Some things in life are difficult: Brain surgery. Computer repair. Mining. And some things aren't, like picking out the promising-looking TV shows from the same old junk repackaged for another year. With that in mind, The A.V. Club presents our second annual Fall TV preview, a badly researched report on shows we haven't seen. Put it away. Pull it out at the end of the season. You'll see, we were right all along.
Brothers & Sisters
When: 10 p.m., FOX (premières Sept. 24)
Concept: After their father dies, Calista Flockhart, Balthazar Getty, Rachel Griffiths, and a couple of lesser-known adult siblings return home to deal with the family business and dark family secrets.
Will it be any good? Though the premise seems a little Six-Feet-Under-lite, the pedigree of the actors involved (including Sally Field as the widowed matriarch) should be enough to carry the show for a while.
Last episode before cancellation: The dead father starts speaking to Griffiths in odd, persistent flashbacks, while Flockhart has visions of an aggressive dancing baby.
When: 8:30 p.m., CW (premières Oct. 1)
Concept: For its inaugural season, CW will only unveil two new shows to go with its best-of-The-WB-and-UPN format. The Game is one of them, but only kind of. It's a spin-off of the venerable Girlfriends, set in the world of professional sports. And it airs right after Girlfriends, too. How convenient.
Will it be any good? There's no reason to believe it won't be every bit as good as Girlfriends.
Last episode before cancellation: We find out the horrifying truth behind the stage name of cast member Pooch Hall.
When: 8 p.m., CBS (premières Sept. 18)
Concept: Third-grade classmates reunite after 20 years and find that they have a lot in common. Will they be friends forever, or just Friends?
Will it be any good? CBS' teaser commercials have been pretty lame, introducing each main character and making them look like what they really are: attractive young actors playing down to casting types. But Friends—which was produced by The Class head man David Crane—looked the same way at first, and it quickly deepened. Also, this show could pair well with How I Met Your Mother, which already feels like the Friends of the mid-'00s.
Last episode before cancellation: "The One With The Stolen Milk Money."
When: 9 p.m., NBC (premières Sept. 25)
Concept: A group of ordinary joes from all walks of life wake up one day with superpowers. Why did this happen? What do they do now? And how many episodes will viewers sit through before demanding some concrete answers?
Will it be any good? The premise recalls any number of respectable alternative-superhero tales, from the movie Unbreakable to J. Michael Straczynski's comics series Rising Stars, but odds are that Heroes wants most to ape the slow-developing science-fiction mystery of Lost. Its success will depend on whether the creators can avoid the serial-itis that plagued last season's Invasion and Surface (among others), and whether TV vets Adrian Pasdar and Milo Ventimiglia can anchor the nerdiness with some manly charisma.
Last episode before cancellation: The mysterious benefactor that brought these heroes together is revealed as… [To be continued.]
Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip
When: 10 p.m., NBC (premières Sept. 18)
Concept: After the producer of a legendary late-night comedy show goes nuts, untested network president Amanda Peet hires the show's irreverent former head writers Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford to bring back the edge.
Will it be any good? Writer-producer Aaron Sorkin is notoriously distractable and unreliable, but his two earlier series—SportsNight and The West Wing—both got in a couple of remarkably strong years before being cancelled (in the first case) or running aground (in the second). Given how good the early reviews for Studio 60 have been, and given how much potential the premise has for Sorkin-style rapid-fire dialogue and hot-button-pushing, we suggest riding this rocket as it takes off… and before it burns out.
Last episode before cancellation: In the main plot, the love triangle between Peet, Perry, and Whitford comes to a head. Meanwhile, in one subplot, two of the show's staff writers argue over whether a sketch is racist, and in six other subplots, the dozen new characters that Sorkin has introduced over the past three episodes scramble to cover for all the subplots that Sorkin has forgotten to wrap up.
When: 9 p.m., CW (premières Sept. 25)
Concept: Wrongly accused of murder, Donnie Wahlberg hits the road with his wife and their three children, and they settle in under new identities in small-town Iowa. As he tries to exonerate himself, Wahlberg also has to protect his family from the real killer.
Will it be any good? Prison Break meets The Fugitive meets the little-seen but affecting River Phoenix movie Running On Empty. If it's half as well-executed as its influences, the show stands a chance, and early word seems solid. As one of only two premières unveiled by the new CW network, it will have some support; if the CW is anything like the WB and UPN, any show can survive so long as it doesn't outright embarrass the network.
Last episode before cancellation: In a dramatic return to network television, O.J. Simpson takes a break from the links to help the family track down the real killer.
