2011 TV season: Few smooth takeoffs, many bumpy arrivals
Grimm Friday, Oct. 21, 9 p.m., NBC More storybook stuff: A Portland, Ore., police detective named Nick Burkhardt (David Giuntoli) learns from his dying aunt that he’s descended from a long line of Grimms, who’ve been secretly keeping the world safe from big bad wolves and other legendary beastlies that are disguised as everyday people. In the pilot episode given to critics this summer, Nick hunts down a big, bad (effete, pedophilic) wolf who has a thing for little girls wearing red hoodies. The show vacillates between hokey and clever as it mines the Brothers Grimm for contemporary analogues. Imagine if every episode of “CSI” began with a leather-bound book and the words “Once upon a time . . . ” Grade: C-
The Playboy Club Monday, Sept. 19, 10 p.m., NBC An ambitious but ultimately weak attempt to set an ensemble drama inside Hugh Hefner’s hallowed, smoke-filled nightclub of early 1960s Chicago, “The Playboy Club” wears its “Mad Men” jones in a much more obvious way than ABC’s “Pan Am.”
Amber Heard plays Bunny Maureen, who just started as the club’s cigarette girl. Fighting off an attempted rape in the back room, she accidentally kills a well-known mob boss. Series star Eddie Cibrian, as hot-shot attorney Nick Dalton (a loyal Club member), helps Maureen dispose of the body. Elsewhere in Bunnyville, a closet lesbian is diverting all her tips to help the covert gay-rights cause led by the Mattachine Society. Another bunny is torn between her job and her love for the bartender, who is jealous of the attention she gets. Another bunny wants to be Hef’s first black centerfold. And Carol-Lynne (Laura Benanti), the club’s Bunny Emerita, gets Hef to appoint her “bunny mother” of “30 girls who won’t sleep through the night.”
That’s just a few of the story arcs wound up and set free in “The Playboy Club’s” clunky opener, which suffers from a first-episode version of erectile dysfunction. For all the Heffin’ and puffin’, these Bunnies look bored. Grade: C-
Ringer Tuesday, Sept. 13, 9 p.m., CW Loyal Sarah Michelle Gellar fans (many of whom have actual PhDs in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” studies) are dying to know whether her return to a TV series will sate their every desire. That’s hard to say. Though confidently made, “Ringer” is ultimately a fairly ho-hum night soap. Gellar plays Bridget and Siobhan, twin sisters with opposite lives. Bridget, a recovering addict and former stripper, flees Wyoming just before she’s to testify in a federal case against a malevolent Indian crime boss. Nestor Carbonell plays the agent now hunting for Bridget, whose life is in danger.
He tracks Bridget to New York, where she went to visit her estranged twin, Siobhan, a wealthy socialite who lives in the Hamptons with her own rich-person problems. As anyone who knows anything about “Ringer” now knows, Bridget is now pretending to be Siobhan, having assumed her sister’s identity after Siobhan apparently kills herself by drowning at sea. In its first episode, “Ringer” makes the calculated error of hurrying through most of its better plot twists, making further episodes seem like a tedious prospect. Grade: C-
Allen Gregory Sunday, Oct. 30, 8:30 p.m., Fox Fox didn’t make a full episode of this addition to its Sunday animation lineup available before deadline, but from what we’ve seen, it’s fairly one-note. Created and voiced by comedy actor Jonah Hill (“Superbad”), Allen Gregory is a pretentiously sophisticated 7-year-old who has been homeschooled by his gay dads. It’s decided he should attend elementary school, where he quickly alienates everyone around him, uncorking a bottle of pinot grigio at lunch and asking the other kids if they caught last night’s “Charlie Rose.” No grade yet.
I Hate My Teenage Daughter Wednesday, Nov. 30, 9:30 p.m., Fox This is about two suburban mothers, Annie and Nikki (Jaime Pressley from “My Name Is Earl” and Katie Finneran), who try to laugh off the animosity directed at them by their self-absorbed daughters, who are rapidly becoming the very sort of snobs that used to pick on Annie and Nikki when they were in high school. “Can’t we just go back to being best friends?” Nikki pleads with her daughter, after a failed attempt at discipline.
“We were never best friends,” the daughter icily replies, as her mother recoils in pain. (“It’s okay,” she moans. “I know you didn’t mean that.” And then she drowns her remorse in pie.) To someone out there, this might all be wildly funny, but I just found it to be a tone-deaf comment on modern motherhood. It was too much like what you see in an afternoon at Tyson’s Corner. Grade: D+
Free Agents Premiered Sept. 14; airs Wednesdays at 8:30 p.m., NBC This painfully flat American version of a British comedy stars Hank Azaria as Alex, a newly-divorced and depressed PR agent who unwisely beds another agent at his firm (Kathryn Hahn as Helen). She’s still getting over the death of her impossibly dreamy fiance, whose pictures she keeps on every wall of her apartment.
The supposed hilarity centers on their awkward workplace secret, which they must keep from the usual zany array of colleagues at the big-time PR firm, none of whom stand out as a series-saver. And really — a comedy set in a PR firm? Boring. Grade: D
Man Up! Tuesday, Oct. 18, 8:30 p.m., ABC Another tardy, tepid entry into the suburban battle of the sexes— with neither side coming off very well and nobody laughing. Just so you know it’s 2011 (instead of, say, 1999), the pilot episode features more vagina jokes than “Whitney” has. Mather Zickel stars as suburban husband and father Will — and can’t help but come across as a less-funny Phil Dunphy from “Modern Family.” For reasons not entirely clear, his wife (Teri Polo from the “Fockers” movies) uses every opportunity to verbally emasculate him: “Your grandfather fought in World War II. Your father fought in Vietnam. But you play video games and use pomegranate body wash.”
