The top 10 new shows of the upcoming 2010 US TV season…

14 Aug

After watching quite a few of the pilots for the upcoming season of US television I thought I’d share my thoughts on the best shows coming out in the next few months (and some of which have already started very recently).

I won’t include the mid-season shows that I’ve seen, like Walking Dead (on AMC) or Love Bites (on NBC, that’s had half the cast drop out or get pregnant), and some of couple of the entries are picked from impressive credentials (and not on the pilot or first few episodes).

It’s been a pretty shoddy season in some respects, and I think I may have enough shows to fill a ‘Top 10 Worst shows of the upcoming 2010 US TV season’, but there’s also some really brilliant shows out there too (though some are a little tucked away and may need some pointers to find when they finally come to air).

So here goes…

10. Mary Shelley’s Frankenhole.

From the equally fantastic and baffling mind of Dino Stamatopoulos (what a name!), the creator of the criminally underrated stop-motion claymation Moral Orel, comes another new clay/papermation with a twisted vibe cast across it.

I’ve seen the first five (ten minute) episodes so far and was definitely underwhelmed at first, as I was with the first few episodes of Moral Orel, but the fifth episode (entitled ‘Attack Of The Were-Lawrence’) had a glimpse of the genius that I was waiting for. For the sake of ten minutes a week, even if 1/5 are of ‘great’ quality then I definitely reckon it’s worth sticking with.

The show airs on Adults Swim in the US at 12.30am on Sundays. It hasn’t currently been picked up in the UK (although it may end up on the Adult Swim segments on FX).

9. The Event.

Like a couple more of the entries in this list, I’ve yet to see the pilot episode of this (because I was annoyingly off on a half-day when we had a screening of it). However, the buzz around the office was clear that this was ‘probably’ going to be the show with the biggest marketing push when it’s released (at the moment it seems to be doing a bit of an Avatar, with a mysteriously low key presence at the moment that is sure to build-up to annoyingly in-your-face promotions close to release date).

The extended promo I saw seemed solid enough, I guess, but whether it truly captures the Lost and 24 market, as it’s clearly hoping to capitalise on, or go the way of Flashforward remains to be seen – but if the makers think the hook of ‘bla bla bla is not The Event’ (as seen in the first trailer) is a surefire winner then viewers will turn over in droves.

The Event begins on Monday September 20th at 9pm on NBC in the US. It will air on Channel 4 from (around) October.

8. Nikita

One of the biggest surprises of the screenings this year was the Maggie Q fronted thriller / drama Nikita. Why? Because The CW is a channel that isn’t naturally associated with dramas I enjoy watching, with it’s main staples like 90210 and Gossip Girl littering the schedule. It generally feels like a much younger, female, soppier channel that I’d usually find things I enjoy watching, and it’s not helped that the worst pilot I saw this year (that I watched before this) is also premiering on The CW.

But Nikita was genuinely a solid, watchable thriller. I thought, at first, that Maggie Q was a poor choice for the lead role, as she struggled to captivate me in the first 15 minutes, but I warmed to her quickly and think she ‘does’ have the credentials to pull this through. The initial concept of a secret underground school of assassins seems a little forced, and some of the scenes there were a little cheesy, but I was oddly intrigued on how the title character would manage to infiltrate and destroy it – and the delicious twist at the end made it even more intriguing! The action scenes were solid, the writing wasn’t embarrassing (like many of the network’s most promoted shows) and if the twists and turns of the pilot continue for a full season then I know I’ll stick with Nikita to the end…

Nikita begins at Thursday 9th September at 9pm on The CW. It has been picked up by Living in the UK and will begin shortly after that.

7. My Generation

I watched the initial promo to this seemed to have a Marmite effect when I first watched it with a group of people – I found it captivating, fresh and was intrigued how this would play out. The other half of people said it looked boring, was too niche sounding and would almost definitely be canned after a few episodes.

