Fall 2007 TV Lineup: What to Watch on Wednesday

Gossip Girl
The CW, 9:00 ET, premieres Sept. 19
In "The O.C.," show creator Josh Schwartz took viewers behind the gates of Orange County's most exclusive communities to reveal what we've come to expect to find when we delve into the lives of the rich and powerful: sadness, despair, betrayals, manicured lawns and gardens that smell of rot. In Schwartz's new Manhattan-set teen drama, "Gossip Girl," the landscaping has changed, but the landscape is the same—there's a Brahmin-level social status with room for a precious few. The elite insiders all want out; the outsiders all want in.

Developed from the best-selling young-adult book series, the show follows the every move of Serena van der Woodsen (Blake Lively), the gravitational center of all teenage life on the Upper East Side. Her classmates are so absorbed in her life that they text and e-mail her every move to the anonymous teen-society blogger Gossip Girl (voiced by Kristen Bell, late of "Veronica Mars"). When Serena breezes back into town after an abrupt exit, everyone's Facebook pages are all atwitter. Why did Serena leave? And why did she come back? Does it have something to do with her best frenemy Blair (Leighton Meester), whose boyfriend Nate (Chace Crawford) may harbor feelings for Serena? The story is mostly told from Serena's vantage point, but viewers will sooner relate to the Humphreys, Dan (Penn Badgley) and Jenny (Taylor Momsen), a social-climbing brother and sister who would each other over a spit to vault into the social inner circle.

As usual, New York is meant to look prettier than it really is and instead looks uglier, a myopic view of bony-faced white teens whose entire existence extends the length of four city blocks. "Gossip Girls"'s characters are also unusually adult in their behavior. It's the opposite of a show like "Beverly Hills 90210," wherein the kids looked to be in their early 30s but acted like teenagers. These teen actors look the part but drink, smoke and sleep around so much the show could have easily been adapted from a Bret Easton Ellis novel. That said, for what it is, "Gossip Girl" is sort of lovable in its trashy, insular way. And as sad as it is to think of fictional teenagers drinking, drugging and clawing each other's eyes out, it's sadder to think of actual teenagers crowded around a television watching it. Shouldn't they be out lording over cliques of their own?

Back to You
Fox, 8:00 ET, premieres Sept. 19
It's no wonder the new Fox sitcom "Back to You" was generating early buzz as a possible savior for the challenged multicamera sitcom format. Have a look at that pedigree: the show stars Emmy winners Kelsey Grammer and Patricia Heaton, two of the most acclaimed sitcom actors of the past decade. It was created by Steven Levitan, creator of "Just Shoot Me," and Christopher Lloyd, a former writer for "Frasier," "Wings" and "The Golden Girls." The legendary sitcom director James Burrows helmed the first episode. This all bodes very, very well.

Does the show live up to the combined talents of its cast and crew? Not quite, but "Back to You" is often funny and endearing, and while the pilot is a little bumpy, it's an auspicious beginning nonetheless. Grammer plays Chuck Darling, a prima donna of a Pittsburgh news anchor who returns to the city after ascending to larger markets. (A YouTubed freakout causes his fall, continuing the annoying trend of using the site to provide verisimilitude.) In taking back his anchor chair, he rejoins his former partner Kelly Carr (Heaton), reigniting both their discordant working relationship and Sam-and-Diane-style playground romance. She's the humble, consummate professional, he's the jerk—in Kelly's words, "a preening gasbag"—who throws his weight around as if he hasn't come limping back to his old job, tail tucked between his legs.

Their comic rapport isn't even the best on the show—that honor goes to Ayda Field's cartoonish, vampy weather girl Montana and Ty Burrell's field reporter Gary, whose vicious sniping cuts deeper and hits harder than that of their marquee betters. The indispensable Fred Willard will hopefully get more scenes in which to recreate his priceless "Best in Show" performance as the network's indiscreet sports anchor.

There's a revelation about Chuck and Kelly's relationship that we won't spoil, but it's the most problematic aspect of the pilot. It's meant to pluck heartstrings, but it only weighs the show down. However, it does set up long-term possibilities for the plot, which could make the initial thud ultimately worth it. Will "Back to You" hasten a return to the days when taped-before-a-live-audience comedies ruled the airwaves? Probably not, but it isn't a bad start to jolting life into a dying format.

