<p>Kelsey Grammer of 'Hank'</p>

Kelsey Grammer of 'Hank'

Credit: ABC

TV Review: ABC's 'Hank'

Kelsey Grammer dusts off those Frasier Crane mannerisms for an unfunny riches-to-rags sitcom

 

They can't all be winners for ABC's comedy development. Or even qualified winners. Maligned for years as the home of "According to Jim," ABC's recent sitcom slate has included big winners ("Modern Family" and "Better Off Ted"), small winners ("The Middle") and a few mixed-to-positive interesting attempts ("The Goode Family" and, I hope, "Cougar Town"). [ABC went dumpster-diving for one good show ("Scrubs") and one Bob Saget show ("Surviving Suburbia").]

Sometimes, though, you just get star-struck and there can be no other real excuse for "Hank," which premieres on ABC on Wednesday (Sept. 30) night. Just as ABC wanted to be in the Jerry Bruckheimer business and was prepared to schedule the forgettable "Forgotten" to do so, ABC was determined to bring Kelsey Grammer into the fold at whatever price. 

In this case, the price is that "Hank" besmirches an otherwise admirable two-hour block of new comedies on Wednesday night.

Full review of "Hank" after the break...

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<p>Derek Luke of 'Trauma'</p>

Derek Luke of 'Trauma'

Credit: NBC

TV Review: NBC's 'Trauma'

Cliff Curtis shines in NBC's new drama, which is at its best when things go 'Boom!'

Now I know how Michael Bay fans feel.

The first time I watched the pilot for NBC's "Trauma," I decided that its goals were simple: Make things go "Boom!" So I watched helicopters crash and cars careen and oil trucks explode and I figured the show had achieved its primary goals and I was perfectly content to put "Trauma" on my list of the Fall's Best New Shows.

Rewatching the "Trauma" pilot yesterday, though, I noticed the other things "Trauma" was trying to do, the human element it was trying to present and the characters it was trying to introduce. I realized that its ambitions went beyond making things go "Boom!" Unfortunately, those aren't the things that "Trauma" does very well and the pilot went from "mildly diverting" to "boring as sin" in a hurry.

Since most viewers are unlikely to watch "Trauma" twice (or even once, given NBC's recent track record), perhaps they'll be able to just accept its visceral thrills, courtesy of director Jeffrey Reiner, while ignoring its more tedious narrative familiarity, courtesy of creator Dario Scardapane.

[Review after the break...]

NBC publicity materials calls "Trauma" "the first high-octane medical drama series to live exclusively in the field where the real action is." I'm not sure while NBC wants to denigrate TV classics like "Emergency!" or recent hits like "Third Watch."

"Trauma" focuses on first-responder paramedics at San Francisco City Hospital. Whenever something dramatic happens in the City by the Bay, these are the guys who are on the scene, making the tough calls and saving lives. Not only do they handle physical trauma, but they're all coping with emotional trauma, since something happens in the opening scene that all of the main characters will have to deal with the whole run of the series.

Most viewers will be at a loss to figure out the different ranks and experience levels of the main character. Derek Luke's Cameron Boone and Anastasia Griffith's Nancy Carnahan are both paramedics. Kevin Rankin's Tyler Briggs and Taylor Kinney's Glenn are EMTs. And back at the hospital, Jamey Sheridan's Dr. Joe Saviano is... um... serving some other purpose, but he's a doctor and the press notes call him a "mentor," though only to Griffith's character, who also went to med school. 

Anyway, we also have Cliff Curtis' Reuben "Rabbit" Palchuk as a flight medic and Aimee Garcia as Marisa, a rookie copter pilot.

The plotting of the pilot will confuse some viewers. There's the big traffic event in the opening. Then there's the week's big emergency, a freeway pile-up. Those action set pieces are orchestrated with well-utilized stuntwork and scope and the fireballs were far more realistic than similar work in ABC's "FlashForward." With Peter Berg serving as executive producer, "Trauma" looks expensive and, in the early going, the San Francisco settings were effectively presented. In my mind, after that first viewing, the action set-pieces took up the majority of the pilot.

The reality is that most of the show, almost the last 20 minutes, is dedicated to what Rankin's character calls "the clean-up and the come-down." That means that the show is intent on being about how these people deal with the things they see each day, how they live with the horrors they sometimes witness. In that respect, "Trauma" plays as a less successful version of the summer critical hit "The Hurt Locker," which also focused on adrenaline junkies and what happens when the high wears off.

It's in that respect that "Trauma" is both familiar and disappointing, despite a cast that would probably be perfect for a well-rended version of this show.

