As the fall season approaches, the nation’s TV critics aren’t tuning their TiVos with much enthusiasm.
The networks are playing it relatively safe this season — and in response, the critics say they’re trying to stifle their yawns. While last year’s skeds included edgy (and critically acclaimed) entries such as Fox’s “24” and ABC’s “Alias,” nothing this fall has incited the same kind of passion.
But a few offerings come close. Daily Variety asked a roster of nearly two dozen TV critics from around the country to rate each new fall series based on early pilot presentations and where they believe (thanks to Television Critics Assn. Press tour panels) the show is headed.
Opinions varied widely in many cases, perhaps debunking the myth that critics operate as a monolithic bunch. On the other hand, there were a few instances where everyone was pretty much in agreement.
For starters, NBC’s Rashomon-style crime drama “Boomtown” appears to be the most anticipated new skein of the fall crop, pulling more top scores from critics than any other entry.
TV Guide’s Matt Roush calls the show the one no-contest quality newcomer of the season. “The narrative is so densely layered and populated with promising, complicated, compelling characters that this is the one show I cannot wait to see a second episode of,” he says.
Critics also were impressed with a pair of CBS cop dramas: The Thursday series “Without a Trace,” which faces the aging NBC hit “ER,” and the “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” spinoff “CSI: Miami.”
Entertainment Weekly’s Ken Tucker has measured hope for “Trace.” “It could go either way,” he says. “It could either become a tedious semi-‘CSI’ or turn into an interesting FBI procedural. Either way, Anthony LaPaglia and Poppy Montgomery are excellent actors to watch.”
As for “CSI: Miami,” the Vancouver Sun’s Alex Strachan calls the skein, “The closest thing there is this season to a sure thing.
“If the original ‘CSI’ is anything to go by, I imagine the writing won’t be half-bad either,” he says. “This show will have to do a lot of things wrong before I give up on it.”
The critics also had kind words for ABC’s “Push, Nevada,” NBC’s “American Dreams” and the WB’s “Everwood,” although with reservations. “Dreams” and “Everwood” are walking a fine line between sentiment and schmaltz, warn the critics, even some of the shows’ biggest supporters.
Meanwhile, the outlook looks bleak on the comedy front. In some slightly good news for beleaguered ABC, the two favorite newcomers are the Alphabet’s Tuesday entries “Life With Bonnie” and “8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter.”
The “Bonnie” backing should be no surprise; thesp Bonnie Hunt has been a favorite of critics for years, starting with her short-lived eponymous CBS laffer.
USA Today’s Robert Bianco calls her ABC show the class of the comedy field. “Hunt’s incredibly appealing but so far, she’s had trouble selling that appeal to a mass TV audience. I hope ‘Life’ lasts longer than her other attempts.”
Other laffers should be so fortunate: The critics panned most comedies, including ABC’s “Less Than Perfect,” CBS’ “Bram and Alice,” WB’s “Family Affair,” “What I Like About You” and “Greetings From Tucson,” and the NBC trio of “Good Morning Miami,” “Hidden Hills” and “In-Laws.”
But the prize for most derided new show, comedy or drama, went to Fox’s “The Grubbs.” “A repellent comedy about a repugnant family,” Roush says. “I hope it goes away quickly.”
The critics, meanwhile, say CBS boasts this year’s strongest schedule, followed closely by NBC.
“CBS could give NBC a real race this season,” Strachan says, “(but) barring a real swing in audience tastes, NBC can lock up another trophy.”