Bionic Woman
NBC, 9:00 ET, premieres Sept. 26
Everything old is new again. No, seriously, everything. Even the campiest of familiar characters is getting a fresh coat of paint, thus NBC's "Bionic Woman," revived sans "The," because articles are, like, so whatever. Also because in this version, Jaime Sommers (Michelle Ryan) isn't the only one of her kind. More on that later.

The new "Woman" is given a back story with some semblance of emotion and depth. Jaime is a college student who works nights at a bar, struggling to support herself and her wayward teenage sister Becca (Lucy Hale.) Jaime's bland professor, Will (Chris Bowers), is totally violating the university code of conduct by dating her. Their relationship is a source of solace and grounding for Jaime, as her moments with Will distract her from the weight of the responsibility she's carrying. So what better moment than on a placid, chatty drive with Will to have a semi T-bone the car, flipping it and wrapping it around a light pole. Will walks away with minor scratches. Jaime is rolled away on a stretcher.

Good thing for her Will is a surgeon in an off-book government operation developing advanced bionic technology for military applications. Determined not to lose the love of his life, Will rebuilds Jaime—better, stronger, faster and kind of pissed off that her body is now made up of weird synthetic cells. In addition to learning how to use her newly enhanced eye, arm, ear and legs, she has to do battle with Sarah Corvus (the mesmerizing Katee Sackhoff), the earlier Bionic Woman model who was presumed dead and has since gone rogue.

According to the plot, Jaime and Sarah are unequally matched because Sarah has spent more time honing the use of her bionic parts. Actually they're unequally matched because Ryan plays Jaime as a dull, wide-eyed naïf who seems as if she would blow right over even in her most ass-kicking moments. Sackhoff, meanwhile, gives Sarah silver-screen scale; she's quippy but no less menacing for it, as though she was plucked out of a blast of a summer action blockbuster and dropped into a TV show that would be mediocre if not for her.

Because Ryan's lead performance is so flavorless, all "Bionic Woman" does is make you wish the show was less about Jaime and more about Jaime's nemesis. More bad news: Sackhoff is pulling double-duty on "Battlestar Galactica," so her character won't be featured in every episode. But there's always hope: maybe Jaime's personality will be critically injured in a hang-gliding accident.

Life
NBC, 10:00 ET, premieres Sept. 26
The pilot of NBC's new cop show "Life" tells us quite a bit about its main character, Charlie Crews (Damian Lewis.) He was a promising young cop before being framed for a triple homicide. He served 12 years in prison—practically a death sentence when the inmates know you used to carry a badge—before a hot hotshot lawyer (Brooke Langton) got him out. The state awarded him a $50 million settlement for his trouble, not to mention restoring his status as a cop. He's paired with Dani (Sarah Shahi), a by-the-book cop who is skeptical of Charlie's intuitive policing. But there's a vital question that the pilot fails to answer about Charlie: was he an insufferable jackass before his incarceration, or did he become one behind bars?

It probably doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things. Whether it's by nature or nurture, Charlie is one of the most irritating television characters in recent memory, and not someone you'd like to spend more than an hour with. He's of the grandstanding, know-it-all variety of television cop, except that he doesn't know it all—he's been in jail for more than a decade, after all, and the show leans hard on his Rip van Winkle ignorance. "What's an IM?" he earnestly asks his partner. "Is it like e-mail?" Added to this, Charlie apparently read "The Way of Zen" when he was locked up, and he goes around spouting Buddhist catch phrases, at least when he's not busy bedding hotties and buying luxury sedans, as should a guy with a $50 million windfall. He's equal parts Robert Goren (Vincent D'Onofrio's psychotic detective from "Law and Order: Criminal Intent"), Swami Muktananda and nouveau riche.

Charlie spends the hour chewing scenery and solving a completely uninteresting case, but later we find out his true motive: he wants to figure out who framed him. I'd like to find out too. That guy deserves a steak.

Private Practice
ABC, 9:00 ET, premieres Sept. 26
The question on the minds of every "Grey's Anatomy" fan: is "Private Practice," Kate Walsh's new spinoff, as bad as last season's backdoor pilot suggests it is? Yeah, pretty much. The first episode of "Practice" picks up right where the "Grey's Anatomy" episode left off, which is to say with the wrong tone, the wrong jokes, but most of all, the wrong Addison. The take-no-prisoners Dr. Addison Montgomery from Seattle Grace apparently died somewhere in Oregon, because by the time she's finished with her road trip to Los Angeles to join the holistic Oceanside Wellness Group, she's a changed woman.

