Every summer when I come back from press tour - or when I'm still there and chatting with industry folk curious about the competition - everyone asks me some variation of the question "So what's going to be good on TV this fall?"
Overall, 2010-11 doesn't look like it's going to be as strong a season for new product as last season, which gave us (among other things) "Community," "Modern Family," "Justified," "Treme," "Parenthood," "The Good Wife," "Cougar Town," "The Middle," "Glee" (I don't like it but recognize that many people are nuts about it), and more. But there are some definite standouts, particularly on cable.
Last night, Fienberg posted his breakdown of press tour winners and losers (including some of the shows I'm about to list), and after the jump are some of the best new shows I got to see in conjunction with the trip:
"Boardwalk Empire" (HBO, Sept. 19): I had hoped to get to a movie or two like I usually do when I'm out at TCA, but a good chunk of my free time was devoted to watching the six hours of this period gangster drama about Atlantic City at the dawn of Prohibition. With a pilot directed by Martin Scorsese (and later episodes directed in very Scorsese-like fashion by Tim Van Patten and others), lead writing by Terry Winter (David Chase's right-hand man on "The Sopranos") and an incredible cast including Steve Buscemi, Kelly MacDonald, Michael Shannon, Michael Pitt and Michael K. Williams, "Boardwalk Empire" is clearly the best new show of the season, maybe the best new show I've seen in several seasons (and certainly stronger out of the gate than some of my other recent favorites like "Breaking Bad" and "Sons of Anarchy"), and well worth not having seen "Inception" yet.
"Terriers" (FX, Sept. 8): Another one where I got a bunch of episodes in advance (five) and couldn't resist watching them all, this is a private eye show from Shawn Ryan and "Ocean's Eleven" writer Ted Griffin that's part relaxed buddy comedy, part film noir, and all fun. Donal Logue and Michael Raymond-James play bottom-rung, unlicensed detectives who keep getting caught up in cases that are much bigger than they are. The chemistry between the two stars (who wound up sharing a house during production) is fantastic, the writing and directing sharp, and I can't wait to see more.
"Lone Star" (FOX, Sept. 20): As I've written/said a few times now, "Lone Star" is definitely the strongest broadcast network pilot of the season, and my only reservation is that the concept - con man (engaging newcomer James Wolk) wants to go straight, but can't choose which of two identities (and romances) to maintain - seems more appropriate for a movie than a long-form TV series. But the press tour panel for this one did its job, offering a lot of smart producers with interesting things to say about how it might work, as well as the acknowledgement that it still could fail - but that if it does, it'll be a memorable failure.
"Luther" (BBC America, October): As Dan mentions in his winners and losers, it was disappointing to get the sense that Idris Elba has some issues with his time on "The Wire," but the man who was Stringer Bell still delivers a knockout performance in this British crime drama. It's another one of those shows like "Cracker" or "Touching Evil," where the cop is as damaged and dangerous as the criminals he's chasing (in this case, Ruth Wilson as a charming sociopath), and it's a reminder of why the Brits keep going back to that well and how strong a presence Elba is in any accent.
"Lights Out" (FX, January): This one's a bit under the radar, since it won't debut til mid-season and was likely only paneled because FX was trying to fill up a whole day. But I finished the pilot - about a former heavyweight champ (Holt McCallany) struggling with money, health and the ennui of retired life - and immediately wanted to see more. It's basically "Rocky V" if "Rocky V" was, you know, good.
"The Big C": (Showtime, Aug. 16): Technically, this is a summer show, but I did see it at press tour. I'll have more to say about it in Monday's review, but the short version is that Laura Linney is a mom who finds out she has incurable skin cancer and decides to change her life without telling anyone why. Feels like a blend of a half-dozen other cable series, but Linney is awfully good, as are supporting players like Oliver Platt as her confused and immature husband and Gabourey Sidibe as a student who becomes one of Linney's projects.
"Hawaii Five-O" (CBS, Sept. 20): I liked the remake of the iconic '70s cop drama more than I expected to, since it's a vehicle for Alex O'Loughlin and my enthusiasm for him has never come close to matching that of CBS' development team. O'Loughlin's still pretty stiff, but Scott Caan is a lot of fun as his sidekick - so obviously strong that the producers are now suggesting it's going to be more of a buddy show (more politely, "an ensemble") than a star piece - Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park are good, too, and director Len Wiseman gives it the feel of a noisy but entertaining summer action movie. We'll see if the show can keep up that style on a weekly basis, but it's a good start.
"Detroit 1-8-7" (ABC, Sept. 21): They're reshooting a good chunk of the pilot to eliminate a mockumentary gimmick that was perhaps too resonant of all the other ABC shows where characters talk to the camera (including fellow rookies "No Ordinary Family" and "My Generation"), but the core of the show - tracking Detroit homicide cops as they go about their business - feels less like another cop procedural than a drama about cop culture, ala "Homicide: Life on the Street." And Michael Imperioli is very good in the lead role (albeit without his splendid "Life on Mars" mustache).
"No Ordinary Family" (ABC, Sept. 28): Michael Chiklis, Julie Benz and their kids accidentally get super powers on a family vacation. Like "The Big C," reminiscent of a whole bunch of other things (notably "The Incredibles"), but Chiklis has the superhero bonafides, as does co-creator Greg Berlanti. An entertaining pilot, albeit one that could use a few tweaks. (For starters, this is the show where I'd have ditched the talking-to-the-camera gimmick, as it's far more redundant and annoying than on "Detroit 1-8-7.")
Other shows with potential: "Undercovers" (NBC, Sept. 22), "My Generation" (ABC, Sept. 23), "The Defenders" (CBS, Sept. 21), "Running WIlde" (FOX, Sept. 21).
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com