The upfront season just ended, meaning TV networks have set their slates for the fall and are already looking to midseason. As usual, the choices on offer are a mix of intriguing and off-putting. The dramas still revolve around cops or doctors, while the comedies usually target modern relationships. Still, there are some interesting series within those confines and beyond, if you know where to look. Granted, it's tough to know anything about a show from a five-minute sizzle reel designed to sell ads, and nothing can be certain until these series actually start airing. For now, though, here are some of this fall's new network shows that look the most promising.
Awake, NBC, midseason
The hook here is basically "Inception with detectives." Jason Isaacs stars as an investigator with a wife and teenage son, and after suffering a major accident while driving with them, his brain sets up a parallel world to let him cope. The trouble is, he doesn't know which world is the real one and which is just his fantasy, meaning he never knows if he's awake or asleep. In one world, his wife survived the wreck but his son died; in the other, the opposite happened. Isaacs is a solid actor, and the premise from creator Kyle Killen is packed with potential for good things. Killen, you might remember, created last fall's Lone Star, another series about a man living two lives, but that one was executed by Fox after two episodes. Here's hoping he gets a chance to tell a real story this time around.
Up All Night, NBC, Wednesdays
NBC's had some trouble with sitcoms about modern relationships (Perfect Couples is already an answer to a trivia question no one will ever ask), but they've had more success with series about parenthood like, uh, Parenthood. Hence, Up All Night. This sitcom about a couple adjusting to life with a baby has a great pedigree: it stars Will Arnett, Christina Applegate, and Maya Rudolph, all talented comic actors, and it was created by Emily Spivey, a writer and producer whose credits include Parks and Recreation. The show looks like it will try to take a direct approach to the humor of child-rearing, and the cast alone guarantees a few good episodes.
Person of Interest, CBS, Thursdays
J.J. Abrams' name has been attached to some great TV, so I'm reassured to see him involved with CBS' Person of Interest. It's also being produced by Jonathan Nolan, who wrote the pilot; Jonathan is the brother of Christopher, and his credits include the original story that inspired Memento and the screenplays for The Prestige and The Dark Knight. Plus in terms of cast you've got Jim Caviezel as a former government operative called back into action by a shadowy outsider played by none other than Michael Emerson, aka Ben Linus, the scariest little man in showbiz. CBS is choked with procedurals and cop shows that pay lip service to thinking outside the box; now it looks like they might actually have one that lives up to that idea.
The River, ABC, midseason
ABC is nothing if not determined: a year after the end of Lost, they're still keen on launching a new "spooky things happen in the jungle" show. The River is about a family that journeys into the Amazon to find their missing father, a former nature show host, but portions of it are presented as found footage of the documentary they're making. This is where the skills of Oren Peli, who helmed Paranormal Activity, come out to shine. It's uncertain how long the series' premise can hold up, but if the showrunners have a good story and definite destination in mind, this could be a solid little thriller.
Alcatraz, Fox, Mondays
Another one from J.J. Abrams. The pitch is that Alcatraz Prison closed because one night the inmates mysteriously vanished, and now they're beginning to reappear. It's definitely got echoes of The 4400, mixed with the conspiracy-theory aesthetic of Lost and Alias. This could totally tank like The Nine, but it could also be a pretty fun sci-fi show. Definitely worth a trial run.
There are a few other pilots that look questionable but that I find myself wanting to like; I have doubts about how they'll play out, but I want them to be good simply because I like the concept or the people involved. One is Terra Nova, Fox's mega-expensive time-travel show about people form 2149 traveling back to the era of dinosaurs to form a new colony (don't even try to think about causality). Stephen Lang of Avatar is on board as a typecast badass military type willing to kill foreign inhabitants (in this case, dinosaurs) for the survival of his people. Fox ordered 13 episodes instead of just a pilot because of the prohibitive production costs, so we should get a few episodes out of it. Don't get me wrong; this could totally, irredeemably suck. Producer David Fury (Buffy, Angel, Lost) left because of creative differences, and the show's now in the hands of Brannon Braga (FlashForward), but the 11-year-old in me who was enthralled by Jurassic Park is holding onto a tiny ember of hope.
I also want good things for Fox's New Girl, if only because Zooey Deschanel looks adorable amping up her Manic Pixie Dream Girlishness as a woman getting over a bad break-up who moves in with three guys. It could be, you know, awful, but maybe it'll find legs.
There's also NBC's Bent, starring Amanda Peet as a divorced woman remodeling her home and David Walton as the contractor who takes the job. Walton seems to have dialed down the empty-headed ass routine he brought to Perfect Couples and replaced it with a decent amount of charm. Again, there are questions about how long this could actually run -- what happens when he finishes working on her house? -- but the cast could make it work for a while.