There’s no zing whatsoever left in leftover Patio Man material like that, but the cast members (including Christopher Moynihan and Dan Folger as Will’s unlikable fellow man-children) give it whatever energy they can muster. Grade: D
The Secret Circle Thursday, Sept. 15, 9 p.m., CW Based on a book series from the same author who ginned up “The Vampire Diaries,” the show centers on the new girl in a seaside town of witchy-poos, drawing upon every market-tested cliche the genre has to offer. After her mother’s mysterious death by spontaneous combustion, naive Cassie moves to her grandmother’s house in the family’s hometown — and the life her mother tried to escape. The adults here all seem to be hiding something and the teenagers have figured out what it is: We’re all witches!
Cassie’s arrival completes this easy-bake coven, which can now cast powerful spells of teen angst. Some are evil witches, some are good. And if they can make time for it, everyone has to go to high school. If you like this show, then you are 15 (mentally, if not actually) and I’ll let you watch it only if your homework is completely done and you took out the trash. Take my “Secret Circle” DVD out with it. Grade: D-
Prime Suspect Thursday, Sept. 22, 10 p.m., NBC Just what nobody wanted: a completely unnecessary redo of the great British mini-series that starred Helen Mirren as a homicide detective who has to fight against the chauvinism of her male colleagues.
Now it’s set in New York. Maria Bello was convinced to star as Det. Jane Timoney, bravely attempting to make up for a so-so script by donning a fedora and laying things on about 10 times too thick. Grade: D-
Charlie’s Angels Thursday, Sept. 22, 8 p.m., ABC This lousy, third-generation retread of the 1970s original is suitably DOA (dumb on arrival), but also offensively bland in feel. Set in Miami now, “Charlie’s Angels” is about three ex-cons (a well-to-do blonde jewel thief; a black detective caught in a sting; and a Latina car thief) hired as private investigators by the ne’er-seen Charlie Townsend, who now speaks to them from a decidedly upgraded speakerphone. The bigger upgrade is office manager Bosley (Ramon Rodriguez), now a suavecito computer hacker. Producers include the makers of “Smallville,” as well as actress Drew Barrymore, who helped reinvent “Charlie’s Angels” a decade ago on the big screen, with memorable cheek.
Now diluted by present-day TV’s cookie-cutter hustle and flow, the real duds are the Angels themselves: Rachel Taylor, Annie Ilonzeh and Minka Kelly. They come off as interchangeable affirmative-action figures who make Farrah and company look like early suffragettes who fought for the jiggle rights we now take for granted. Grade: F
Hart of Dixie Monday, Sept. 26, 9 p.m., CW Depressingly glossy drama about a smug New York heart surgeon-in-training named Zoe Hart, who loses her residency and is forced to take a job as a general practitioner in tiny Bluebell, Ala. Predictably enough, the town offends snooty, big-city Zoe with its folksy, “real America” ways.
“Hart of Dixie” is basically “Northern Exposure” dumbed down to a nanoscopic scale. This imaginary small town, which glows with an unbelievable immunity to the influences of Wal-Mart and Popeye’s, instead features handsome hicks, pet alligators and a clique of Southern belles who like to parade around in Scarlett O’Hara frippery. It’s the South as seen by Hollywood writers who’ve never been there, or went there blindfolded. Grade: F
How to Be a Gentleman Thursday, Sept. 29, 8:30 p.m., CBS This sluggish, unfunny sitcom (based on an etiquette book of the same name) stars David Hornsby as men’s magazine columnist Andrew Carlson, a sort of mash-up between Alex P. Keaton and Niles Crane — and every other sitcom dandy through the ages. When his editor (Dave Foley) informs Andrew that the new owner wants to revamp the upscale magazine for younger guy readers (translation: bros), Andrew has to find something to write about besides collar tabs and proper stationery.
In a spooky case of life imitating art, Kevin Dillon shows up as the bully who used to pummel Andrew in high school (though they are clearly a decade apart in age) and is now Andrew’s surest path into the zeitgeist of the young American male. It’s as if we’re watching an “Entourage” episode where Dillon’s Johnny Drama gets cast in a stinker sitcom; you keep waiting for a meta-reveal that never comes. Therefore, welcome to this year’s “$#!* My Dad Says.” Grade: F
New Girl Tuesday, Sept. 20, 9 p.m., Fox I count myself among the apparently few male TV critics who are completely immune to the so-called “adorable” doe-eyed indie girl charms of one Zooey Deschanel. And boy, has she pulled the bangs over everyone’s eyes with this atrociously cutesy sitcom. Playing a part meant for someone about a decade younger, Deschanel is the recently jilted Jess, who answers a Craigslist roommate ad and moves in with three dudes. Zooey promptly infects their world with her zany, kooky-girl misadventures and mournful screenings of “Dirty Dancing.”
Worse still, she sings. “Did you just make up a theme song for yourself?” one of her new roommates asks. Yes, she did; plug your ears. Grade: F