At the center is Curtis. Since seeing him in "Once Were Warriors," I've been convinced that Curtis could be a star, if the right casting director would ever take a chance on him. He's good-looking, comfortable with drama and comedy both, and possessed with natural screen presence. He's also been type-cast as a fill-in-the-blank ethnic character actor, meaning he's played Iraqis, Indians and Latinos, but rarely has anybody looked at him and said, "Why isn't this guy a leading man?" He absolutely is and he's got the showy part in "Trauma," as the rule-breaking, psychologically unstable Rabbit. "Trauma" is a pure ensemble, like "E.R.," but Rabbit is the breakout role, the Dr. Ross part. That's why I've been pushing Curtis as The Maori George Clooney for months. He has the most to gain if "Trauma" succeeds.

If only Scardapane knew how to write a renegade character. Note to the creator: If you need to make three explicit references to "Bullitt" and one to Steve McQueen in order to define a character, either you haven't done a good enough job of making your point narratively, or else you think the audience is stupid. Which is it?

Garcia has some good moments with Curtis and shares the "Bullitt"/McQueen exchange. I wonder how long it took the writers, though, to come up with an ultra-Catholic Latina, who's devoted to her mother, but turns out to have a fiery temper when provoked. I'm guessing 15 seconds. The smart money takes the "under," though.

I also thought Griffith was very good, confirming that it was her character on "Damages" that I hated and not the actress. That "Damages" character was such a mewling sad-sack that it's good to see Griffith being strong, emotional and sexy. Like Curtis, she stands to gain a lot from whatever success "Trauma" might have.

Less likely to gain is Luke, who's taking his first "I'm a slumming movie star" TV role. And it shows. With the exception of one great scene with Curtis, Luke's performance is mumbly and unengaging. Luke's character is given the most domestic life, scenes that sink like a stone in the Bay.

Luke is one of several actors in the "Trauma" cast with "Friday Night Lights" ties to Berg. While Luke was in the movie, Kevin Rankin's Herc was one of the very best parts of the NBC series, though he lost his reseason to be around when Scott Porter left the show. He has no real character in "Trauma," so I hope they find a way to make use of him in subsequent episodes. Rankin even found a way to be good on "Bionic Woman," so if Scardapane and company can't let him by wry and funny, that's their fault, not his. [The third "Friday Night Lights" cast member in trauma is a cameo I won't spoil.]

Rewatching the pilot and seeing how small a part of things the set pieces are and how big the "clean-up and come-down" are made me like it less. The plot becomes ridiculously sluggish in that second half of the show, because even if Curtis' character is driving the streets of San Francisco like a maniac, it's mostly Griffith looking exhausted and defeated and Luke looking tortured. 

But I also like the idea that "Trauma" might have aspirations beyond a simple procedural disaster-of-the-week. Once you shut down a bridge for an accident and scale a tall building, are you really going to be able to find big enough emergencies every week to keep this show running on spectacle alone? Where's the series then? The second half of the episode, plus the "Hurt Locker" model, give me an idea of where "Trauma" could go that would interest me, but also a sense that this creative team may not be able to get it to that place in a way I'll enjoy.

Then again, after the generally incompatible "Heroes" is done salting the Earth at 8 p.m. will anybody be tuning in looking for substance anyway? Enjoy the "Boom," I guess.

 

"Trauma" premieres on Monday, Sept. 28 at 9 p.m. on NBC.

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<p>'The Cleveland Show'<span style="white-space: pre;"> </span></p>

'The Cleveland Show'

Credit: FOX

TV Review: FOX's 'The Cleveland Show'

Already renewed for a second season, 'The Cleveland Show' finally gets its premiere on FOX

In its eighth season, "The Simpsons" jokingly produced an episode titled "The Simpsons Spin-Off Showcase," making fun of potentially absurd spinoffs to the long-running animated hit. We're 13 seasons later and the show has yet to resort to "Chief Wiggum, P.I." (now with added resonance post-Katrina), "The Love-Matic Grampa" (throw in a couple death panels jokes and it's a hit) or "The Simpsons Family Smile-Time Variety Hour" (essentially what FOX tried and failed to do with The Osbournes last spring.

I guess we're supposed to just think it's a coincidence that after eight seasons, "Family Guy" has unleashed its own spinoff, "The Cleveland Show," with a premise that seems no more or less absurd than any of the hypothetical "Simpsons" spawn.

So how does "The Cleveland Show" stack up with the rest of its Animation Domination colleagues premiering on Sunday (Sept. 27) night on FOX? Although it's already had both its back-nine and its second season picked up, "The Cleveland Show" remains a bit of an uneven hodgepodge, certain to cause more than a few "Family Guy" fans to agree with Stewie Griffin's indignant, "What the hell? He's getting his own show?"

[Full review after the break...]

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<p>'The Simpsons'</p>

'The Simpsons'

Credit: FOX

HitFix Interview: 'The Simpsons' showrunner Al Jean

Longtime 'Simpsons' veteran talks Seth Rogen, high-def and how 'Futurama' is impacting Matt Groening

True fans of FOX's "The Simpsons" know that Matt Groening may be the series' creator and James L. Brooks may be the executive producer with the Oscars on his mantle, but if you really want to discuss Springfield's favorite yellow family, Al Jean is the guy you want to talk to.