In fact, she's practically Ally McBeal—boy-crazy, baby-crazy, just plain crazy. Even her reason for fleeing to Los Angeles in the first place is suspiciously out of character. She lives because McSteamy rebuffed her attempt to form a relationship with him? C'mon, Addison! Isn't she the one who came to Seattle Grace and marked her territory, despite the fact that her estranged husband was already working there and dating an intern? Addie, this isn't you. When we join Addison she's dancing around her new house nude, footloose, fancy-free and always up for a pratfall. Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Tonally the show is to "Grey's" as "Boston Legal" is to "The Practice," a goofier, less grounded version of the original. Its idea of humor is naming the resident psychiatrist Violet (Amy Brenneman). Get it? Shrinking Violet? 'Cause she's a shrink? Is this thing even on? Its idea of romance is having Addison argue with alternative-medicine specialist Dr. Pete (Tim Daly) about whether she relocated to Los Angeles because they briefly made out once. (The worst part: he says she did, and we're tempted to believe him.) "Private Practice" is like a seven-car pile-up of Bentleys, Jaguars and Maybachs. Lots of talented actors tangled in the wreckage of what will likely go down as another one of those failed spinoffs. So much for trying to strike while the iron's hot.

Dirty Sexy Money
ABC, 10:00 ET., premieres Sept. 26
Let's face it: with a title like "Dirty Sexy Money," it's more a matter of finding reasons not to watch it. Who wouldn't want to watch a show called "Dirty Sexy Money"? It would be appetizing enough if the cast didn't include Peter Krause, Jill Clayburgh, Donald Sutherland and William Baldwin. But with that delicious, come-hither title and that cast, why wouldn't you dip your toe in the pool?

Krause plays Nick George, a do-gooder lawyer who is pulled into the seedy inner world of the Darling family, New York's richest, most powerful clan, whom Nick's father represented before his suspicious death. The elder George wasn't there for Nick because he had to be there for the Darlings, whose antics make legal expertise a frequent necessity. So when paterfamilias Tripp Darling (Sutherland) invites him to take over his father's work, he's understandably hesitant. He doesn't want to be the ghost of a family man his father was, but when Tripp sweetens the pot by offering a $10 million bonus to be used at Nick's altruistic whim, he can't resist. By the end of the pilot, the Darlings have already gotten their money's worth.

What works so well about "Money" is its nod-and-wink tone. It knows it's an "Us Weekly" soap and prefers to camp it up rather than take itself more seriously than the audience possibly could. The self-aware humor starts with the casting—how brilliant was it to cast Sutherland and Baldwin, two members of dynastic families, to play members of a dynastic family? Krause is terrific as Nick, the idealistic lawyer who's trying to walk through a cow pasture without getting his feet dirty. He'll fail, of course, but it'll be a hoot to watch.

Pushing Daisies
ABC, 8:00 ET, premieres Oct. 3
Writing a review of "Pushing Daisies" is almost a futile exercise. Any attempt to describe the show makes it sound precious and pretentious. It's extremely stylized, and the pilot was directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, whose passion for gaudy set pieces and quirky, fussy details has sunken a few summer blockbusters. It also seems childish on the surface, which is not entirely untrue, and it features that narrator whose voice is so pregnant with glee that he sounds in danger of cracking up at any moment.

Give it the benefit of the doubt, and discover an ultrabright fantasy charmer crossed with a dark murder mystery and a genuinely touching love story. It does all three to perfection, and is just frankly a joy to watch.

Lee Pace plays Ned, who discovers as a boy that he has a strange gift, the ability to touch things and bring them back to life. Of course, the gift is also the curse. It comes with some pretty inconvenient caveats. Once Ned revives someone, he or she can stay alive for only one minute—any longer and someone else in the immediate vicinity dies. The real downer: once he's brought someone back to life, no matter the length of time, he can never touch them again or they go back to being dead forever. This fanciful conceit is bound to scare away concrete thinkers who will immediately go into "But why?" mode. Be clear: the "but why" is never addressed, and according the narrator may never be. But the adventure Ned gets into after reviving his estranged childhood crush, Chuck (Anna Friel), is such a blast to watch, once it's gotten its steam up, the particulars of Ned's power become totally inconsequential. This one will take a bit of patience at first, especially from people who aren't usually into fantasy-based shows, but it's well worth the effort. "Pushing Daisies" reveals itself to be a charming, subversive, nasty little fairy tale that suggests where Dr. Seuss might have gone if he'd started penning adult mysteries under a pseudonym.