The pilot finally came in and had a similar reaction from people. I loved it, respected the limitations the documentary format had to pull the plot forward but found it really interesting how they tied real-world events (with a very American skew, obviously) into the lives of these seemingly random people who all left University at the same time (in 2000). There’s every stereotype under the sun (the jock, the nerd, the rich guy etc) and in a surprisingly unforced way we learn what they’re up to now (something I can relate to right now, as I pry the Facebook pages of old school people to see what they are doing now). I think the documentary style (similar to The Office, in a sense) has the opportunity to create really powerful moments, assuming this show does get the chance to play out to a full season.

The characters are intriguing, the setting isn’t madly riveting but it’s interesting enough and the entangled lives of these people (after so long) has a pull that really drew me in to keep watching. Again, many people who saw this hated it and there were others who loved it – I happen to fall onto that latter side, and I really hope there’s enough of us for this not to be cancelled before it’s given a proper run.

My Generations begins on Thursday September 23rd on ABC. It hasn’t been picked up by a UK channel yet (and probably fits best on BBC4 or More4).

6. Rubicon

The channel behind the brilliant Breaking Bad and Mad Men enters the fray with a third attempt to make a classic drama; have they done it?

Well the pilot episode (which is sadly where I’m up to so far) suggests… quite possibly! It’s not as approachable as Mad Men or contain as many interesting characters as Breaking Bad (though how many shows do?) but it has a certain something that I loved. It’s packed to the brim with mystery, with the lead characters reminding me a little of Jonathan Creek. The atmosphere throughout the first episode was mournful, with little touches like the protagonists office by a busy main road that oddly added some real depth to sometimes long, dialogue heavy scenes.

Where’s the show going to go from here? Will it be more procedural from now on or will it continue down the winding, unforgiving path that the viewer is currently on? If the quality keeps up and there’s pay-offs to all these mysteries that tread the fine line of not dragging on to long but being satisfying to the viewer then this can sit proudly with the current AMC crop.

Rubicon airs on Sunday nights on AMC. It hasn’t been picked up by a UK channel yet (and probably fits best on BBC2 / BBC4).

5. Running Wilde

Much of the team behind Arrested Development are back and, amazingly, on the same channel that treated them so badly during the brilliant comedies first venture. Well Fox is certainly taking a risk as no matter how brilliant Arrested Development is it never rated, no matter what they did. The same is in the UK, where every channel that has ever tried to air it in a regular slot has been rewarded with tiny ratings (see: BBC2, Virgin 1…) and seems to be the odd mix of genius and unwatchable on live television.

But none-the-less, the team of Mitch Hurwitz (lead writer) and Will Arnett (Gob) are back on the screens of Fox and in a show that, during the pilot at least, gave me a slightly nauseous feeling throughout. It’s not that the show is ‘bad’ (hence it being number five on this list) but I was also aware that this was, if anything, even more difficult (for the broader public) and niche than Arrested Development and, therefore, will probably go the same way as it.

I’ve placed Running Wilde at number five because I think it could go either way. The pilot had some brilliant one liners (right up there with the best Arrested Development ones) but it didn’t have that genius interconnected plot, with the awesome pay-off, as Arrested Development rewarded us with every episode. Some of the other characters are strong, especially Wilde’s rival, but I felt that this still has some way to go to have a chance of being in the same ranks as it’s predecessor. It’s definitely one for the ‘must watch’ list, and I do have faith that it can be special (especially with David Cross, AKA Tobias in AD, on board in future episodes) but there’s also a niggling worry that it’s not quite there yet.

Running Wilde begins on Tuesday September 21st on Fox. It’s not been picked up in the UK yet (and probably fits best on E4, BBC2 or FX)

4. Outlaw

This is another slightly risky entry, as this is the second show in the list that I’ve yet to see. I watched the promo and was excited to see Jimmy Smits in another major role – I loved him in The West Wing and Dexter and he’s definitely one of my favourite faces to watch on the small screen.

The plot sounds promising too, as a Supreme Justice judge quits his prestigious role to become a smalltime lawyer to try and fix some of the (many) problems in US law today. If it’s as intelligent and well written as it looks, and I’ve no doubt it will be, then this may become one of my favourite shows of this new season. It had a slight West Wing feel to it and I’ve missed that kind of grand ideology television that it delivered so perfectly, so this could tick the box that Aaron Sorkin used to offer up on a weekly basis.

