Judging a show by its title: The 2012 fall TV preview, part 2

Judging a show by its title: The 2012 fall TV preview, part 2

In the first half of our annual fall TV preview, we looked at how titles like The Mob Doctor slap viewers in the face with a show’s concept, trying to catch their attention before they channel-surf on. Not all the new shows are as up-front about their intentions, though, which seems like it may hurt them come channel-surfing time. So here’s part two of our attempt to clarify what each show is about, and help the networks make that clearer to audiences up front. All air times listed are Eastern.

Note: Most pilots screened for this feature are works in progress. Most will go to air as they are, but some will be recast, reshot, or re-conceived. Whenever possible, we’ve indicated this.

WEDNESDAYS

Animal Practice: NBC, 8 p.m., debuts Sept. 26 (pilot streaming at nbc.com.)

What’s it about? Justin Kirk is a veterinarian who relates more closely to his patients than the humans that pay him. When ex-flame Joanna García-Swisher swoops in to straighten up Kirk’s clinic, sparks fly—and snakes strangle Bobby Lee. 

Can you get all that from the title? This one nails it, save for the literal interpretation, in which the cast is rehearsing to be beasts of the wild.

Suggested, more descriptive title: With apologies to Jim Henson, Veterinarian’s Hospital.

Should you watch it? There’s a lot of fun to be had in this setting with this cast (which also includes Tyler Labine, unhinged newcomer Betsy Sodaro, and Crystal “Annie’s Boobs” The Monkey, TV’s top-earning primate), but it’s hard to enjoy a medical sitcom with a monkey that hardly embraces the fact it’s a medical sitcom with a monkey.

Arrow: The CW, 8 p.m., debuts Oct. 10

What’s it about? The CW takes on DC’s Green Arrow. Stephen Amell pulls on the hood of feckless millionaire playboy Oliver Queen, presumed dead for five years after a boating accident killed his father and girlfriend. He comes back a changed man and secretly transforms himself into an expert archer vigilante, cleaning up the streets of Starling City by night and attempting to reconnect with old girlfriend Katie Cassidy by day.

Can you get all that from the title? Arrow is the sort of generic-yet-catchy title that thrives on television, though it really doesn’t say much about the show itself beyond the archery aspect. Between Revolution, the 2012 Summer Olympics, and The Hunger Games, that is a sport definitely having a moment. 

Suggested, more descriptive title: Green Arrow seems so logical it must have been rejected through some elaborate network focus-group testing systemJudging from the promotional campaign, The CW thinks this show is called Abs. We endorse this strategy.

Should you watch it? Despite some iffy moments involving leaden voiceover, the pilot is the sort of blandly fun superhero fare that works on The CW. The best thing going for it is the source material itself, as Oliver Queen’s story has a potential for darkness beyond what superhero shows like Smallville could pull off. If this one develops the right way, there’s a lot to look forward to.

Guys With Kids: NBC, 8:30 p.m., debuts Sept. 26

What’s it about? How to put it without just repeating the title? Anthony Anderson, Jesse Bradford, and Zach Cregger play lifelong best friends who share a New York apartment building while facing the challenges of raising children. Those challenges take different forms: Anderson plays a stay-at-home dad, Bradford’s a recent divorcé with an overbearing ex-wife, and Cregger is married to Jamie-Lynn Sigler (which in itself doesn’t see to be a problem but, in the pilot at least, that seems to be his character’s most notable quality). Can they prove that guys can raise kids? (Dammit! Almost made it.)

Can you get all that from the title? Well, yes, mostly. Much of the show’s humor stems from the supposed hilarity of putting men and children together and watching the dads bumble their way through parenthood, like Michael Keaton in Mr. Mom—if Keaton shouted all his lines and had to compete with an extremely enthusiastic studio audience.

Suggested, more descriptive title: Actually, the title pretty much nails it. Maybe Guys With Kids And Also With Meadow Soprano And Vanessa Huxtable. (Tempestt Bledsoe plays Anderson’s wife.)

