It would seem that these tough, uncertain times would be the perfect environment in which to debut escapist shows, but in fact it's been just the opposite. The new fall television slate—the most robust since the Hollywood writers' strike derailed the industry—is deeply rooted in what's going on right now, our anxiety, our fear, our toil. Last fall, the CW debuted the short-lived (and underrated) Privileged, a comedy about a young woman whisked, almost magically, from her life as a lower Manhattan plebe to a luxurious mansion in Palm Beach, where she serves as a live-in tutor for a rich family. Did I mention it was short-lived? The 2007 and 2008 shows that rooted themselves in trashy opulence (Dirty Sexy Money, Cane) or quirky otherworldliness (Pushing Daisies) are off the air, quality be damned.
But that's not to say there isn't still some classic wish-fulfillment to be found, you just have to look for it. Let's go beyond whether or not the new shows are good or bad—if "good" was your only requirement your TiVo would already be stretched thin. Let's talk about if you need them in your life. Are they going to make you feel good? Are they going to reward your time? Do they dovetail with your view of the world? In The Middle, an ABC comedy, Patricia Heaton plays a mother of three who works as a car saleswoman. "I like to think of myself as a matchmaker," she says to her potential buyers. I, too, think of myself as a matchmaker between people and television shows. Take the short quiz that follows to determine your type, and the results will give you the new shows you should be watching. It's just like eHarmony, except it's free and your soulmate won't dump you—unless of course, your show gets canceled.
1. I would better enjoy my workplace if it included more:
A. Flirtatious, rakish copy boys
B. Hijinks stemming from co-workers misinterpreting words like "briefs" and "dictation"
C. Quidditch matches
D. Autopsy photos
2. I would most enjoy taking a cross-country road trip with:
A. Julia Roberts
B. Molly Shannon
C. Zooey Deschanel
D. Steve Buscemi
3. Which of the following catchphrases are you most likely to reference:
B. "What's on my mind grapes?"
C. "Are you trying to glamour me?"
D. "I got that pandemic!"
4. If there were to be a holiday-themed episode of your favorite show, you would probably most enjoy:
A. A Valentine's Day episode
B. An April Fool's Day episode
C. A Winter Solstice episode
D. None of the above
5. If you fell asleep while you favorite show was on, what would it cause you to dream about?
A. An incident in which you and an attractive yet initially abrasive stranger hail the same cab, then agree to share
B. An incident in which you accidentally invite two friends of yours, who were a couple prior to an ugly breakup, to have dinner with you at adjacent restaurants on the same night
C. An incident in which the magical amulet that landed you your longtime crush falls into the hands of your romantic rival
D. An incident in which a boorish rapper named Wayne South interrupts the award-acceptance speech of a young starlet … then turns up dead, leaving her the only suspect
Instructions for scoring:
For every A answer, give yourself two points. For every B, give yourself three points. For every C answer, give yourself four points. For every D answer, give yourself five points.
Now here are the results:
10 to 12 points: The Hopeless Romantic
You truly believe that love conquers all, and you like your television to have lots of romantic entanglements. Here are the shows I'd like to fix you up with:
Accidentally on Purpose, Mondays at 8:30 p.m. ET on CBS (begins Sept. 21)
Why yes, it does sound a lot like the popular film Knocked Up. Jenna Elfman stars as Billie, a film critic who has a one-night stand with a younger guy (Jon Foster) and winds up pregnant. Grant Show also stars as Billie's boss James, whom she recently broke up with. I see a love triangle in Billie's future.
Cougar Town, Wednesdays at 9:30 p.m. ET on ABC (begins Sept. 23)
If Accidentally on Purpose sounds like your cup of tea, then allow me to interest you in Cougar Town, the new creation from Scrubs mastermind Bill Lawrence. Jules (Courteney Cox) is a divorcée who throws herself into her work as a real-estate agent since she sees a bleak future as a single older woman. But she starts to find some success with younger men, which mortifies her teenage son (the lovable Dan Byrd.)
Melrose Place, Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET on The CW
Like the show on which it's based, the new Melrose features plenty of young, beautiful hotties getting in trouble and bedding each other. Also like its forebear, it has at its core a relationship that is meant to be perpetually doomed. Once it was Billy and Allison, now it's Jonah (Michael Rady) and Riley (Jessica Lucas.)
Mercy, Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET on NBC
The third entry in the recent new trend of medical shows about nurses rather than doctors, this drama falters when it focuses on the actual medical work. When it tries to mimic Seattle Grace it feels a little more comfortable. Stars the always-welcome Michelle Trachtenberg.
The Beautiful Life: TBL, Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET on The CW
Yet another CW show about walking sculptures with problems, TBL focuses on the modeling industry, and the budding romance between the newbies who are thrown like chum into the water: Chris (Benjamin Hollingsworth) and Raina (Sara Paxton.)
13 to 17 points: The Class Clown
You get enough drama in your daily life. When the TV goes on, you're ready to laugh. Here are the shows you'll want to pay attention to.
