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2011 Fall TV Doldrums Almost Over -- After a Few More Not-So-Great Days Ahead
September 26, 2011  | By David Bianculli

Be patient a little longer. TV is about to improve greatly with a sudden crop of exciting new offerings -- starting Sunday with a sudden glut of quality TV.

The newest Ken Burns documentary epic on PBS, Prohibition, begins Sunday, as do Showtime's new Homeland series and the same network's Season 6 premiere of Dexter.

But between now and then, we've got four new less than superb prime-time premieres with which to contend, starting with Monday's Terra Nova on Fox and Hart of Dixie on the CW...

Terra Nova (8 p.m. ET Monday) is one of Fox's biggest, and certainly its most expensive, gambles of the year. It's a time-travel adventure series that doubles as a family drama, and has Steven Spielberg's name prominently attached. Then again, so do the Transformers movies, and that doesn't make them any less abysmal.

Terra Nova (seen in photo at top) is less abysmal, really, than overly familiar. The two-hour pilot explains how an estranged family from the near future gets back together just in time to take a one-way time-travel journey to an alternate time stream in the prehistoric past -- a lush, unpolluted jungle paradise, except for the pesky dinosaurs and also-from-the-future guerrilla insurgents.


The explanations never quite make sense, which goes for every other element of this series as well. There ought to be a sigh above the new past-imperfect compound: "Abandon reason, all ye who enter here."

But you want, in a way, for this show to work, since it takes the Lost in Space concept -- which, itself, was Swiss Family Robinson in space, down to the actual Robinson name -- and returns it to Earth, albeit one reached by a Time Tunnel of sorts. (I said this show was overly familiar: to Baby Boomers, especially, it's like a two-hour bout of Sixties TV deja vu.)

But derivative and unexceptional as it is, it's still the best new broadcast network the next few days.

Next best is ABC's Suburgatory, premiering Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. ET. Again, you've seen it all before, plenty of times -- teen kid moves to the suburbs, and hates it.

But it's hard not to like Cheryl Hines from Curb Your Enthusiasm as an overly manicured suburban mom, for starters.

Tsuburgatory-cheryl.jpghere's nothing whatsoever to like, though, about Hart of Dixie (9 p.m. ET Monday, CW), starring The O.C.'s Rachel Bilson as a doctor who moves back to her small home town down south and sets up practice.

TVWW contributor Mike Donovan summed it up perfectly, in two words, as "Southern Exposure." See his review, and others, in our TVWW 2011 Fall Preview.

The original Northern Exposure, though, starring Rob Morrow as a young doctor dispatched to small-town Alaska, was wonderful. In Dixie, the only heart is artificial.

hart-of-dixie.jpgAnd that leaves Thursday's new CBS sitcom, How to Be a Gentleman. I advise you do to the same thing: Leave it.

Wait for the weekend, when the cavalry, in the form of fresh and fabulous new TV offerings, finally arrives...




Eileen said:

I'm really looking forward to Prohibition; if it's anywhere as great as the other documentaries on Ken Burns' resume, it will be fantastic.

And I'll watch Suburgatory as I love Cheryl Hines and Jeremy Sisto. Hope this one is a winner.

Thanks for the heads-up on some of the other premieres. They really don't look worth the bother.

I watched the inaugural episode of Pan Am last night, and it was actually a lot better than I anticipated. I'm a huge fan of Christina Ricci, so for that reason alone I watched. The acting was ok, but there were so many story lines going on simultaneously, that I'll have to continue watching it just to get a sense of stability. I'm sure that's exactly what the producers had in mind. However, unlike Mad Men, they introduced far too many plots and characters all at once, so the whole effort felt a bit off kilter. It might just be me, but aside from Christina Ricci's character Maggie, I had a difficult time telling the stewardesses apart. Time will tell on this one. It was refreshing, however, to watch a drama where it was apparent that someone had actually put some thought into the writing. Very rare in today's tv climate.

Comment posted on September 26, 2011 3:33 PM

Sarah said:

Wow! My mom and Mike Donovan think the same. Even without watching and just reading the basic concept she said the same thing about Hart of Dixie, her words "it's Northern Exposure south". I like to think she's been listening to me and has learned what it takes to be a good TV series.

Comment posted on September 26, 2011 5:15 PM

Dan said:

Terra Nova was contrived, but great fun. In a season filled with garbage from the networks, it wasn't bad. My method of judging a show is simple. If I find myself falling asleep half way, it's over for that show and they get cancelled. Haven't been wrong yet. Terra Nova kept me awake and even had my blood flowing a bit as well. On the other hand, I am still on the edge of my seat after the LUTHER premiere. This is an excellent police drama so well written, directed and acted it puts the networks in the USA to shame. I truly hope they do not try a USA version of this show like they did with Prime Suspect and mess it up!
And now for the Dexter premiere!!!

Comment posted on September 28, 2011 11:27 PM
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