Wednesday: There’s fantasy, and there’s fantasy

[4 September 2007]

By Jamie Gumbrecht

McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

We have reality TV about people younger or more beautiful than ourselves (Kid Nation and America’s Next Top Model).

Fantasy TV about people smarter, younger and more beautiful than ourselves (Gossip Girl and Bionic Woman).

And sitcom TV about people too much like ourselves (`Til Death).

What we don’t have much of, though, is fantasy TV for pure fancy, for delight.

That alone makes Pushing Daisies one of the most unusual shows of the season, a true standout among the pack of freshmen comedies and dramas.

It’s a fantastic story of a pie-maker with a very special talent for bringing things back to life. That has made life difficult when he brings back the love of his youth, only under the condition that he can never touch her, no matter how much he loves her.

As a fairy tale and murder mystery, it’s intriguing enough. But the look of the show is something straight out of a Roald Dahl book. Saturated colors, fanciful fashions and odd cinematography create a world that seems a little like ours, but mostly like our imaginations.

You know, imaginations, where we are younger and more beautiful than we really are—and we believe it.


ABC: Pushing Daisies, 8 p.m., premieres Oct. 3

What: A pie-maker brings people back to life, including his childhood sweetheart, to solve the mysteries behind their deaths.

Who: Lee Pace, Anna Friel, Chi McBride, Kristin Chenoweth, Swoosie Kurtz, Ellen Greene.

Why: Part mystery, part fantasy, part romance, part comedy, it’s like Six Feet Under sprinkled with fairy dust.

How: After the sudden death of his dog, young Ned (Pace) discovered that he can bring things back to life. But he soon learns that if those people (or dogs) live for longer than one minute, something else must die in their place. Of course, if he touches the once-dead again within a minute, they’ll simply go back to being dead, and no one else suffers. This comes in handy when grown-up Ned, now an expert pie maker, makes some additional income by tapping murder victims, finding out who killed them, then collecting the reward money after putting them back to sleep. But when the love of his life (Friel) is murdered, Ned brings her to life and keeps her that way, hoping to solve her murder. Despite his continuing love for her, they can’t touch, or she go back to being dead.

This show feels and looks more like a movie, like Amelie or Big Fish. It is certainly the most unusual among the crop of new shows and deserves a large audience, if only for originality.

ABC: Private Practice, 9 p.m., Sept. 26

What: Dr. Addison F. Montgomery moves south to a new clinic with new drama, away from Seattle Grace.

Who: Kate Walsh, Amy Brenneman, Tim Daly, Taye Diggs, Audra McDonald, Paul Adelstein, KaDee Strickland, Chris Lowell.

Why: Three words: Grey’s Anatomy spin-off.

How: ABC didn’t release a screener of the new show, but we saw the beginning of the drama in last season’s extra-long episode of Grey’s. Addison (Walsh) takes up at a clinic run by old med school buddies. She’ll have California sunshine, rewarding work and plenty of sexual tension with new co-worker Pete (Daly). Addison also just discovered that she can’t get pregnant and that her friends’ perfect lives aren’t so sunny, especially among those unlucky in love. The hype factor for the show is high, but it might be this season’s Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip—a quality program with nobody to watch.

ABC: Dirty Sexy Money, 10 p.m., Sept. 26

What: A lawyer follows in his father’s footsteps to become the attorney-slave to the absurdly wealthy Darling family.

Who: Peter Krause, Donald Sutherland, Jill Clayburgh, William Baldwin, Natalie Zea, Glenn Fitzgerald, Seth Gabel, Samaire Armstrong, Zoe McLellan.

Why: America’s fascination with wealth and its owners is made real, but from the eyes of a character we actually like.

How: Nick George (Krause) promised himself he wouldn’t be an overworked absentee father like his own, but when his father dies, he inherits the family business: lawyering for the gold-plated Darling family. Not only does it require constant damage control; it also digs out some torrid secrets from both families. And what’s at the root of it all? Dirty money. Seductive money. And lots of it.

The title is misleading; this is more clever than sleazy. Krause is a gem, as always, and Sutherland is appropriately creepy as the head of the Darling clan. The curiosity is whether this show about the downfall of the wealthy can keep itself interesting without crossing over into annoying.

CBS: Kid Nation, 8 p.m., Sept. 19

What: Forty kids have 40 days to build and maintain a functioning economy and society without any adults to guide them.

Who: Kids ages 8 to 15.

Why: It’s a new and revealing twist on unscripted shows that boost CBS’s ratings.

How: Kids are left in a deserted New Mexico town to make it work. Nobody is voted off, but they can leave if they want. At the end of each episode, the town council chooses one child to receive a reward: a solid-gold star worth $20,000. A full preview wasn’t made available, but a 15-minute preview showed homesickness, peer pressure and kiddie meltdowns—plus leadership, teamwork and serious idea generation.

Some questions about the kids’ safety and working hours have come up since production ended. As the show’s premiere nears, expect to hear more about those concerns, and whether it was ethical to make the show at all, especially during the school year.

CW: Gossip Girl, 9 p.m., Sept. 19

What: Kids at expensive prep schools lead debaucherous lives; so do their parents. Gossip Girl and her blog watches all of them.

Who: Blake Lively, Chace Crawford, Kelly Rutherford, Leighton Meester, Taylor Momsen, Matthew Settle, Penn Badgley, Ed Westwick, Nicole Fiscella, Nan Zhang.

Why: The O.C. void must be filled.

