TV

Fall TV 2009: TiVo or Ti-No, show-by-show

Twenty-one news shows are debuting, or have debuted, this fall, most of them next week. Here's the rundown on which you should watch and which you should skip.

SUNDAY

'The Cleveland Show'

Debuts at 8:30 p.m. Sept. 27 on Fox

It's the second spinoff from Seth MacFarlane's inexplicably popular Family Guy series, centered on geeky, soft-spoken African-American Cleveland Brown and his choice to start a new life in a new town with a woman who never appreciated his love and her jive-talking son. That this is one of only three new shows starring non-white characters — and yes, the guy who voices Brown is white — only piles the disappointment higher.

TiVo or Ti-NO? Because MacFarlane is essentially critic-proof these days — is anyone still watching his first spinoff, American Dad? — my Ti-NO might not even matter.

'Three Rivers'

Debuts at 9 p.m. Oct. 4 on CBS

After watching this hyperkinetic drama about a bunch of type A doctors on a Pittsburgh hospital's transplant team, you'll wonder two things: Why doesn't anybody on this show have a real Steel City accent? And do real-life transplant docs wear scrubs as form-fitting as costumes from the new Star Trek movie?

TiVo or Ti-NO? Because even star Alex O'Loughlin (the hunk from Moonlight, left) isn't hunky enough to make you forget how predictable these story lines are, a big Ti-NO.


MONDAY

'Accidentally on Purpose'

Debuts at 8:30 p.m. Sept. 21 on CBS

As one of several new shows featuring beautiful, improbably desperate "cougars" jumping on young guys, this one asks us to believe Jenna Elfman's 40-something, flighty film critic would pass up her hunky boss/ex-boyfriend (Grant Show) to get impregnated by a guy who makes Justin Timberlake look like Mick Jagger.

TiVo or Ti-NO? Even by CBS's currently low comedy standards — exactly how did Two and a Half Men's Charlie Sheen become the highest-paid actor on TV, again? — this is awfully thin gruel. Ti-NO.

'Trauma'

Debuts at 9 p.m. Sept. 28 on NBC

Yet another hard-charging-health- professionals-with-issues series, this time based on a quirky question: What if the folks who help with San Francisco's biggest traumas had to deal with a tragedy of their own? Too bad the answer involves stuff we've seen before: self-destructive, oversexed, blindly arrogant characters bouncing off one another with medical emergencies as a thin pretext.

TiVo or Ti-NO? The pilot is too predictable to transcend a Ti-NO, but with creator Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights) guiding actors like Cliff Curtis (Live Free or Die Hard), above, there's still hope.

'The Jay Leno Show'

Premiered at 10 p.m. Sept. 14 on NBC

The future direction of network television rests here, with the answer to two questions: Can Jay Leno create a prime-time program with all his signature bits that doesn't feel like The Tonight Show? And even if prime-time audiences can stand five nights of Leno, will it spark a trend that turns a chunk of network TV into a pale shadow of late night?

TiVo or Ti-NO? Whether it works or not, watching late-night TV's most successful living host try to move his act to prime-time will make television history. TiVo.


TUESDAY

'NCIS: Los Angeles'

Debuts at 9 p.m. Sept. 22 on CBS

NCIS fans got a taste of this spinoff last season, in two episodes introducing LL Cool J as a former Navy SEAL and Chris O'Donnell as his partner in the West Coast office of Special Projects. It's no spoiler to reveal O'Donnell survives the Sonny Corleone-style hit that took him out on NCIS; the good news is that LL and the kid from Scent of a Woman have decent chemistry as two Jason Bourne-style operatives in California.

TiVo or Ti-NO? If only to see how long Linda Hunt will keep channeling The Incredibles' Edna Mode, as the office's overly precise, big-glasses wearing, accountant/wardrobe/equipment expert, I'd TiVo.

'The Good Wife'

Debuts at 10 p.m. Sept. 22 on CBS

Sure we've always wondered what might have rattled around the mind of Mrs. Spitzer or Mrs. Sanford after their scandals broke. But can you really build a series around ER alum Julianna Margulies, right, playing the wronged wife and Chris Noth as a jailed, post-scandal version of Sex and the City's Mr. Big?

