Pop Culture

Fall dramas try to offer something for everyone

New fall dramas are all over the map. Longing for the good old days of the 1990s? "90210" is calling your zip code. More interested in reliving the mid-1980s? Rev up the engine for the "Knight Rider" remake.

Enjoy "Survivor," but kinda wish it was fictional? "Crusoe" tells the tale of one of the original island castaways, with no bleeped-out obscenities or tribal-council backstabbing.

The studios love to remake shows from across the pond, and this year is no exception. "Eleventh Hour" is based on a British miniseries, and "Life on Mars" has roots in a BBC original series.

"Fringe" is probably the season's most talked-about show. Created by "Lost's" J.J. Abrams and starring "Dawson's Creek" alum Joshua Jackson, the pilot alone cost a reported $10 million. Unfortunately, Fox might have been smarter to just take that money and mail a ten spot out randomly to a million people to try and get them to watch, because early reviews are less than stellar.

Looking for a bright side? Thanks to the strike-shortened season, very few pilots were available for review, so maybe there's a gem out there that no one, critics included, has yet seen. Stay tuned.

'90210'The success of "Gossip Girl," the hit drama about spoiled rich kids in New York, almost certainly inspired the CW braintrust to revisit "Beverly Hills, 90210," the 1990s hit drama about spoiled rich kids in L.A.

Michael Desmond
"90210" "We're Not In Kansas Anymore" Pictured: Dustin Milligan as Ethan Photo Credit: Michael Desmond/The CW ©2008 The CW Network, LLC. All rights reserved.

The new Brenda and Brandon, Annie and Dixon Mills, are obviously not twins (she's white, he's black and was adopted). But they're still siblings coming to the glitz and glamour of Beverly Hills from a supposedly more innocent state (Kansas, not Minnesota this time).

The show premiered on Sept. 2 to mixed reviews. Certain in-jokes hit the mark — an age joke about Andrea's daughter played off fans' knowledge that Andrea's portayer, Gabrielle Carteris, was already 29 when cast as a teen on the show. Jennie Garth and Shannen Doherty made their appearances, and there's a fun role for Erin Silver, Kelly's half-sister, remembered as a babe in arms from the original show.

Co-executive producer Gabe Sachs promised "edgier" plots, but as Anna Chan points out, nothing in the premiere seemed edgy, it was just soapy. The "Gossip Girl" influence seemed clear — there's a party every night for these high schoolers, and everyone has glitzy clothes to wear and a drink in hand.

A bright spot could be Tristan Wilds' Dixon. Fans of "The Wire" will remember him as Michael, and he shines here.  Let's hope they don't shy away from the racial angle Dixon brings to the show — the old "90210" was about as diverse as a glass of milk.

One to watch? Maybe. Fans of the 1990s original will want to see how well the Peach Pit and the original cast members have aged, but in this “Gossip Girl” world, Beverly Hills’ Zip code may no longer have the same cachet. (Premieres Sept. 2, CW, 8 p.m.)    —Gael Fashingbauer Cooper

'Crusoe'More than 40 years after 1960s series "The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe" aired on TV, NBC is bringing the famous castaway back to the small screen. "Crusoe," of course, is the name of a shipwrecked man who worked to survive on a not-quite-deserted island for almost 30 years.

The series is an adaptation of Daniel Defoe's 18th-century novel, and NBC says it's a "high-action, fast-paced, 13-part series (that) will combine for the first time the energy of network television while remaining faithful to the author's original classic story."

As its preview suggests, the show will focus both on island adventures and life in England, exploring Crusoe's relationship with his wife, father, and mentor. The latter two are played by the show's marquee talent: Sean Bean will appear as Crusoe's father, while Sam Neill plays family friend Jeremiah Blackthorn. (Crusoe himself is played by Philip Winchester.) On the island, Crusoe will also have what NBC describes as a "strong and unlikely friendship with Friday," who in the book becomes Crusoe's servant after he escapes from his cannibalistic peers.