When: 9 p.m., Fox (premièred Aug. 21)
Concept: From the producers of CSI comes this serial about the disappearance of a prominent U.S. senator's wife and its possible links to a vast political conspiracy. A team of FBI agents and intrepid reporter Rebecca Gayheart pursue the case of their careers.
Will it be any good? Shaping an entire show around a single case or situation can be compelling in the short term, but problematic over the long haul, as fans of Lost and Prison Break know all too well. When cliffhangers lead to other cliffhangers and the new evidence muddies the plot rather than clarifying it, frustration sets in, but reaction to the initial entries of this particular show has been solid.
Last episode before cancellation: As the unprecedented search for the senator's wife becomes a national obsession, law-enforcement officers are shocked when she turns up at the Panda Express at the Tyson's Corner mall. The show is then retooled as the political soap opera No Longer Vanished—and quickly cancelled again.
Help Me Help You
When: 9:30 p.m., ABC (premières Sept. 26)
Concept: Ted Danson leads a group-therapy session for some hilariously troubled individuals, though he himself is also hilariously troubled. Oh, the delicious irony.
Will it be any good? The previews hint at the same problem that plagued the last sitcom to mine group therapy for humor, FX's mercifully short-lived Starved. Namely, the patients and their cartoonish problems can get tedious. But there's a good comedic cast of bit players here, including Jane Kaczmarek, Undeclared's Carla Gallo, and that guy from Cheers.
Last episode before cancellation: Mary Steenburgen guest-stars as a rival psychiatrist, introducing all kinds of on- and offscreen sexual tension that no one could care less about.
When: 10 p.m., CBS (premières Sept. 19)
Concept: Ray Liotta leads a double life: An average family man with a wife (Virginia Madsen) and two kids makes his living as a master thief who leads a team of specialists through high-stakes robbery schemes. Since his family knows nothing of his real occupation, reconciling his home life with his illegal pursuits creates all sorts of tension.
Will it be any good? Liotta's powder-keg personality hasn't been exploited to full effect lately, but this show should uncork it a bit. Add in the sterling production values and a first-rate cast (Madsen, Jonny Lee Miller, Franky G, Simon Baker, Shoreh Aghdashloo), and Smith could be like a serialized Heat.
Last episode before cancellation: When Liotta's trusting wife stumbles upon a grappling hook, a ski mask, and safecracking equipment in the basement, she prepares herself for one kinky date night, only to be bitterly disappointed.
When: 9 p.m., Fox (premières Sept. 5)
Concept: Ron Livingston and Rosemarie DeWitt star as first-rate partners in the FBI's Crisis Negotiation Unit who also know how to negotiate the sack together. They can talk jumpers off of tall buildings… but will they still be talking to each other in the morning?
Will it be any good? There's no Everyman actor more appealing than Livingston, but Standoff's attempt to combine light romantic comedy and dark thriller elements may be trying to please everyone while actually pleasing no one. Sometimes it's better to just focus on getting one genre right instead of crossbreeding them.
Last episode before cancellation: To salvage a hostage situation gone south and stave off the sharpshooters, Livingston soothes the hostage-taker by revealing embarrassing personal anecdotes about his off-hours escapades with DeWitt. Official reprimands from the boss and teasing from their colleagues ensues. See also: Episodes one through six.
Friday Night Lights
When: 8 p.m., NBC (premières Oct. 3)
Concept: The big-screen adaptation of Buzz Bissinger's controversial non-fiction bestseller about Texas high-school football gets re-adapted for the small screen.
Will it be any good? Judging by the commercials, pilot director Peter Berg (who also directed the film) has retained the bruised-blue look and impressionistic sports action, which were the movie's best elements. And since the movie left out a lot of the drawn-out drama of Bissinger's book, there's a good chance that this series could trump its multiple source materials. Which would be nice, since TV hasn't seen a decent high-school sports drama since The White Shadow.
Last episode before cancellation: On the night of the big graduation party, the rising senior quarterback causes a stir when he refuses to sign a pledge stating he won't do drugs. Then he and his buddies head into the city to buy Aerosmith tickets.
The Knights Of Prosperity
When: 9 p.m., ABC (premières Oct. 17)
Concept: Donal Logue encourages his fellow working-class slobs to help him rob Mick Jagger's apartment—via a plan intended to hatch over the course of a whole season.
Will it be any good? Co-creators Rob Burnett and Jon Beckerman have shown they can handle gentle, quirky comedy with Ed, but the show's premise seems more suited to a special two-part episode than a whole series, and the fact that the title has already been changed from Let's Rob Mick Jagger to Let's Rob… to The Knights Of Prosperity implies that the whole concept of the show may be up for grabs before it even premières.