Outlaw begins on Friday Septeber 24th on NBC. It hasn’t been picked up in the UK yet (and probably fits best on BBC4 or More4).

3. Raising Hope

Every year there tends to be a break-out show that captures the public imagination and latches on to common folklore for the next couple of years. Last year it was Glee, and it’s been shows like Heroes, Lost, Scrubs etc in the past. Shows that people at work talk about, shows that entertain the masses and don’t really challenge them too much either.

Well I predict that, probably, the big break-out hit of this year will be Raising Hope. There’s nothing particularly different about it, and it doesn’t have this snug fit into the gap in the market that The Event has thanks to the end of Lost and 24, but it’s simply the funniest and most charming pilot of this year and I unexpectedly witnessed a bidding war in the UK for it purely down to that opening episode (that was ultimately won by the seemingly unlimited coffers of Sky).

It follows a clueless teenager as he finds out he has a baby, and the first ten minutes (as it runs up to that moment) zip along at a pace that is both narratively refreshing and hilarious. And as he slowly comes to grips with responsibilities and dirty nappies (something I can barely comprehend) his dysfunctional family (with mental grandmother in toe) come together and vow to (just about) raise baby Hope as best they can.

If Sky 1 can get an audience to the first episode then the sheer quality and number of laughs that this rewards viewers will guarantee them a hit. They slightly failed on that with last year’s new comedy Modern Family, that did ‘ok’ but hardly resonated across popular culture, and this is a better, more marketable show that has the potential to be the break-out commercial hit of this upcoming year. We’ll see…

Raising Hope begins on Tuesday September 21st on Fox. It’s been picked up by Sky 1 in the UK and should air around a week after that.

2. The Big C

The best pilot I’ve seen this year has to be for Showtime’s drama The Big C, which brings together a cast that would be impressive in a film – let alone on television!

Laura Linney (best known, in my mind, as the wife in The Truman Show), Gabrielle Sidibe (who won the Oscar this year for her brilliant portrayal of a New York student in Precious), Oliver Platt (who has been in countless films and television shows, best known to me as White House council Oliver Babish in The West Wing) and Idris Elba (best known in The Wire) all star in the show, about Laura Linney’s good natured but difficult struggle when she finds out she has incurable cancer.

Many of the people who watched the pilot with me compared it to Six Feet Under, in that it’s ultimately a black comedy about death and family. But I saw it more like a darker Cougar Town (Courteney Cox’s attempt at not being Monica in Friends, in what turns out to be a surprisingly solid feel-good comedy) – where main characters come to terms with difficult circumstances (divorce on Cougar Town, cancer in this) and see it as an opportunity (seeking younger men in Cougar Town, building a swimming pool and generally setting herself free of life’s norms in this). At times The Big C was hilarious, as the brilliant cast all make each role their own, and other times it was incredibly sad (especially the final scene) – this was genuinely quality television for every minute it was on, and Laura Linney is definitely a shoe-in for an Emmy next year too.

1. Broadwalk Empire

Is it possible for anything else to be number one this year?

The one show that may finally bridge the gap between television and movies, to finally unite them into one visual art medium. Although I’ve yet to see the pilot, the promo confirms this is gorgeous and set in an era that is absolutely compelling and rich in plot potential. Steve Buscemi (the cult favourite in many classic films) stars as a gangster in the prohibition era in America, where alcohol was banned and a new era and surprisingly exciting era in the country’s history dawned.

Created by Terence Winter (who also created a little known show called The Sopranoes) and backed by Goodfellas genius Martin Scorsese, with a cast and visual aesthetic easily as acomplished as any major motion picture, this really is classic television on the making.

Broadwalk Empire begins on Sunday September 19th on HBO. It’s been picked up as part of the HBO-exclusive deal that Sky struck recently, so will probably air on Sky 1 or Sky Movies Premiere in October.

So that’s it.

It’s looking to be a good television season this year, and with my favourite established shows (bar Lost) all making a return this looks like my hours after work will be firmly on my HD screen.

Hopefully this will guide a few people at least to some of the gems in this year’s crop and hopefully, just hopefully, they all live up to what their pilots (or promos) suggest.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s