One to watch? The preview makes "Crusoe" seem like a grand and epic series that was made for HBO or Showtime, although the Friday timeslot suggests NBC might not be as convinced. (Premieres Oct. 17, NBC, 8 p.m.)    —Andy Dehnart

'Easy Money'Though this drama brings more spoiled rich folks to the CW, it doesn’t focus on teenagers. Jeff Hephner stars as Morgan, a 28-year-old who takes over his family’s short-term loan business, only to discover that his paycheck might not be enough to compensate for putting up with his pampered, ethically challenged family.

Nick Searcy and comedy goddess Laurie Metcalf (Jackie on "Roseanne") play Morgan’s parents, and the ensemble cast also includes “Beverly Hills Cop” star Judge Reinhold as a part-time detective.

One to watch? Maybe. Of The CW’s new Sunday night shows, which all are produced by studio Media Rights Capital, “Easy Money” — which comes across as “Dirty Sexy Money” lite  — sounds the most promising.  (Premieres Sept. 21, CW, 9 p.m.)    —Jeff Hidek

'Eleventh Hour'One of many new shows being adapted from British originals, “Eleventh Hour” began as a British miniseries starring Patrick Stewart and “Ugly Betty’s” Ashley Jensen.

Marcel Williams / CBS ENTERTAINMENT
Rufus Sewell stars in ELEVENTH HOUR as Dr. Jacob Hood, a brilliant biophysicist and special science advisor to the government. His jurisdiction is absolute and Hood is dogged in his pursuit of those who would abuse and misuse scientific discoveries and breakthroughs for their own gain. ELEVENTH HOUR will premiere this fall on the CBS Television Network. Photo: Marcel Williams/Warner Bros. ©2008 Warner Bros. Television. All Rights Reserved.

For the new CBS drama, Brit actor Rufus Sewell takes over the Stewart role as Dr. Jacob Hood, a special science advisor to the FBI. Hood and his FBI handler (played by Marley Shelton) investigate “crimes and crises of a scientific or technological nature,” according to executive producer Cyrus Vori.

If that sounds an awful lot like that new Fox show “Fringe,” which features a government team investigating cases of “fringe science” and paranormal events, Vori was quick to point out to critics this summer that “Eleventh Hour” deals with science fact, not science fiction. The pilot episode deals with human cloning, and future episodes will tackle cryonic preservation and genetic engineering.

One to watch? Maybe.Success will depend more on the chemistry of Sewell and Shelton than the chemistry in the plotlines. (Premieres Oct. 9, CBS, 10 p.m.)    —J.H.

‘The Ex List’There’s nothing wrong with well-written shows that cater to a female-only audience. Then there’s “The Ex List,” a drama so poorly executed and demeaning to women that it’s a shame that the adorable Elizabeth Reaser — so intriguing as “Grey’s Anatomy's” Jane Doe — has chosen this dreck as her first lead TV role.

Cliff Lipson / CBS ENTERTAINMENT
THE EX LIST -- is a comedic drama about Bella Bloom (Elizabeth Reaser, left), an attractive 30-something successful business owner who is surprised to learn from a psychic (Anne Bedian) that she's already dated her future husband AND there's a catch: if she doesn't find him in the next year, she'll remain alone forever. THE EX LIST will be broadcast Fridays (9:00-10:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Photo: Cliff Lipson/CBS ©2008 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The premise is as thin as the script pages it’s written on. Reaser, a cute and bubbly thirtysomething, goes to a psychic who explains to her that she’s already dated her future husband. If she doesn’t reconnect with him over the next year, she’ll be single forever.

So out comes the list — didn’t we already do this on “My Name Is Earl”? — and she needs to check back in with all the guys that she broke up with since her teenage years. They should consider themselves lucky they got out when they did.

One to watch? Absolutely not. Make this show an "Ex" right from the start. (Premieres Oct. 3, CBS, 9 p.m.)    — Stuart Levine

‘Fringe’"Fringe" is the latest offering from TV auteur J.J. Abrams, of "Lost," "Alias," "Felicity," and "Mission: Impossible 3" fame, working with Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci.