How: Serena van der Woodsen (Lively) returns to Manhattan after a year at boarding school. (Of course, everybody knows what that means.) As she tries to re-enter the social scene, her best friend (Meester) decides she hates her, her best friend’s boyfriend (Crawford) decides he loves her, and the brother-sister duo from the slightly wrong side of the tracks (Badgley and Momsen) fall into her good graces. All of their parents, of course, have their own rich-people drama that seems secondary only to their children’s drug-, alcohol- and fashion-infused lives.

The show has some high production values and familiar faces from the teen scene, not to mention the weight of the Gossip Girl book series behind it. If kids were looking for a new set to love and loathe, this will do nicely, even on a coast far away from Orange County.

FOX: Back to You, 8 p.m., Sept. 19

What: A big-time TV anchor returns to a Pittsburgh station after an embarrassing, YouTube-spread blow-up.

Who: Kelsey Grammer, Patricia Heaton, Fred Willard, Ty Burrell, Josh Gad, Ayda Field, Laura Marano.

Why: Because Grammer is funny. Heaton is funny. And when they will be on your show, you put it on the air, no matter what it is.

How: Chuck Darling (Grammer) worked his way up the TV news ladder to become an anchor in Los Angeles, but an on-air outburst sent him packing. The only station willing to hire him? His old home in Pittsburgh, where, it turns out, he left a lot of himself behind. His old co-anchor and flame (Heaton) must deal with Chuck’s huge ego, and the new co-workers, like the young news director (Gad), must learn its intricacies.

It’s an old-school sitcom, complete with corny jokes and an abused laugh track, but there’s no denying the power of two impressive comedians paired up in a place as funny as a newsroom. The material isn’t great, but the two big stars carry it impressively.

FOX: Kitchen Nightmares, 9 p.m., Sept. 19

What: Another unscripted series from the unreasonably tempered chef from Hell’s Kitchen.

Who: Gordon Ramsay.

Why: Unscripted shows are cheap, and kitchen shows are popular.

How: Fox didn’t send out preview copies in time for this publication, but this time, Ramsay takes his rage-and-fire act on the road, stopping at restaurants in crisis to shape up the kitchen staff. Ramsay stakes his own reputation on his ability to shape up these restaurants before they’re closed down. Some questions have been raised about whether customers who appear in the show are hired actors, another cautionary tale in the reality of reality TV.

NBC: Bionic Woman, 9 p.m., Sept. 26

What: A smart, loyal 24-year-old woman is put back together after a not-so-accidental accident. She’s saved but is changed into someone, something new.

Who: Michelle Ryan, Miguel Ferrer, Molly Price, Will Yun Lee, Chris .Bowers, Lucy Kate Hale, Mark Sheppard.

Why: It’s like Alias and Heroes all wrapped into one, plus it has that catchy old name, Bionic Woman, and Kill Bill-type moves.

How: Jaime Sommers (Ryan) was just a bartender. She took care of her little sister (Hale) and was having a baby with her surgeon-boyfriend (Bowers). When the couple were in a car accident, the boyfriend took her to his lab to make her whole again. The catch? It gave her super-human strength. The only other person who’d gotten the same bionic treatment was made into a soldier. Now, the bartender with the sister and the boyfriend has to do her duty, and watch out for that first bionic woman.

The show pits ethics against love, free will against loyalty. If viewers can handle one more sci-fi superhero serial, they’ll turn to this one. She’s no cheerleader, but you want her to be saved, despite the cheesy monologues.

NBC: Life, 10 p.m., Sept. 26

What: A cop served 12 years of a life sentence for murders he didn’t commit and returns to the police force with some unorthodox, highly Zen methods and a lot of money.

Who: Damian Lewis, Sarah Shahi, Adam Arkin, Robin Weiger.

Why: It’s a new twist on the crime procedural; let’s make the cop a convict and give him a very peaceful spiritual center.

How: Charlie Crews (Lewis) got life for a triple homicide and was exonerated later. He received a big settlement, but he went back to work for the Los Angeles Police Department. In his work as detective, he uses some Zen meditative skills that he learned in prison. He tries to use new technology, but he’s still figuring out how cell phones work and what an IM is. As we watch Charlie, we also see documentary-style footage from his old partner, his ex-wife, all those who might have proved him innocent earlier but didn’t. And then there’s his new partner (Shahi), a woman with a messy past of her own but no settlement like Charlie’s. And the lawyer and the financial adviser who keep him and his millions in line.

It’s nice to see a cop show with a relatively light heart. There’s some heavy stuff in the background—someone killed those people and framed Charlie—but mostly, this detective seems to enjoy sharing peace, eating fruit and convincing himself that he is not one with his fancy new Bentley. Now, if he can just figure out how everything is connected, maybe real peace will come.


`Til Death, 8:30 p.m. Sept. 19, Fox: The only surprise out of this show is that it made it to a second season. The Brad Garrett-Joely Fisher vehicle is back for another year of wedded bliss and hatred.

Criminal Minds: 9 p.m. Sept. 26, CBS: Doesn’t matter too much what happened in the finale of this crime procedural. Everything is different now. Mandy Patinkin quit suddenly because of “creative differences.” Joe .Mantegna will play an FBI profiler who left for a life of lectures and book tours but comes back to crime-.solving.


Suggestions for how to plan your night of couch potato-ing:

Watch: Pushing Daisies, Private Practice, Dirty Sexy Money.

Record: Back to You, Bionic Woman, Life.

Forget: Deal or No Deal, Kitchen Nightmares.

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