Bored to Death, Sundays at 9:30 p.m. ET on HBO
It certainly runs the risk of quirk overload, but this comedy about a restless, blocked novelist (Jason Schwarzman) who decides to moonlight as a private detective has some laughs and potential. Rounding out the terrific cast are Ted Danson and Zach Galifianakis.
The Cleveland Show, Sundays at 8:30 p.m. ET on Fox (begins Sept. 27)
How much of Seth McFarlane's brand of comedy is too much? We'll soon get an answer as Fox prepares to add yet another of his shows to its Sunday animation lineup. In this spinoff of Family Guy, Cleveland (voiced by Mike Henry) moves to his hometown of Stoolbend, Va., to take up with his high-school sweetheart. Like Family Guy it can be obnoxious, but when it's funny, it's hilarious.
Community, Thursdays at 9:30 p.m. ET on NBC
One of the most promising new comedies of the fall, Community stars the snarktastic Joel McHale as a disgraced lawyer who returns to community college for a chance at a new life. More than just being funny, it's intriguing. I'm not sure how they plan to make this concept work week after week, but I'm curious to find out.
Glee, Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET on Fox
I can't imagine that I have to tell anyone about Glee by now. But for the few who don't text-message often enough to have heard of it, this musical-comedy set in a high school is hilarious. The scenes with Jane Lynch's scheming cheerleading coach are reason enough to tune in.
The Middle, Wednesdays at 8:30 p.m. ET on ABC (begins Sept. 30)
I'm still trying to figure out if the title is brilliant or disastrous: the feel of this family sitcom is so similar to Malcolm in the Middle, the title begs comparisons. And while it's not quite as inventive as Malcolm, Patricia Heaton is winning as a harried Midwestern mom, and the writing is sharp.
Modern Family, Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET on ABC (begins Sept. 23)
Everything you've heard about Modern Family is true: it is indeed the funniest new comedy out there. An extended family is followed mockumentary style with gut-busting results. There's nothing better than a simple concept well executed, and it's always nice to see Ed O'Neill.
18 to 22 points: The Escapist
You're entranced by stories that are magical, mystical, and mysterious. There's not much of a dating pool this year, but don't get discouraged. Give these three a try:
Eastwick, Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET on ABC (begins Sept. 23)
Based on John Updike's novel and its film adaptation, Eastwick is about three women (Rebecca Romijn, Lindsay Price, and Jamie Ray Newman) in a quiet, coastal town who are suddenly drawn to each other and begin to discover that they have magical powers. But what's the agenda of the rich playboy who just moved to town? If you've seen the movie, you already know, but humor me.
FlashForward, Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC (begins Sept. 24)
Everyone on Earth blacks out for 2 minutes and 17 seconds, and gets a glimpse of their lives six months later. What if you like what you see? What if it terrifies you? Can you stop it, or ensure that it comes true, or does knowing change the course of events? This serial is no Lost, but has the potential to be a solid sci-fi drama.
The Vampire Diaries, Thursday at 8 p.m. ET on The CW
If you can't wait for New Moon to come out and fan fiction isn't doing the trick, the latest entry in the vampire craze could satisfy your bloodlust. Based on a series of young-adult novels, the series (from Dawson's Creek creator Kevin Williamson) follows a love triangle between a beautiful girl (Nina Dobrev) and a pair of vampire brothers (Paul Wesley and Ian Somerhalder).
23 to 25 points: The Realist
You like stories that are rooted in what really goes on in the world. As a result, you tend to drift toward procedurals and dark dramas. Here are your ideal matches:
The Forgotten, Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET on ABC (begins Sept. 22)
Perhaps the darkest show of the fall, The Forgotten follows a team of volunteers who set out to discover the identities of people found dead without identification. Rather than let them be buried in unmarked graves, they seek to give them a proper goodbye. Christian Slater heads the cast.
The Good Wife, Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET on CBS (begins Sept. 22)
It's a legal drama, but with a topical twist: Alicia Florrick returns to the courtroom after a long hiatus in which she stood in the shadow of her politician husband (Chris Noth.) When he's embroiled in scandal, she has to rebuild her life and keep her family together.
NCIS: Los Angeles, Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET on CBS (begins Sept. 22)
The hit procedural gets a sunny spinoff starring LL Cool J and Chris O'Donnell.
Three Rivers, Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on CBS (begins Oct. 4)
Alex O'Loughlin, late of Moonlight, heads this medical drama about a team of surgeons who perform lifesaving organ transplants. It's told from three points of view: the donor, the recipient, and the surgeons. Expect lots of tearful farewells.
Trauma, Mondays at 9 p.m. ET on NBC (begins Sept. 28)
Imagine a sweeps-month episode of ER, but every single week. That appears to be the goal of this medical drama about a team of first-responders in San Francisco. The pilot features as many explosions per hour as your average summer blockbuster but also has a strong emotional undercurrent.
V, Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET on ABC (begins Nov. 3)
It's about aliens, but I've got this show where it is for a reason. Perhaps the most polarizing show we'll see this fall, V is based on the '80s miniseries about an alien race that comes to Earth promising to solve our worst problems but actually has an evil intent. Elizabeth Mitchell stars as an FBI agent out to mount a resistance, but the unsubtle references to the Obama administrations will intrigue some and repulse others.