TiVo or Ti-NO? From the moment Margulies' character starts work as a new lawyer in a big firm, we know she's going to be humiliated yet win her big case. Until they find a way to surprise, this gets a big Ti-NO.

'Melrose Place'

Premiered at 9 p.m. Sept. 8 on The CW

Following in 90210's wake, this '90s soap has been retooled for the Facebook generation with a fresh batch of new faces living together in a West Hollywood apartment complex — bound by various ties to their landlord, trouble-making sister-grown-into-a-cougar Sydney Andrews (original series alum Laura Leighton). When somebody in this cozy bunch gets snuffed, all these Abercrombie models get to wrinkle their brows and look serious.

TiVo or Ti-NO? Until they actually get Heather Locklear to walk on camera, I'm gonna Ti-NO.

'The Forgotten'

Debuts at 10 p.m. Sept. 22 on ABC

Someday, reformed bad boy Christian Slater, right, will learn how to channel the rakish, party-guy charm that made Charlie Sheen into a major TV star for his own small-screen success. But given that ABC still hasn't shown critics a sample of this show, in which Slater replaced a British actor as the leader of an amateur group of sleuths, I'm thinking this might not be that day.

TiVo or Ti-NO? And miss the second night of Leno's second week? Ti-NO.


WEDNESDAY

'Modern Family'

Debuts at 9 p.m. Sept. 23 on ABC

This might be the best new comedy airing this fall, giving Ed "Al Bundy" O'Neill another great dysfunctional father figure to inhabit. You will marvel that the same extended family can hold a gay couple, a Latina spitfire and a dad who thinks re-enacting the dances to High School Musical makes him look cool to his kids. Yeah, I'm smiling at that, too.

TiVo or Ti-NO? Did I mention Al Bundy and badly sung High School Musical numbers? Automatic TiVo.

'Mercy'

Debuts at 8 p.m. Sept. 23 on NBC

TV's third medical drama in 2009 starring nurses features the standard ensemble trio — a wide-eyed innocent, a self-destructive veteran and a street-smart pragmatist. Delroy Lindo (Get Shorty) is mostly wasted as the authoritative boss. The veteran nurse gets an extra wrinkle; she's an Iraq war veteran who finds her past life resurging in a most personal way.

TiVo or Ti-NO? Without characters strong enough to make me forget Nurse Jackie or Hawthorne, it's a Ti-NO.

'Hank'

Debuts at 8 p.m. Sept. 30 on ABC

Kelsey Grammer, right, is so adept at playing good-naturedly self-centered blowhards, you hardly blame him for climbing on that horse again with this sitcom about a failed tycoon. But given the way most real-life CEOs finagled golden parachutes for their failures, this tale about a big shot forced to move back to the sticks doesn't feel realistic or original.

TiVo or Ti-NO? Grammer's Hank Pryor is no Frasier Crane. Ti-NO.

'The Middle'

Debuts at 8:30 p.m. Sept. 30 on ABC

Everybody Loves Raymond alum Patricia Heaton works her harried mom shtick into the ground, dragging Neil Flynn into playing a married version of his pathologically cynical janitor from Scrubs. Unfortunately, there are at least two other new shows that do this better, one of which airs on the same network 30 minutes later.

TiVo or Ti-NO? I'm not sure why everybody decided to remake Malcolm in the Middle in the same TV season, but this pilot is the worst of the bunch. Ti-NO.

'Glee'

Premiered at 9 p.m. Sept. 9 on Fox

Who knew that a comedy that plays like a mashup of High School Musical and Arrested Development would work so well? Creator Ryan Murphy does what Hugh Jackman couldn't, nailing the best way to bring the musical to TV. And watching the glee club work it during a school assembly to Push It last week is only equaled by watching the football team work the field to Beyoncé. Seriously.

TiVo or Ti-No? If you thought Andy Samberg and Justin Timberlake were sidesplitting in re-creating Single Ladies on SNL, you should have TiVo'd last week's episode.

