss of his wife. Facing the imminent loss of his farm to the bank, Clark is forced to consider sending his daughter away to live with her grandparents to manage the struggle.

Around the World in 80 Ways
Oct. 2
Airs: Sundays, 10pm ET/PT
What’s It All About? The tensions of being with someone 24/7 were still evident when we sat down to talk with Survivor’s “Boston Rob” Mariano and monster truck “Grave Digger” creator Dennis Anderson, who had just returned from their 67-day globe-trotting adventure as hosts of History’s newest series. The duo circumnavigated the globe using 80 different modes of transportation. “We didn’t know what the hell we were doing, but we figured it out as we went along,” Mariano says. “We are kind of like oil and water; we don’t mix too good. Twenty-four hours a day for seven days a week for 10 weeks is a long time to spend with anyone.” Anderson, who nicknamed Mariano “Bossy Rob,” says that despite all the antics between the two and the grueling schedule: “I learned more in 10 weeks than I have in 50 years on means of transportation, cultures and the world.”


Hart Of Dixie
The CW
Sept. 26
Mondays, 9pm ET/PT
Rachel Bilson, Jaime King, Wilson Bethel
What’s It All About?
New Yorker Zoe Hart (Bilson) has just graduated from medical school at the top of her class, and had planned on becoming a cardiothoracic surgeon like her father. So when those hopes are dashed and she receives an offer from a Southern doctor to work with him at his small practice in Alabama, she accepts. But when she arrives, the doctor has passed away, leaving her half of his practice. It should be a great new life — except that not everyone is so thrilled to see her arrive. While Brick Breeland, the other practitioner in town, and Lemon (King), his daughter, seem to have it in for her, a few friendlies, including the mayor, her bad-boy neighbor Wade (Bethel), and even Lemon’s fiancée, George, aim to show her that she can always rely on Southern hospitality.

Not everything is sunny in Dixie, though. About halfway through the pilot, it seems like it could be a Hallmark Channel show — the city girl coming to the country and finding unexpected happiness. But it’s The CW, and there are gossipy harpies galore, of course. The problem is that that may not be enough. The character of Zoe simply isn’t credible as a physician as written, let alone one alleged to have graduated at the top of her class. Sure, she looks good and well put together, and naturally, when someone goes into labor at a party, she’s right there with her scalpel, ready to do the episiotomy and save the day. But there’s just something that rings false throughout — the premise, the character, the scenarios in which she finds herself. The CW isn’t known for vérité, obviously, but the intrigue of Dixie might require just too much suspension of disbelief to grasp its intended audience.