Should you watch it? From the pilot, all signs point to “no.” The situations are overly familiar, and the jokes and the characters just aren’t there—or close to being there. As if to compensate, the cast overplays wildly. The premise—for which Jimmy Fallon is partially responsible—says “gentle comedy” but the finished product says, “Please, please turn down the volume.”

The Neighbors: ABC, 9:30 p.m., debuts Sept. 26

What’s it about? When a family relocates to the suburbs from New York City, they’re quick to notice uniform quirks among their new neighbors: They dress alike, travel in packs, and each shares his or her name with a star athlete. In short, they’re obviously extraterrestrials, a poorly kept secret that oozes out quicker than the aliens’ chartreuse ear tears.

Can you get all that from the title? Not from the title, but certainly from ABC’s branding: The network has cornered the Wednesday-night market on skewed-yet-grounded family sitcoms, so it’s throwing green slime at everything Neighbors-related to establish that this, not Modern Family, The Middle, or Suburgatory, is the one with the aliens.

Suggested, more descriptive title: Lifting a convention from young-adult literature of the ’80s and ’90s, from which The Neighbors feels like a refugee: My Neighbors Are Aliens

Should you watch it? No, and ABC doesn’t have much faith that you will, either: Suburgatory is primed to take over the plush, post-Modern Family slot come mid-October. 

Nashville: ABC, 10 p.m., debuts Oct. 10

What’s it about? Fading country star Connie Britton is at a personal and professional crossroads just as young, devious up-and-comer Hayden Panettiere is going through a career explosion. As Britton tries to salvage her career, her powerful father (Powers Boothe) ignores his daughter’s objections and recruits her husband-of-convenience Eric Close to run for mayor, while Panettiere is busy seducing Britton’s true love, guitarist and songwriter Charles Esten.

Can you get all that from the title? A show called Nashville isn’t going to revolve around death metal. As Dallas is to oil, Nashville is to country music: The title explains exactly what to expect, and Nashville delivers. The big surprise for those coming for cutthroat music-industry machinations will be the compelling political subplots and family dynamics.

Suggested, more descriptive title: Nashville won’t be able to avoid mental comparisons to the 2010 Gwyneth Paltrow country-music movie with a similar plotline, so Like Country Strong, Except Better Because Of Connie Britton would placate any naysayers.

Should you watch it? After failing in the Wednesday 10 p.m. slot for so many years, ABC had a surprise hit last season with Revenge. Nashville looks poised to continue that success: The setting is rich, the music and acting strong, and all the relationships are in place to create a compelling nighttime soap that could run for years to come. And has it been mentioned that Connie “Tami Taylor” Britton is on this series?

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Chicago Fire: NBC, 10 p.m., debuts Oct. 10

What’s it about? It’s about firefighters. Who live in Chicago. Occasionally, they have personal problems. Usually, they fight fires. Also, there are paramedics.

Can you get all of that from the title? Most of it, yeah.

Suggested, more descriptive title: Chicago Firefighters Who Occasionally Have Personal Problems But Usually Fight Fires, And Also There Are Paramedics.

Should you watch it? Probably not, no. More broadly speaking, this show (which hails from the production company of Law & Order impresario Dick Wolf and is created by 3:10 To Yuma screenwriters Michael Brandt and Derek Haas) has its moments, but also would have felt old hat in 1994. The firefighting scenes aren’t bad, but will almost certainly be hurt by the reduced budget of normal episodes, and there are only so many different ways to do a firefighting scene (a problem the firefighting drama Rescue Me also encountered). Still, as with everything Wolf produces, it’s handsomely made and will go down easily in endless TNT reruns.

THURSDAYS

Last Resort: ABC, 8 p.m., debuts Sept. 27

What’s it about? Against a backdrop of political intrigue and shadowy double-dealing (for instance, the president is being threatened with impeachment), a U.S. Navy submarine captained by Andre Braugher receives orders to fire on Pakistan, in retaliation for an attack on Washington. Sensing that the orders are bogus, Braugher refuses, and after a struggle for control of his vessel, pulls a Fletcher Christian. He takes his crew to a tropical island, where he uses the 18 nuclear missiles at his command to back up his claim to represent a sovereign nation.

