Sizing up 2011's rookie TV series
As the 2011 TV season tips into 2012, cable shows such as “Homeland” and “American Horror Story” have aired their explosive climaxes, while network newbies that survived the fall are just about halfway through their premiere seasons. Here’s a look at six series that showed early promise and how they’re living up to expectations.
“New Girl” | Fox
The premise: Jess (Zooey Deschanel), an attractive but socially awkward woman in her mid-20s, moves in with three single guys after she splits with a philandering tool of a boyfriend.
The vibe: Hipster comedy that avoids coming off as hipper-than-thou.
References: “That Girl,” “Three’s Company,” “Friends,” “(500) Days of Summer”
Sample line: “Pink wine makes me slutty.” — Jess, having a night out with the guys to lift her spirits
Casting call-out: Cece (Hannah Simone), Jess’ best friend, exudes Grrrrl Power in the man cave Jess now calls home.
Performance/prospects: Averaging 8.2 million viewers per episode, “New Girl” will be back for a second season. The big question is will “New Girl” start feeling old?
“Up All Night” | NBC
The premise: Yuppie power couple Chris (Will Arnett) and Reagan Brinkley (Christina Applegate) trade Jell-O shots and last calls for baby formula and middle-of-the-night feedings when newborn Amy comes along.
The vibe: Modern love and marriage. And baby makes comic relief.
Referencing: “Mad About You,” “Mr. Mom,” “The Oprah Winfrey Show”
Sample line: “He just doesn’t understand. I just had a baby. I mean underneath this, I have a girdle and two pairs of Spanx on.” — Reagan to Ava, after accepting her well-meaning friend’s gift of a red thong
Casting call-out: Maya Rudolph in Oprah mode as Reagan’s friend/boss Ava, who seems to spend as much time at the Brinkleys’ house as she does at the television studio.
Performance/prospects: With what might be described as “tweener” ratings (averaging 5.75 million viewers per episode), the series was picked up for a full season in October. Whether this baby makes it to Season 2 … stay tuned.
“Homeland” | Showtime
The premise: Having gone missing for eight years in Iraq, Marine Sgt. Nicholas Brody (Damien Lewis) is rescued and returned to the U.S., where CIA agent Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) suspects he has been “turned” by the enemy and tracks his every move. An overwhelming sense of paranoia and claustrophobia ensues.
The vibe: “Big Brother” meets “Nurse Jackie,” only Nurse Jackie is a pill-popping CIA agent with bipolar disorder.
References: “24,” life in these United States since 9/11
Sample line: “He’s lying!” — Agent Carrie, after Sgt. Brody aces a polygraph test in which he was asked if he had ever cheated on his wife. And she would know.
Casting call-out: Brody’s best friend and fellow Marine, Mike Faber (Diego Klattenhoff), who stood in as the man of the house while his buddy was in captivity — in more ways than one.
Performance/prospects: With its growing audience and critical acclaim, get ready for another season of white-knuckled viewing in 2012.
“Once Upon a Time” | ABC
The premise: Fairy tale characters, including Snow White (Ginnifer Godwin) and the Evil Queen (Lana Parrilla), are cast out of their idyll to the fictitious small town of Storybrooke, Maine, where they lose their memories and their supernatural mojo.
The vibe: Complicated storytelling and nostalgia for simpler times.
References: “Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color,” “Twin Peaks”
Sample line: “Where are we going?” “Somewhere horrible, absolutely horrible.” — an exchange between Snow White and the Evil Queen, just before the denizens of the world of make-believe are transported to contemporary America
Casting call-out: Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison), long-lost biological daughter of Prince Charming and Snow White, who leaves home and moves to Storybrooke at the urging of a mysterious, precocious boy named Henry Mills (Jared Gilmore).
Performance/prospects: With viewers numbering in the 10 million range, it looks like lightning should strike twice for “Once” and fans can expect a second season.
“American Horror Story” | FX
The premise: Cheating husband Ben Harmon (Dylan McDermott) uproots his wife, Vivien (Connie Britton), and daughter, Violet (Taissa Farmiga), from Boston to live in L.A., where they move into a haunted house that they bought for a song. Suspended disbelief (especially on the great real estate deal part) ensues.
The vibe: Tennessee Williams throws a shower for “Rosemary’s Baby.”
References: “Saw” franchise, “Don’t Look Now,” “The Amityville Horror” (1979 version), “Poltergeist”
Sample line: "Is everybody crazy?” — Ben to Vivien, after a drop-in from a poisonous cupcake-bearing neighbor (see below)
Casting call-out: Neighbor Constance, played to the hilt by Jessica Lange channeling Blanche DuBois.
Performance/prospects: Nearly 3 million viewers per week have bought in to the ghosts and goblins that populate the series, and its fans are rabid. FX is hoping it scares up more of them come fall.
“2 Broke Girls” | CBS
The premise: Working girl Max (Kat Dennings) and newly destitute heiress Caroline (Beth Behrs) forge a friendship and dream of starting a cupcake business while working in a Brooklyn diner. Oh, and they share a tiny apartment with Caroline’s horse, Chestnut.
The vibe: “Two and a Half Broke Girls.” Bawdy and naughty.
References: “Alice,” “The Simple Life”
Sample line: “I forgot you’re Equestrian Barbie. You came with a horse.” — Max to Caroline, after Chestnut pokes his head through the back door of Max’s apartment
Casting call-out: ”Saturday Night Live” original cast member Garrett Morris dispenses free advice as the diner’s cashier, Earl.
Performance/prospects: A huge hit for CBS in terms of viewers and the ages 18-to-49 target demographic. The girls will be back for another season of sass while they scrimp and save for that cupcake start-up.
ALSO IN SHOWTRACKER:
— Wes Bausmith
Photo: Zooey Deschanel and Jake Johnson in "The New Girl." Credit: Greg Gayne/Fox