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New fall shows have lessons in common

Oh, sure, you may think fall is a long way off. Likewise, the networks' new fall shows. But don't bet on it.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Oh, sure, you may think fall is a long way off. Likewise, the networks' new fall shows.

But don't bet on it. Time is just a contrivance. You can skip willy-nilly through months or even years. At least, that's one of the fanciful lessons you can expect from the upcoming TV season. Just you wait.

Not that you have to. Already you can sample "Journeyman" (a mystery about a newspaper reporter who unaccountably starts shuttling through time) on NBC's Web site.

Other new shows can be previewed on their networks' Web sites, too. See? Fall is closer than you think. With lots of lessons in store.

For instance: Death is a mercurial condition. In the hands of an expert, it's even reversible.

Or so argues ABC's romantic fantasy "Pushing Daisies," whose mild-mannered hero, Ned, has the power to bring murder victims back to life with just his touch _ at least long enough for them to blow the whistle on their killers.

But "Pushing Daisies" has more to say: how good things often come with a catch. Such as: Ned can't touch anyone a second time. If he does, that person will die for keeps. Which really puts a crimp in Ned's love life.

Every year, TV critics search for common themes linking the fall lineup. They're never hard to find. In 2003, no fewer than eight new sitcoms (including "Two and a Half Men" and "Arrested Development") dwelled on the principle of family entrapment.

The year before that, ABC and the now-defunct WB each launched a series about a thirtyish single guy zapped back to his high school years in the 1980s ("That Was Then" and "Do Over"). It was also the year ABC and CBS each unveiled dramas about doctors at a San Francisco hospital, then, for good measure, scheduled those shows in the same time slot, with similar titles ("MDs" and "Presidio Med") to add to the confusion.

Last year (as if you'd forgotten), dramatic serials were all the rage. Until they quickly weren't.

So what's the looming trend this fall? It would seem to be a mix-and-match menu of sci-fi, fantasy, mysticism and existential inquiry. Often with a contrarian twist.

"Everyone seems to want what I have," declares John Amsterdam, a veteran New Yorker who was granted immortality in 1642. "It's not as simple as they think."

No, there's a catch. (Again with the catch!) The hero of Fox's "New Amsterdam," he's been feeling seriously alone for nearly 400 years. It even drove him to drink. Then to AA. And now, maybe having found his One True Love at long last, he risks losing immortality in the bargain.

"So you meet her, and die?" inquires his bartender chum. "Doesn't sound too romantic."

These days, Amsterdam makes his living as a New York homicide detective. But he's not the only ageless gumshoe who's looking for love.

Vampires, ‘Bionic Woman’ remake
On CBS' "Moonlight," Mick St. John is a private eye who was bitten by his vampire bride on their wedding night 60 years ago. But as he lives eternal life as a vampire, he refuses to bite back. Instead, he uses his powers to help mortals preyed upon by unrepentant bloodsuckers.

At the same time, he's sweet on a beautiful reporter. Might this mortal woman love him, too, if she knew he was a vampire? Anybody want to lay odds on what would happen if he told her?

Love. Immortality. Maybe you just can't have it all.

On the other hand, Chuck Bartowski has too much. Too much information, that is. The hero of NBC's comedic spy thriller, "Chuck," he was a computer nerd whose brain got downloaded with the government's most sensitive secrets. Which puts him at the mercy of all sorts of terrorists and other scoundrels who want to know what he knows.

The clear message here: being a know-it-all will get you into trouble.

But at least Chuck's high-tech enhancement let him keep all his original parts. As the title character of NBC's "Bionic Woman," Jaime Sommers has been retrofitted from head to toe.

Jaime's boyfriend is the surgeon who customized her with a $50 million upgrade. He has also dragged her into the shadowy organization that funded it. She can't get away. Any more than Chuck can break free from his unsought role as a brainy secret agent. Or Mick St. John can stop being a vampire.

It seems all these new series are singing the same tunes. A wariness of science yet a grudging dependency upon it. A yearning to defy death, while recognizing certain other things are even worse. And the revelation that love doesn't come easy.

Plus, everyone is occupied with offbeat forms of public service.

Like on "Reaper," the CW's lighthearted series about a 21-year-old slacker named Sam whose parents, in a weak moment, sold his soul to the devil.

"You're just gonna bring escaped souls back to Hell," explains Satan, pleasantly outlining Sam's duties. "You know, like a bounty hunter. That's cool, right?"

Well, yes, it IS cool, Sam decides. For the first time in his life, he has a purpose, a mission in this earthly realm. And a chance at sharing wisdom with six other new shows.