Last episode before cancellation: Kevin Corrigan and Megyn Price unexpectedly show up, asking if the name of the show can be changed again, to Grounded For Life.
When: 8 p.m, CBS (premières Sept. 20)
Concept: Skeet Ulrich returns to his Kansas hometown of Jericho, giving different explanations as to what he's been up to. As he leaves, he sees a mushroom cloud on the horizon. Looks like he might be stuck in Jericho a while longer. (Hence the title.)
Will it be any good? Yet another show that probably would never have seen the light of day without Lost, Jericho has a compelling premise. But whether it has anything else remains to be seen. It should at least be worth tuning in to find out whether post-apocalyptic Kansas is somehow more interesting than pre-apocalyptic Kansas.
Last episode before cancellation: Ulrich stumbles on the buried Statue Of Liberty, and realizes that Jericho was actually the Planet Of The Apes all along.
When: 9 p.m., Fox (premièred Aug. 30)
Concept: Four brilliant Los Angeles defense attorneys, led by camera-friendly boss Victor Gerber (Alias), take on some of the highest-profile celebrity and criminal (and celebrity-criminal) cases in the country. In a twist on the courtroom-drama format, flashbacks reveal whether their clients were guilty.
Will it be any good? The phrase "produced by Jerry Bruckheimer" generally indicates a big "no," but the premise features several fresh angles, such as the effect media exposure has on the justice system, and whether that system is really capable of delivering justice. Delivering a verdict based on the evidence is one thing; knowing definitively whether a jury was right or wrong is quite another.
Last episode before cancellation: In a controversial Sweeps Week episode, the defense team travels to the Deep South for a restaging of the Scopes Monkey Trial. The jury upholds evolutionary theory, but flashbacks reveal those Godless heathens to be grossly mistaken.
When: 10 p.m., NBC (premières Sept. 20)
Concept: When the teenage son of a wealthy New York family gets kidnapped, the family (headed by shifty father Timothy Hutton) hires a unconventional private investigator (Jeremy Sisto) to track him down. Sisto asks for a stiff fee, but will only take payment if he brings the boy back intact. But once the FBI intervenes, toes are stepped on and leads go cold.
Will it be any good? Well-pedigreed on every front, with an excellent cast and strong production values, Kidnapped looks like a gripping movie-of-the-week, but the premise doesn't seem built to last. How can a single kidnapping be stretched out over the course of one season, let alone several seasons, without the plot falling slack or meandering off course? It should be good for as long as it can manage, though.
Last episode before cancellation: After Sisto makes the shocking discovery that the father kidnapped his own son, awkwardness ensues as he tentatively brings up the matter of the bill.
When: 10 p.m., ABC (premières Oct. 4)
Concept: After a bank robbery gone wrong leads to a 52-hour hostage standoff and the death of two innocents, nine survivors return to their everyday lives, but they share a permanent bond and more than a few secrets about what really happened.
Will it be any good? In a cannibalization of the ABC hit Lost, each episode incorporates flashbacks of the standoff as the survivors try to get on with their lives. Discovering the nature of their individual and collective bond—certainly emotional, possibly criminal—seems certain to give the series the addicting what-happens-next quality that makes Lost so compelling. Then again, that same quality makes Lost wearying, too.
Last episode before cancellation: Weeks after a charter plane carrying "the nine" crash-lands on a deserted island, they discover a mysterious hatch in the middle of the forest and wonder whether it could be their ticket home.
When: 8 p.m., NBC (premières Oct. 11)
Concept: Former Saturday Night Live head writer and performer writes (and performs in) a sitcom about the backstage shenanigans at a late night comedy show not unlike Saturday Night Live. It's Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip: The Half-Hour Version.
Will it be any good? Fey's a smart comic talent, and she's got a good cast around her—including Alec Baldwin as her network boss and SNL alum Tracy Morgan as her high-maintenance new star—but if she's not as ruthless and cynical about the world of late night TV as Aaron Sorkin's bound to be with Studio 60, this show might go down as the Chicago Hope to Studio 60's ER. (Then again, Chicago Hope was on the air for a while, so that may not be so bad.)
Last episode before cancellation: Four words: "Jimmy Fallon guest stars."
20 Good Years
When: 8:30 p.m., NBC (premières Oct. 4)
Concept: John Lithgow and Jeffrey Tambor play aging upper-class professionals who make a pact to live it up with the time they have left.
