Last week shaped television forever — or at least for next fall — when the major networks held their annual upfronts, announcing their new fall schedules. In this process, it was revealed which shows were canceled, and, on a more exciting note, which new series had been picked up. Each network has released several promotional clips and trailers for each of their new series, many of which have already made their way on TV. While a thorough examination of each new show would far exceed the allotted space for this article, and any normal human’s attention span, here is a spotlight on the upcoming shows that matter — either for looking particularly strong or particularly awful.

The Strong

NBC’s “Awake”
This is shaping up to be best new series in a long time. Jason Isaacs, perhaps best known for portraying Lucius Malfoy in the “Harry Potter” films, takes the lead role in a series that is already earning comparisons to “Inception” for the way it plays with our conceptions of dreams and reality. The series follows a cop who gets into a car accident with his wife and son in the car. He wakes up into two different realities: one in which his son died in the crash, and one in which his wife died. He goes to sleep in one reality only to wake up in the other. But details from the realities begin to bleed over, as clues to a case in one reality spawn new leads in the other, and his two psychiatrists each attempt to convince him that the other reality is nothing but a dream. It’s a dark, surreal yet ultimately relatable, tale of not wanting to let go. This awe-inspiring new series comes from the great mind of Kyle Killen, the creator of last fall’s “Lone Star,” which was also met with critical acclaim. Hopefully this time, audiences will actually tune into his show. If the series is even close to as compelling as the trailer, they really should.

NBC’s “Smash”
Produced by some guy named Steven Spielberg, “Smash” is here to save TV musicals from the dreck that “Glee” has become. It follows the creation of a Marilyn Monroe- themed broadway musical and the rivalry between two actresses vying for the lead role. The series appears to take a much more sedated approach to the musical genre — campy only when the subject matter merits it. It’s a sometimes gritty, sometimes upbeat look at the struggles of being in the theater, made real by lead Katherine McPhee, a past “American Idol” runner-up. Hopefully it continues to be a musical only when necessary, instead of resorting to bizarre dentist-chair fantasies. With such great minds working both on and off the screen, there’s reason to be optimistic.

NBC’s “Free Agents”
It’s nice to see some smart, dry comedy on NBC, and even nicer to see Hank Azaria being lovably miserable. There’s a genuine, pretty sad story lingering there behind all the laughs. While it’s mostly a workplace comedy, this one’s really about the characters. This is going to be one of those shows that, like “Community,” doesn’t always have to be laugh out loud funny, because audiences will be invested in the story itself. The one bad thing about this show is that it’s getting a bit of an experimental run on Wednesdays instead of the prominent Thursday-night block spot it deserves.

FOX’s “New Girl” (working title)
Oh hey, Zooey Deschanel (“(500) Days of Summer”) is on television! And she looks fantastic. Her comedic timing is spot on, and her character is suitable quirky and awkward. After a horrible break-up, Deschanel’s character Jess seeks a new apartment and ends up moving in with three somewhat smarmy guys. It’s the classic tale of unlikely teamwork, but told in a sufficiently original way to make it exciting and very funny. Even though the guys are all kind of jerks and Jess is living an altogether misguided life, they’re all incredibly likeable.

ABC’s “Pan Am”
And finally, the rest of TV is catching up with “Mad Men.” ABC’s “Pan Am” follows a Pan Am stewardess who finds fame and drama after deciding she wanted to see the world rather than get married. But at times, it’s also a happy-go-lucky ’60s romp full of romance and wonder. With Thomas Schlamme (“The West Wing”) directing, it promises to be an entertaining and gripping look at the old era, from a different perspective from that of Don Draper.

CBS’s “Person of Interest”
Michael Emerson (“Lost”) is enough to make any new series seem appealing. He plays billionaire Mr. Finch, who has a mysterious list of people about to commit violent crimes, and hires vigilantes to prevent them from doing so. His newly hired vigilante is Reese, played by Jim Caviezel (“The Prisoner”), a government agent turned depressed homeless person. While the show may not have a particularly exciting or new premise, it does seem to be a particularly strong take on the action drama, with strong performances and compelling mysteries surrounding its main characters.

The Awful

NBC’s “Whitney”
Whitney Cummings is a fine stand-up comedienne. She should have stopped there. “Whitney” is full of the same jokes over and over, and they’re all the same jokes we’ve heard millions of times before about how often different kinds of couples have sex or marriage or how crazy weddings are. They’re not funny at all, and this show is stealing the spot on Thursday nights that “Free Agents” should have.

ABC’s “Work It”
Guys dress in drag to get jobs because women are controlling the working world. Then they have to keep it up for…ever. That’s right. It’s not just one episode about guys pretending to be women to achieve a goal — it’s a whole series. And it’s the least funny new comedy of the lot.

The Rest
While these are the standouts in terms of quality, there are plenty of original ideas left in the mix. “Terra Nova” sends humans back to dinosaur times, while “Alcatraz” brings Jorge Garcia (“Lost”), islands, time travel and JJ Abrams back together; and “The Playboy Club” takes its own stab at the “Mad Men” vibe. Ultimately, there’s no telling which shows will survive and which will meet untimely (or very timely) demises. So do yourself a favor and visit each network’s website or your favorite TV blog and watch the trailers for yourself.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.