TV

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Once upon a time in TV land...

The networks rolled out a hit-and-miss lineup of new Thursday evening shows

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NBC/GLOBAL/OCT. 3/7 p.m. (GLOBAL), 7:30 p.m. (NBC)

WELCOME TO THE FAMILY

Starring: Mike O'Malley, Mary McCormack, Ricardo Chavira, Justina Machado

Premise: A blended-family comedy about two sets of parents trying to get past cultural and attitudinal differences after teen pregnancy prompts their high school-age offspring to announce they're getting married.

Lowdown: A couple of guys who have put in time as solid supporting players -- O'Malley (Glee) and Chavira (Desperate Housewives) -- are given a chance to shine here. The storyline is about the teenagers, but it's the dads who carry the show, and their mutual dislike is the key to this single-camera comedy's success. Luckily, they're up to the task and Family, as a result, is a charmer. NBC is gambling on three high-profile new comedies to reclaim the "Must See" label on Thursdays, and this show is a good start.

Bottom line: Welcome to a solid block of rookie sitcoms.

ABC/CITYTV/OCT. 10/7 p.m.

ONCE UPON A TIME IN WONDERLAND

Starring: Sophie Lowe, Michael Socha, Peter Gadiot, Emma Rigby, John Lithgow

Premise: A sort-of spinoff of the popular Once Upon a Time fantasy, this time focused on the tale of a young girl in Victorian-era England whose family has her locked up in an asylum because she insists on telling tall tales of a strange new world she visited on the other side of a rabbit hole. Of course, her way out of captivity is through that same hole, which leads to Wonderland.

Lowdown: The producers of OUAT have proved that they can effectively mine fairy-tale material, and this new effort simply reinforces that fact. ABC did not provide a full pilot episode, but a 20-minute preview suggests Wonderland will dig deep into the Lewis Carroll classic for background details and then add a few modern-romance accents and lots of digital-effects wizardry to expand on the established brand while creating a style very much its own. Lowe, as Alice, seems like a very good fit.

Bottom line: Maybe not "ever after," but this could live happily in PrimeTimeLand for a few seasons.

CBS/GLOBAL/OCT. 3/7:30 p.m.

THE MILLERS

Starring: Will Arnett, Margo Martindale, Beau Bridges, Eve Moon, JB Smoove

Premise: A recently divorced TV-news reporter is looking forward to living the single life, but that plan is derailed when his father, inspired by news of the marital split, announces he's getting divorced, too, and his mother declares she's moving in with her son.

Lowdown: A quick look at the cast list would make you think this is a comedy with tremendous potential -- Arnett was a standout in Arrested Development, Bridges has shown he can bring the funny in shows like The Goodwin Games and Maximum Bob, and Martindale, while not known for comedy, was just about the best thing on TV during her Emmy-winning season on Justified. But... The Millers is pure, predictable sitcom hackery, filled with telegraphed old-school jokes and a cranked-up and eager-to-compensate laugh track. A disappointing waste of talent.

Bottom line: They've all walked out on each other; we might as well leave, too.

CBS/CITYTV/SEPT. 26/8 p.m.

THE CRAZY ONES

Starring: Robin Williams, Sarah Michelle Gellar, James Wolk, Hamish Linklater

Premise: A single-camera comedy about an eccentric genius who runs a major advertising agency and the daughter/partner who tries to keep his unpredictable behaviour from sinking the firm.

Lowdown: It's been a long, long time since Mork from Ork brought his improv silliness to the small screen (the series ran from 1978 to '82), but this much hasn't changed about Robin Williams: for most folks, he's a take-it-or-leave-it proposition, and even if you're a fan, you probably prefer his frenetic comedy in smaller doses. He's The Crazy Ones' biggest asset and greatest liability because his bubbling-over performance is the centrepiece of this story. He's very good in the pilot, but one can't help wondering if he'll be able to sustain audience interest over the longer term. Gellar is solid in support and Kelly Clarkson has a hilarious guest turn in the series premi®re.

Bottom line: Worth a look. Worth several, actually, to see if this turns out to be an addictive kind of Crazy.

NBC/OCT. 3/8 p.m.

(ALSO AIRS WEDNESDAYS AT 8 P.M. ON GLOBAL)

SEAN SAVES THE WORLD

Starring: Sean Hayes, Linda Lavin, Megan Hilty, Sami Isler

Premise: A divorced gay dad is struggling to balance parenthood and a demanding career; things get a bit easier -- and a lot more complicated -- when his know-it-all mom announces she's moving in to help share the load.

Lowdown: Hayes (Will & Grace) and Lavin (Alice) are old-time sitcom veterans, and this one has a decided old-style sitcom vibe to it -- for better and worse. There's nothing innovative about the traditional setup/punchline rhythm, so it'll be up to the writers and actors to make a very familiar format somehow feel fresh. Hilty (Smash) is a late cast addition, so what she'll contribute remains to be seen.

Bottom line: He did it once with his W&G castmates, but it's unlikely Sean will save the network this time around.

NBC/SEPT. 26/8:30 p.m.

(ALSO AIRS WEDNESDAYS AT 8:30 P.M. ON GLOBAL)

THE MICHAEL J. FOX SHOW

Starring: Michael J. Fox, Wendell Pierce, Betsy Brandt

Premise: After taking five years off to deal with a Parkinson's disease diagnosis and spend time with his family, a popular New York City TV-news anchor returns to his job and adjusts to a new set of workplace realities.

Lowdown: Fox, who remains one of TV's most beloved stars, has incorporated his disability into several recent guest-starring roles and has wisely chosen to make it part of this exceedingly charming new sitcom. While not exactly uproariously funny, this crisply written comedy delivers ample measures of charm and wit. Brandt (Breaking Bad) is a perfect foil as Fox's supportive-but-stressed wife, and Pierce (Treme) hits all his punchlines perfectly.

Bottom line: If there's a sure-fire hit in this fall's lineup, this is it.

CTV/OCT. 3/9 p.m.

PLAYED

Starring: Vincent Walsh, Chandra West, Lisa Marcos, Dwain Murphy

Premise: A Canadian cop drama that follows members of the elite Covert Investigations Unit as they embark on high-risk undercover operations to infiltrate and bring down criminal organizations.

Lowdown: Like Flashpoint before it, this is a Toronto-produced Canadian drama that in unapologetic in its use of Toronto landmarks and references -- a nice touch, after so many years in which homegrown dramas were so conspicuously made to look big-city generic in hopes of snagging a U.S.-network pickup. Unfortunately, this show otherwise looks and feels very much like a by-the-numbers, middle-of-the-pack cop drama. Up against the likes of Elementary, Scandal and Parenthood, it'll have a tough time getting noticed.

Bottom line: Played might soon find itself on pause.

RETURNING SHOWS:

The X Factor (premiered Sept. 12, Fox)

The Big Bang Theory (Sept. 26, CBS/CTV)

Parks and Recreation (Sept. 26, NBC/Citytv)

Two and a Half Men (Sept. 26, CBS/CTV)

Grey's Anatomy (Sept. 26, ABC/CTV)

Glee (Sept. 26, Fox/Global)

Elementary (Sept. 26, CBS/Global)

Parenthood (Sept. 26, NBC)

Scandal (Oct. 3, ABC/Citytv)

The Nature of Things (Oct. 3, CBC)

Doc Zone (Oct. 3, CBC)

brad.oswald@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @BradOswald

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 19, 2013 C8

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