Tuesday, September 25, 2007

More New Shows

This fall TV season may be breaking out to be one of the most interesting in years, judging from the two new shows I watched tonight. Granted, I didn't like K-VILLE all that much, and last week's debut of BACK TO YOU (another awful title) was hardly earthshaking material (I'm certain that some of the jokes go back to before stars Kelsey Grammer and Patricia Heaton had their new faces built). On the other hand, K-VILLE, a routine cop show filmed on location in New Orleans, and BACK TO YOU aren't awful and have potential to improve.

So far, my favorite new shows are CHUCK (on NBC) and REAPER (on The CW), which is odd, because they are basically the exact same show. It's like Marvel creating Man-Thing the same month as DC Comics debuting Swamp Thing: either an amazing coincidence or cheeky industrial espionage.

Both are somewhat old-school in that they're action/adventure series mixed with humor--a welcome change from the dour crime dramas that the networks have been foisting upon us. CHUCK, from the creator of THE O.C. (which I never saw), stars Zachary Levi (LESS THAN PERFECT) as Chuck, a computer nerd who feels more comfortable playing video games with his pal Morgan (Joshua Gomez, trying way too hard to be Seth Green) than talking to women. Imagine his surprise when gorgeous blond Sarah (Yvonne Strzechowski) hits on him at his job at Buy More (think Best Buy) and asks him to dinner. It happens the same day that his former college roommate (TRAVELER's Matthew Bomer in a cameo) sends him an email that somehow uploads into his brain an advanced computer program that points him in the direction of a bomb meant to kill an American general. Turns out, of course, that Sarah works for the CIA, and that both she and her NSA rival (the always good Adam Baldwin) want him for his mind.

I never thought I'd say this, but McG (CHARLIE'S ANGELS) does a fine job directing the pilot, setting up the goofy premise and deftly juggling the comedy and suspense. In addition to Levi's likable loser, the show introduces some funny supporting characters; both the mean Asian guy at Buy More and Chuck's sister's dopey boyfriend, nicknamed "Captain Awesome," made me laugh. With the pilot ending on a promise to propel Chuck and Sarah into more adventures (and Baldwin taking a job at Buy More to keep an eye on Chuck), CHUCK looks like a winner.

Over on The CW, REAPER has nearly the same premise. Instead of a nerdy still-living-with-his-family slacker with a comic-relief loser best friend who works at Best Buy, REAPER's hero, Sam Oliver (Bret Harrison of GROUNDED FOR LIFE), works at Home Depot (really the TV equivalent, Work Bench). He also discovers someone has given him superpowers, but not a buddy. It's Satan himself, and in what will surely be the new season's best casting move, smooth Ray Wise (TWIN PEAKS) is simultaneously charming and creepy as Sam's new bud. It seems Sam's parents sold his soul to the Devil long before he was born, and Big Red himself comes to collect on the lad's 21st birthday. Like Chuck, Sam has a wacky best pal, Bert, played by INVASION's Tyler Labine, and, again like Chuck, he has to go on reluctant missions, as Satan has assigned him to rescue souls that have escaped from Hell and return them using a portal at the DMV ("Hell on Earth").

TV's hottest trend is hiring feature directors to make pilots, and REAPER enlisted Kevin Smith (CLERKS 2) to make his television directing debut. Some of the dialogue by creators Tara Butters and Michele Fazekus (fresh off LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT) sounds like Smith did a polish on it, and the show is funny and fresh. Again, like CHUCK, and despite its similarities, I liked REAPER too.

Speaking of L&O: SVU, its ninth season opened tonight with a typical episode guest-starring Cynthia Nixon (SEX & THE CITY) as a killer with multiple personalities. It was amusing to see Bronson Pinchot (PERFECT STRANGERS) appear as a psychiatrist, but the most entertaining bits involved the usually little-used Richard Belzer, who briefly became the acting commanding officer when Captain Cragen (Dann Florek) received a temporary demotion. Strangely, everything was back to normal by the end of the show, leaving one to wonder what the point was of the brief subplot. Not that I want Florek to lose his job, but the liberal Munch's reluctant elevation to management could have led to some interesting character dynamics, but I suppose that's too radical a change for a Dick Wolf show.

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