Like Abrams' other series, "Fringe" will have a central mystery and mythology, as its characters try to discover why the passengers of a flight all died horrible deaths before the plane landed itself safely in Boston.

The show stars Joshua Jackson as the son of an institutionalized scientist who specializes in science that's not exactly scientific fact. Jackson's character reluctantly works with an FBI agent (Anna Torv) and tries to keep his father in line.

The two-hour premiere begins compellingly, but then quickly turns to the familiar, desperately trying to become another "Heroes" or "Lost" but instead ending up like an episode of one of the many quickly-cancelled sci-fi wannabe shows. ("Bionic Woman," anyone?)

"Fringe's" reported $10 million budget for its first episode is nowhere to be seen, nor is the talent of its marquee writer-producer, who's a lot better than this series.

One to watch? Those who love all things Abrams may not be able to help themselves, no matter how boring and uninspired the first two hours are. But those who value their time should spend it on better TV. (Premieres Sept. 9, Fox, 8 p.m.)    —A.D.

'Knight Rider'Really, "Knight Rider" is one of those gleefully goofy shows that should have been allowed to rest in peace and on Betamax.

Mitchell Haaseth / Gallery
"KNIGHT RIDER" MOVIE -- Pictured: Justin Bruening as Mike Tracer -- NBC Photo: Mitchell Haaseth

But in February 2008, NBC aired what's called a "backdoor pilot," testing the waters with a two-hour "Knight Rider" movie. It did well, and now the series gets a shot. Justin Bruening (best known from "All My Children") plays Michael Knight's son, Mike Traceur. His love interest, played by Deanna Russo, is the daughter of the original designer of supercar KITT.

But is it really "Knight Rider" without Michael Knight? According to WENN.com, David Hasselhoff is fuming because his vision for the remake wasn't listened to, so he won't be involved. But according to a video interview with The Hoff, he is supporting the show and will be making some appearances (although he calls Justin Bruening "that kid Jason").

Showrunner Gary Scott Thompson told Sci-Fi Pulse that the show needs to be more sophisticated, the characters more three-dimensional, and KITT's technology has to be amazing. "This car has  to not just change colors, this car has to transform into other vehicles," Thompson said.

One to watch? Could lose speed quickly. There's an audience for "Fast and Furious" type driving drama, but can it sustain a weekly series? (Premieres Sept. 24, NBC, 8 p.m.)    —G.F.C.

'Life on Mars'ABC’s only new scripted series this fall is another adaptation of a popular British show. In the BBC original, a cop wakes up after an accident to find himself living in the 1970s but still working on the police force.

LIFE ON MARS - "Life on Mars" stars Jason O'Mara as Sam Tyler, Harvey Keitel, Michael Imperioli as Detective Ray Carling, Gretchen Mol as Annie Norris and Jonathan Murphy as Detective Chris Skelton. Josh Appelbaum, Andre Nemec and Scott Rosenberg are executive producers. "Life on Mars" is produced by 20th Century Fox Television and ABC Studios. "Life on Mars" will air on Thursdays at 10:00 p.m. next season. (ABC/VIVIAN ZINK) JASON O'MARA 110830_112

This version, by “October Road” producers Josh Applebaum and Andre Nemec, keeps that premise, but moves the action to New York. Jason O’Mara stars as Sam Tyler, who must adapt to solving crimes without the use of modern technology while trying to figure out how he got to 1973 in the first place.

Though the British original ran for only 16 episodes, producers say the time period lends itself to many seasons of great storytelling. “There're a lot of similarities to where we are now,” Applebaum told critics this summer. “We were trying to get out of a war in which we were embedded. We had an unpopular president. There were (high) gas prices. It was a tumultuous time.”

The new adaptation itself has hada tumultuous time getting on the air — an original pilot by David E. Kelley was scrapped and all actors but O’Mara were recast. But the new cast features such heavyweights as Michael Imperioli and Harvey Keitel.