Can you get all that from the title? It feels as if a hundred movies and TV shows boast a variant of this title, a preponderance of them set during spring break. The only way this show signals the hard military nature of its story is by its spartan, un-The Mob Doctor-like rejection of the word “The.”

Suggested, more descriptive title: Coconuts And Cojones.

Should you watch it? After Braugher delivers his televised message warning the rest of the world to stay out of his face, second-in-command Scott Speedman tells him, “Just crazy enough, sir.” That could be this show’s motto. Which is at least partly a compliment: It’s an ambitious, unusual drama with a crackerjack cast, plenty of intriguing characters, and potential avenues of conflict to explore.

Beauty And The Beast: The CW, 9 p.m., debuts Oct. 11

What’s it about? In this updated take on the classic story, and specifically the ’80s TV show of the same name, NYPD homicide detective Kristin Kreuk is working a murder case when she accidentally comes across the mysterious man-creature (Jay Ryan) who saved her life many years ago. Although his shame over his beastliness makes him spurn her attentions, something about him draws Kreuk in—and it doesn’t hurt that he might be the missing link to help her figure out who killed her mother.

Can you get all that from the title? This is perhaps the most obviously titled new show of the fall season, as the pitch undoubtedly sold on title alone. However, Beauty And The Beast—in its incarnation as a fairy tale or the  Linda Hamilton-Ron Perlman television vehicle—doesn’t really conjure up images of the loose police procedural that this version aspires to be.

Suggested, more descriptive title: Ryan’s “Beast” is still so gorgeous this might as well be Beauty And The Beauty. But let’s just come out and admit what The CW is really saying here: Scars Make You Ugly Even If You Still Basically Look Like A Model, You Hideous Freak. That probably wouldn’t fit on the poster, though. (Alternate, straight-to-the-point option: The CW: No Ugly People Allowed.)

Should you watch it? There isn’t much of redeeming value here, even for fans who enjoyed the CBS original. If you enjoy inappropriate laughter, however, the first time the beast Hulks out is among the funniest moments within the new fall pilots—including the comedies—so at least there’s that.

Elementary: CBS, 10 p.m., debuts Sept. 27

What’s it about? There’s this detective named Sherlock Holmes, see? And he’s got a brilliant mind that can solve the most fiendishly complicated crimes, but that mind also has a tendency to send him off into the stratosphere. The only thing keeping him tethered to reality is the friendship of his good pal John… er… Joan Watson, who has problems of her own. The two—played this time out by Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu, respectively—take on the toughest cases and do their best to help each other move past tortured histories. Only this time, they’re doing so in New York City! Is this starting to sound familiar? That’s right! It’s Crocodile Dundee!

Can you get all of that from the title? The title hopes the very mention of that particular word will put viewers in mind of, “Elementary, my dear Watson!” But while that’s immediately clear from the pilot, it’s less clear from the title. This is America, after all, and cultural literacy is dead.

Suggested, more descriptive title: Hmmm… Sherlock is already taken by a better show. Holmes & Watson? NCIS: Arthur Conan Doyle Division? Shut Up: Like You Watch PBS Anyway?

Should you watch it? Like its fellow CBS pilot Vegas, Elementary is a lot of fun to look at, directed beautifully, and constructed as a taut crime thriller. Unlike that show, it isn’t immediately clear whether this one has more surprises in the offing. Though comparisons to Sherlock will be legion, this show has fairly different concerns in mind, and the thoroughly platonic relationship between Miller and Liu is a breath of fresh air. (In fact, Sherlock has more will-they/won’t-they potential than this show does.) And yet, for all the gritty character focus, it’s hard to escape the feeling that this will be just another show about detectives solving crimes. At least this one has more of a puzzle-box feel, rather than the CSI method of waiting for the right clue to fall into the detectives’ laps.

