The second half of the 2010-11 television season has begun with a number of new series on the major networks. There will be more to come; some better, some worse. (And, to bring up another inexorable fact, some of the better ones will die on the vine, while some of the lousy ones will become smash hits -- or at least resemble them.) Here's my look at three of these new series: two of them dramas, the other a comedy.
NBC's new big-budget superhero drama, "The Cape," airing Mondays at 8 p.m., is another turn at bat from a network that needs a buzz-building hit -- and rather desperately at that. It appears that NBC has allowed the makers to indeed swing for the fences with this one, but ultimately "The Cape" feels like a feature script that was reworked to fit inside the confines of an hour-long TV show.
The first 10 minutes, which set up the show's premise (a good cop framed for crimes he didn't commit is forced underground -- and into the guise of a comic-book hero -- to fight a supervillain out to control a city), made me feel like there needed to be another 20 or so to allow the story's rising action to really take shape.
The entire show has this herky-jerky way about it: whole chunks of plot development are jumped over in order to get the story moving, which translates into the constant feeling that you've missed something, even when you haven't.
Veteran character actor Keith David seems to be having fun as the leader of a carnival-themed band of not-so-bad bad guys who help the hero and there are a couple of exciting fight scenes, but the central character (played by David Lyons) doesn't possess enough of the gravitas or spark needed to hold the enterprise together. Two stars (out of four).
"Grey's Anatomy" and "Private Practice" creator Shonda Rhimes took pains to let a recent critics' gathering know that she didn't create "Off the Map" (Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on ABC) -- she's merely the executive producer of the new hour-long drama set at a remote hospital "somewhere in South America," but shot in Hawaii.
The show has much in common with her other medical soaps, however, which have been successes (particularly in the case of Grey's): an attractive cast, wild tonal swings from emotionally-charged drama to goofy comedy and back, the promise of potentially disastrous romantic entanglements.
Unfortunately, it has something else in common with those other shows -- a weak first episode. And in Off the Map's case, it's particularly anemic. The dialogue clunks and sputters like an overused and underoiled engine, the characters are as slim as cardboard cutouts -- and half as compelling -- and the situations are chunked-and-formed plot loaf extruded from the TV Writer's Recycle-O-Matic.
On the plus side, though, the scenery sure is pretty. Too bad I saw most of it on Lost. One-and-a-half stars.
Fox added the best new comedy of the midseason crop so far when "Bob's Burgers" (Sundays at 7:30 p.m.) joined its lineup last week; it's an animated comedy about a family that owns and operates a restaurant that has seen its share of ups and downs (and you get the feeling that the downs are leading in that race).
What I liked in particular was the voice cast, which handles the up-tempo parry-and-thrust of the dialogue with aplomb, plus there's a warmth and sweetness about the show overall that isn't present in most of the other shows in the network's self-proclaimed "Animation Domination" block.
It's not a perfect show (the stories are pretty much the standard family sitcom tropes, even when heightened to a "wacky animated show" level), but there's a lot of potential here -- and frankly, at midseason, that's more than enough. Three stars.