One to watch? Yes. If the how-Sam-got-there mythology doesn’t get too trippy, “Mars” could be one of this season’s best new shows. (Premieres Oct. 9, ABC, 10 p.m.)    —J.H.

'The Mentalist'Aussie Simon Baker returns to a lead TV role in this CBS crime show. He plays Patrick Jane, an independent consultant in the California Bureau of Investigation whose keen powers of observation help him crack cases.

Baker infuses a shot of cool to the otherwise standard crime procedural. His character faked his way through a career as a TV psychic before dedicating himself to work with the bureau. He's a renegade — sort of the Dr. House of criminal investigation — but also harbors a dark secret.

Robin Tunney, a familiar face to fans of the first season of "Prison Break," serves as the head of the crime unit. A la Cuddy on "House," she doesn't approve of Jane's tactics, but is forced to admit that he's an asset to the team.

Baker provides a central figure that viewers will come to love, making this more than just another procedural with interchangeable parts. The show also offers a chance for audience participation, as the clues Jane sees will be apparent to viewers who are paying attention.

One to watch? Yes. "The Mentalist" looks poised to become CBS's next big thing. (Premieres Sept. 23, CBS, 9 p.m.)     —Victor Balta

'My Own Worst Enemy'It seems the only role on TV big enough for Christian Slater is a double role. In "My Own Worst Enemy," Slater portrays two personalities contained within the same person. Think "Jekyll & Hyde" with a spy-thriller twist.

Filename: NUP_131350_0784.JPG -- Airdate: Mondays on NBC (10-11 p.m. ET) -- MY OWN WORST ENEMY -- Pictured: Christian Slater as Edward Albright/Henry Spivey -- NBC Photo: Paul Drinkwater FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY -- DO NOT RE-SELL/DO NOT ARCHIVE

Henry is a mild-mannered, clumsy suburban husband and father who has trouble getting a barbecue lit. Edward is a butt-kicking operative who breaks necks and has mastered the Hollywood art of coolly striding away from a building that he's just set to explode behind him.

The trouble starts when their worlds collide. Henry only begins to learn about Edward when an implant controlled by Edward's boss (Alfre Woodard) malfunctions and the two personalities begin to merge.

The show recently underwent a casting shift, with Yara Martinez ("The Unit" and "Vanished"), who was to play Slater's wife being replaced by Madchen Amick of "Twin Peaks."

One to watch? Maybe. There's intrigue with this being Slater's first regular TV gig, but recasting and a two-week delay from the originally scheduled start date could be cause for concern. (Premieres Oct. 13, NBC, 10 p.m.)    —V.B.

'Privileged'Another CW show focusing on super-rich kids, this dramedy will undoubtedly get lost in all that “90210” relaunch hoopla and be regarded as simply that other “Gossip Girl” copycat. Not so fast.

Jaimie Trueblood / THE CW
Privileged Pictured: Brian Hallisay as Will, JoAnna Garcia as Megan, Kristina Apgar as Lily Photo Credit: Michael Desmond / The CW © 2008 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

“Privileged,” based on the book “How to Teach Filthy Rich Girls” by Zoey Dean, was created by Rina Mimoun, who helped guide “Gilmore Girls” through its final season. The show centers around Megan Smith (Joanna Garcia), a Yale grad who puts off her dream of becoming a writer to work as a tutor for two rich brats in Palm Beach.

“It's the whole idea about when you want to change the world, sometimes you just have to start with two spoiled teenagers and go from there,” Mimoun told TV critics this summer. With high society shindigs, a powerful matriarch and a balance of humor and poignancy, early glimpses of the show drew comparisons to “Gilmore” from critics. Mimoun put it this way: “It's very much ‘What if the 'Gilmore Girls' were teaching the 'Gossip Girls’?”

One to watch? Yes. All the “Gilmore Girls” comparisons are probably unfair, but if you’ve wanted Serena and the “Gossip” gang to lighten up and take a pratfall or two, seek out “Privileged.”  (Premieres Sept. 9, CW, 9 p.m.)    —J.H.

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