FRIDAYS

Made In Jersey: CBS, 9 p.m., debuts Sept. 28)

What’s it about? Jersey girl Janet Montgomery climbs through the ranks at a high-powered Manhattan law firm, relying on legal acumen, street smarts, and an operating knowledge of hair and nail products.

Can you get all that from the title? In true-to-the-network, two-steps-behind-the-zeitgeist fashion, Made In Jersey touts only its Garden State bona fides over its legal-procedural roots, as if hoping CBS’ older viewers are only just hearing about Jersey Shore, The Real Housewives Of New Jersey, and Jerseylicious. (Also, considering New Jersey’s connection to The Sopranos and the mob-movie connotation of “made,” viewers just might think Montgomery is working on the other side of the law.)

Suggested, more descriptive title: Bridge And Tunnel, Esquire.

Should you watch it? If The Good Wife is the top-shelf liquor viewers nurse while easing back into the work week, the frothy, energetic Made In Jersey could be the sugary concoction they kick back to start the weekend. Kyle MacLachlan is on hand to class the joint up, but otherwise, Made In Jersey is a by-the-numbers procedural with big hair and a cartoonish Joisy accent.

Malibu Country: ABC, 8:30 p.m., debuts Nov. 2

What’s it about? After her country-music-star husband is exposed as an adulterous swine, retired singer-songwriter Reba McEntire (playing a retired singer-songwriter conveniently named “Reba”) moves from Nashville to Malibu with her three kids and her mother, Lily Tomlin (playing a character conveniently named “Lillie”) in tow, with hopes of restarting her life and resurrecting her career.

Can you get all that from the title? Maybe you could, if the geographic-location-title convention wasn’t so played out. As it is, many people’s strongest reaction to this show will be to wonder, as they skip past it, why it isn’t on The CW.

Suggested, more descriptive title: Guitars, Minivans, Etc.

Should you watch it? With her abundant likeability and expert comedic timing, McEntire is a natural sitcom star who always deserves better than she seems willing to settle for, and Tomlin is a living legend—but it looks as if the decision was made to give their characters their own first names because nobody thought this show would be around long enough to justify the effort of memorizing new ones. All the laughs in the pilot come from former Queer Eye For The Straight Guy regular Jai Rodriguez as a jaded record-company assistant, but the sweetened laughs are turned up twice as loud when he’s not around.

Hunted: Cinemax, 10 p.m., debuts Oct. 19

What’s it about? Rapidly making a name for itself as a home for quality action series, Cinemax turns to the spy/conspiracy thriller, with a new series about spy Melissa George trying to figure out who ordered a hit on her. The series, created by old X-Files hand Frank Spotnitz, aims to tell as much as possible visually, rather than through dialogue, and it also cuts those visuals up into fast-paced montages, edited like music videos. The footage is beautiful, but the pacing is often extremely odd, all of which leaves the feel of Alias, as directed by Terrence Malick and edited by David Fincher. If nothing else, it’s like no other show on TV.

Can you get all of that from the title? You can get precisely none of that from the title. You can’t even get that this is a spy series starring Melissa George. Hunted conveys that she’s being stalked by shadowy forces, sure, but those shadowy forces could be just about anything, couldn’t they?

Suggested, more descriptive title: In attempting to blend action TV with art-cinema, Cinemax is likely to discover many of its prospective viewers have a uniquely Homer Simpson-like reaction and should probably just borrow his reaction to Twin Peaks for a title: Brilliant! I Have Absolutely No Idea What’s Going On.

Should you watch it? Though it’s occasionally frustrating to try to get on the show’s wavelength, Hunted picks up steam over its first five episodes, and it becomes easier to get accustomed to the oddball vibe. For fans of TV series with a huge learning curve, Hunted should be an unexpected bit of fun.

Don’t miss the first half of our fall TV preview, which covered Sundays through Tuesdays.