By Zack Smith
UPFRONTS! Is there another word more thrilling to the human soul?
Yes, it's that time of year once again when the networks announce their new fall schedule. Which shows will be this year's "Mob Doctor" or "Partners" or...okay, last season wasn't very good. But let's see what shows might be better this year...
I actually had the chance to read some of the scripts for these shows before they were even shot, to give me a taste of what to anticipate, other than, you know, spin-offs and remakes of British shows, and stuff about cranky geniuses.
Here are some of my findings.
DISCLAIMER: A show isn’t in its final form until it actually airs. There may be recasts, reshoots, retitlings, retooling and a complete and an utter change of everything the series is about in the journey from script to screen. These are just impressions based on the initial scripts sent out. You have been warned.
MARVEL'S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.. (ABC)– Literally no one has read this script. I’m beginning to think even Joss Whedon hasn’t read it. If you’re reading this site, there’s pretty much no chance you won’t watch this. Now all it has to do is live up to the hype. No, I’m not stating that as a challenge. Trolling Whedon fans is A NO-WIN SCENARIO.
MIND GAMES (formerly "Influence," ABC): Christian Slater hasn't had much luck with TV...and neither has poor Kyle Killen, whose acclaimed "Lone Star" lasted two episodes, and equally-acclaimed "Awake" barely made it through 12 (and that's not counting his buzzed-about screenplay "The Beaver" losing all buzz by starring Mel Gibson).
But things might turn around this this fun vehicle about two brothers in the business of using real psychological techniques to change people's minds in favor of their clients on various issues. Slater's ex-white-collar-crook is the face of the business, while Steve Zahn plays his off-his-meds brother behind their techniques. The script is fun and has a genuinely complex relationship with the brothers, plus a "case of the week" aspect that could make it accessible to a wide audience. Cross your fingers that lightning strikes this time for Slater and Killen.
RAKE (Fox): This remake of an Australian series combines the talents of “Rescue Me”/”Larry Sanders” vet Peter Tolan, Greg Kinnear, and Sam Raimi behind the camera. It’s about a lawyer whose life is in much, much, much worse shape than most TV lawyers, and the script has plenty of absurdity and energy. With Kinnear and Raimi bringing it to life, I’m very excited about the final product.
ABOUT A BOY (NBC): Jason Katims previously turned "Friday Night Lights" and "Parenthood" into two of the best shows on TV, and Nick Hornby's novel/film is right up his alley -- and Dave Walton of "Bent" is a perfect lead in the Hugh Grant role. FUN FACT: This was previously adapted into a pilot years back with Patrick Dempsey that wasn't picked up; Dempsey is probably grateful for that every time he picks up a "Gray's Anatomy" paycheck.
Photo: Patrick Ecclesine/FOX
BROOKLYN NINE-NINE (Fox): There haven’t been many cop comedies since the glory days of “Barney Miller,” with such short-lived examples as Denis Leary’s “The Job” (now on Netflix Instant!) and “Bakersfield PD” the only ones that come to mind. This one is from “Parks and Recreation” co-creator (and Mose on “The Office”) Mick Schur, and features Andy Samberg as a wacky detective alongside the likes of Terry Crews and Andre Braugher, late of “Last Resort.”
That last casting bit might seem like an odd choice, as anyone who saw "Men of a Certain Age" can attest, Braugher can do comedy as well as drama, and it’d be hilarious to see him bringing his "Homicide" gravitas to the absurd dialogue of this pilot. I don’t know if this bit will make it to the aired pilot, but I would wear a T-shirt featuring the aforementioned Mel Gibson to a Bar Mitzvah to hear Braugher utter this line from the script: “It’s over, Disco Man. Put down the slinky and back away from the whore.”
CRISIS (NBC): This new drama from the creator of NBC’s “Life” is the most fascinatingly overstuffed serialized show since “24.” It deals with a group of rich, privileged kids – including the President’s son – who are kidnapped, alternating between their captivity, the efforts of different government agencies to retrieve them, and all sorts of secrets. It’s a crazy mix of teen drama, "24"-style suspense, and also Gillian Anderson.
This features Dermot Mulroney as the dad of one of the hostages, which will make things very confusing if the CBS picks up the hostage drama pilot "Hostages," which co-stars…Dylan McDermott. America has enough trouble keeping them straight already.
Weirder Still: ABC had ANOTHER hostage crisis show called "Reckless" that wasn't picked up, but CBS picked up a legal drama it retitled "Reckless."
There are no new ideas.
OXYGEN/THE HUNDRED/THE SELECTION/THE TOMORROW PEOPLE/REIGN (CW): The era of teen soaps on network TV is over, for now. “Gossip Girl” and “One Tree Hill” are dead, and as soon as the CW realized it was actually still airing “90210,” the axe at last fell. How’s the CW plan to bounce back? By going for the same audience that made “The Vampire Diaries” and “Arrow” a hit!
The most literal example of this beyond the actual “Vampire Diaries” spinoff “The Originals” is “The Tomorrow People,” a remake of a British show (which was already remade once by Nickelodeon in the 1990s) about psychically-enhanced young people that’s from “Arrow” producer Greg Berlanti and “Vampire Diaries” producer Julie Plec, and stars Robbie Amell, cousin of Stephen Amell, star of…you guessed it, “Arrow.”
Keeping with the “it pays to recycle” theme, there’s also “Oxygen,” which heads into “Roswell” territory with its tale of a teen in a star-crossed love affair with an alien refugee transferred into her school…huh, I’ve just read that they’ve actually changed the title to “Star-Crossed.” Well-played, CW. At any rate, I’ll give the CW credit for finding a way to do a school integration story with all white people.
While they didn’t pick up the “Hunger Games” meets “The Bachelor” YA adaptation “The Selection" (after already rejecting a first version of the pilot last season), the CW did pick up “The Hundred,” which has an army of teen delinquents sent from satellites to colonize a devastated Earth, and “Reign,” which tries to do a sort-of “Game of Thrones” for teens by examining the romances and backstabbings in the court of Mary, Queen of Scots.
It’s an odd group, but there might be more fantasy/SF original programming on the CW this fall than the actual Sci Fi…sorry, “Syfy” channel.
BELIEVE (NBC): This tale of a girl with strange mystical powers and the convict sprung to protect her from evil forces is a pretty typical J.J. Abrams story, and its success will depend on the casting and chemistry of its stars. What’s particularly intriguing is that it’s co-created and directed by Alfonso Cuaron, the visually-brilliant director whose next film, “Gravity,’ is earning considerable buzz. Done right, this could be one of the most stunning shows of the fall; done wrong, and you’ve got another Kiefer Sutherland in “Touch,” which may or may not still even be on.
SLEEPY HOLLOW (Fox): If you felt like Tim Burton’s film of the Washington Irving story erred by moving away from the original tale…you’re going to want to stay far, far away from this new series.
Short version: Ichabod Crane, a super-smart Revolutionary War soldier, gets mysteriously thrust to our time, where he must battle supernatural forces in modern-day Sleepy Hollow.
Take a moment to parse that.
We give this script credit for being utterly 'nanners. It's from Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, who've done the "Transformers" films, the "Hawaii Five-0" reboot, the new "Star Trek" movies...and pretty much everything else, so it'll be intriguing to see what ideas they bring to it. Though, again, 'nanners.
THE BLACK LIST (NBC): It's James Spader as, bascially, Hannibal Lecter. What more do you need? Well, another season for the actual "Hannibal" show would be a nice start, and a good pairing, like liver with Fava beans and a nice Chanti...