Will it be any good? Lithgow and Tambor are skilled comic actors, but this premise sounds pretty thin, and the creators clearly expect their stars to make up for any deficiencies in the writing. Too bad this didn't work so well a decade ago, when Bob Newhart and Judd Hirsch tried it as George & Leo.
Last episode before cancellation: The heroes die, 19 years and 11 months early.
When: 8:30 p.m., FOX (premières Sept. 7)
Concept: John Sloan loses his girlfriend, job, and apartment all in the same day, and is forced to move in with a quirky new roommate who likes to drink a lot of martinis. See, it's like he's trying to become happier, and martinis are something you would drink at a bar, so drinking + a quest for happiness = Happy Hour. Get it?
Will it be any good? Well, the best joke in the preview is when Sloan crosses his legs during a job interview, and the interviewer says she can see his balls. Can you believe that? His balls! At an job interview!
Last episode before cancellation: The second one.
When: 10 p.m., CBS (premières Sept. 21)
Concept: James Woods plays yet another ridiculously talented bastard hero in the House mold: an attorney who switches sides from defense to prosecution, and gets to go after all the Los Angeles celebrities he was sick of sticking up for.
Will it be any good? Woods is always fun to watch, and this prick-makes-good TV formula hasn't gotten stale yet. Plus, Spike Lee directed the pilot, and he's had a pretty good year so far, with Inside Man and When The Levees Broke.
Last episode before cancellation: Idealistic young attorney Robert Downey Jr. signs on with Woods, and gets a sobering lesson in the nature of compromise. Joseph Ruben directs.
When: 10 p.m., ABC (premières Sept. 21)
Concept: The latest from Alias and Lost creator J.J. Abrams riffs on the idea that everyone's connected by six degrees of separation by following six Manhattan strangers who don't know the effect they're having on each other's lives… at least not yet. Campbell Scott, Hope Davis, Erika Christensen, Bridget Moynahan, Jay Hernandez, and Dorian Missick play the six.
Will it be any good? Though Abrams hasn't yet proven that he can sustain a show over more than two seasons, he's always been terrific out of the box, and Six Degrees seems well-suited to his knack for expansive, addicting mythology. Missick excepted, every member of the cast has a solid foothold in movies—Scott and Davis have even appeared in several films together—so it's a positive sign that they're willing to retreat to television for Abrams.
Last episode before cancellation: When these six attractive New Yorkers finally meet in a quirky little coffeehouse in Greenwich Village, they're accosted by another group of six sexy New Yorkers who refer to themselves as "friends."
When: 8 p.m., FOX (premières Sept. 7)
Concept: A bored, middle-aged married couple are annoyed at the seemingly endless happiness of their young, newlywed neighbors.
Will it be any good? In interviews, Brad Garrett said that some of the humor in his onscreen marriage stemmed from the everyday humor of his real-life marriage. Now he's getting divorced, which doesn't bode too well for the series. One-note jokes and tired women-vs.-men clichés don't exactly help either.
Last episode before cancellation: Ray Romano makes a cameo during the backyard BBQ episode, but promptly leaves when Garrett launches into a long tirade about how women can't be trusted to work a grill.
When: 8 p.m., ABC (premières Sept. 28)
Concept: The American version of the long-running telenovela Yo Soy Betty La Fea follows an ugly duckling as she climbs the creative ladder at a high-fashion magazine.
Will it be any good? Though the previews make it look like someone subtracted Meryl Streep from The Devil Wears Prada and stretched the plot to fill 13 episodes, Betty will do well if it follows Betty La Fea's example and relies on soapy storylines, campy characters, and the charisma of its heroine, America Ferrera (Real Women Have Curves).
Last episode before cancellation: "Betty Eats The Flan."
Men In Trees
When: 9 p.m., ABC (premières Sept. 22)
Concept: Anne Heche plays a relationship counselor who, shades of Ted Danson in Help Me Help You, can't keep her own relationship on track. Outrageous! Even more outrageous: She copes by moving to an Alaska town with hardly any women. Please pause a moment to make your own jokes about Anne Heche deciding to shun women. Done? Okay, let's get back to business.
Will it be any good? The A.V. Club has only seen a single one-minute clip of this show, in which a carefully coiffed Heche references "soy lattes" to the befuddlement of a crowd of burly men and a handsome will-they-or-won't-they ringer. Based on this clip, we can say conclusively that no, it will not be any good at all.
Last episode before cancellation: In a desperate move, Heche will return to the continental U.S. to hoof it with newly bald Joey, er, Joe Lawrence on Dancing With The Stars.
Nothing new here. Really. If you aren't watching Cops, college football, or child molesters on Dateline, you aren't watching network television. But don't you watch too much TV anyway?