'The Beautiful Life'

Premiered at 9 p.m. Sept. 16 on The CW

Actor-turned-mogul Ashton Kutcher is the svengali behind this tween soap opera, which features a young guy from Iowa drawn into the messy world of fashion where Elle Macpherson is a freeze-dried model agent and The O.C. alum Mischa Barton is a fading star. We're assuming Barton's recent forced stay in a psychiatric hospital wasn't research or a stab at free publicity on TMZ.

TiVo or Ti-NO? We get better dish on Project Runway and America's Next Top Model. Ti-NO.

'Eastwick'

Debuts at 10 p.m. Sept. 23 on ABC

This TV version of The Witches of Eastwick is just as confusing, convoluted and icky as the 1987 film, but with Rebecca Romijn, Lindsay Price and Lexington-connected Sara Rue instead of Cher, Susan Sarandon, Michelle Pfeiffer and Jack Nicholson. Does that sound like an appealing trade to you?

TiVo or Ti-NO? Can a series based on a 1984 book about three unknowing witches and the devil who romances them work 25 years later? My Magic 8 Ball racks up a big Ti-NO.

'Cougar Town'

Debuts at 9:30 p.m. Sept. 23 on ABC

It's as if Monica Geller, the comically insecure Friends alter ego of Courteney Cox, left, was renamed Jules, had a kid, got divorced and started picking up 20-something dudes at a bar down the street from Wisteria Lane. Lexington native Josh Hopkins plays Cox's newly divorced neighbor, Grayson, "a catalyst of sorts for Jules," according to ABC.

TiVo or Ti-NO? With Scrubs creator Bill Lawrence at the helm, I'm gonna TiVo against my better judgment.


THURSDAY

'FlashForward'

Debuts at 8 p.m. Sept. 24 on ABC

It's a big concept to swallow: Everyone in the world blacks out for two minutes, 17 seconds; those who don't die in car accidents or plane crashes get a glimpse of their life six months in the future. The attempt by Joseph Fiennes, above, to deduce why this happens and whether the visions can be changed has produced the best new pilot of this season.

TiVo or Ti-NO? An amazing cast, eye-popping visual effects — with requisite 9/11 references — and a mesmerizing story line add up to a huge TiVo. Here's hoping the fans that made Lost a success find a new habit here.

'The Vampire Diaries'

Premiered at 8 p.m. Sept. 10 on The CW

Twilight made a mint by taking the typical vampire love story and setting it amongst modern day teens. This show goes one better, turning Twilight into the kind of tween-friendly TV drama you usually see on ABC Family, with Paul Wesley as an ancient teen vampire looking for love. Too bad the action is so slow even snoozy pretty boy Ian Somerhalder (Lost) looks kind of compelling as Wesley's snarky sibling.

TiVo or Ti-NO? Even my teen daughters, who are avid Twilight fans, gave this obvious and unexciting pilot a serious Ti-NO.

'Community'

Debuted at 9:30 p.m. Sept. 17 on NBC

Ignore the painfully unfunny ads you've seen for weeks; this series featuring The Soup's Joel McHale as a sleazy lawyer forced to attend community college might be the second-best new comedy of the fall. Chevy Chase doesn't add much as a forgetful senior student, but The Daily Show's John Oliver more than picks up the slack as a weasely professor.

TiVo or Ti-NO? To watch McHale play a role that fits his snarky self like a glove, better TiVo.


FRIDAY

'Brothers'

Debuts at 8 p.m. Sept. 25 on Fox

Ex-pro football star Michael Strahan plays a former NFL star who can't get along with his wheelchair-bound brother, played by paraplegic actor Darryl "Chill" Mitchell. Five minutes into jokes about their mother (CCH Pounder) stabbing the legs of Mitchell's character with a fork and their slightly addled father (Carl Weathers) shaving his nether regions, the stink of wasted talent becomes unbearable.

TiVo or Ti-NO? As the only new live-action series with a black cast, this Ti-NO is an in-the-flesh warning for diversity advocates: Be careful what you wish for.

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