Jean has been with "The Simpsons" from its humble beginnings, serving two tours of duty as showrunner, a job he's held since Season 13.

"The Simpsons" returns for its 21st season on Sunday (Sept. 25) night, which seemed like the perfect time to chat with Jean about the show's ongoing anniversary celebration, the transition to high definition and, of course, the premiere, which was co-written by "Superbad" and "Pineapple Express" scribes Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg.

 

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<p>Kherington Payne of 'Fame'</p>

Kherington Payne of 'Fame'

Credit: MGM

Movie Review: 'Fame'

The Fien Print's love for Kherington Payne aside, a PG-rated "Fame" is not "Fame"

The best part of Kevin Tancharoen's reimagining of "Fame" is the closing credits. That sounds negative and I wasn't a fan of the movie, but it's not quite as bad as it sounds.

It just happens that "Fame" has a very good closing credit sequence, set to Naturi Naughton's cover of the Oscar-winning title track. As the song plays, the young castmembers come out and do funny dances as their names are displayed and then come out and prance around the stage together. There's more exuberance, freedom and joy of performance in those four or five minutes than in most of the rest of the movie combined. All of the actors come to life and you see just how much fresh talent Tancharoen was working with and just how badly shackled most of them were by the tentativeness of Allison Burnett's script and by a slew of questionable editing decisions.

There are other moments in "Fame" where that talent gets to shine, but there are still more moments where they're suck reading stilted dialogue and rushing through seemingly important life events as if somebody were clocking the reels with a stopwatch.

[More "Fame" after the break...]

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<p>Jamie Bamber and Eliza Dushku of 'Dollhouse'</p>

Jamie Bamber and Eliza Dushku of 'Dollhouse'

Credit: FOX

TV Review: 'Dollhouse' Season Two Premiere

Joss Whedon's Eliza Dushku dress-up drama starts its second season, but how confused will new viewers be?

 

FOX's "Dollhouse" returns for its unlikely second season on Friday (Sept. 25) night in an unusual situation. 

"Dollhouse" is still stranded on Friday nights and FOX has given it what may be the worst and least compatible lead-in in TV history with "Brothers" and "'Til Death." The network has produced a terrific series of outdoor ads for the show, but on-air promotion has been minimal (as befits FOX's roughly 20:1 ratio of "Glee"-to-everything-else advertising). 

But if those are the bad side, there has to be the assumption that FOX's neglect is benign. The network may not be pushing "Dollhouse," but FOX still brought the show back and it's fair to guess that what's premiering on Friday is closer to the seres that Joss Whedon wants to be making than it was last spring.

For the first five weeks of the first season, every episode was basically a stand-alone re-pilot, greeting viewers each week with "Hi, welcome to the party! Grab a drink!"

The Season Two premiere is more like, "Hi, welcome to the party. We're out of booze, but there's plenty of yummy, crunchy Chex Mix." Oh, there's substance still to be gleaned from the premiere and there's fun to be had, but if you haven't already quaffed from the Whedon Kool-Aid, it may be hard for you to catch up with everybody else.

After only 12 episodes and one "Epitaph One" (more on that later), "Dollhouse" has already reached the point "Lost" arrived at in Season Three or Four, where the writers decided, watching casual viewership dwindle until only the die-hards (lots of them still) remained, that the show was closed to new business. Since FOX isn't soliciting new business anyway, that's probably OK for "Dollhouse," which begins this new round of storytelling with "Vows," certainly one of the show's better hours and representing a strong focused direction.

[Review after the break, with some minor spoilers, but more context than anything...]

The concern from some viewers that "Epitaph One," available on DVD and various places online and screened at Comic-Con, would be required viewing for the new "Dollhouse" season has not come to pass. I can't guess how many hardcore "Dollhouse" fans haven't already seen "Epitaph One," but it isn't essential. At least not on Friday night. Nothing in "Vows" really touches on anything in "Epitaph One," or not on any of the superficial levels on which I understand things.

What isn't optional is "Omega," the first season finale. If you don't know about Claire/Whiskey, if you don't know what happened with Alpha and Echo and the uploaded personalities, if you don't know about Ballard and his deal with Adelle, if you don't know about Boyd's promotion, if you don't know about Victor's scarring, if you don't know about three or four other things, you're really not going to have much luck fathoming where things went at the end of last season and where they're going this season. 

"Vows," written and directed by Whedon, begins with the situation back to normal at the Dollhouse, only not really back to normal at all. Echo (Eliza Dushku) is back in circulation, but the Alpha incident has left her glitching even worse than she was at the beginning of last season. In this episode's imprinting, Echo is the bride-to-be of a British businessman (Jamie Bamber), with arms-dealing ties. It's a mission that Ballard (Tahmoh Penikett) is very involved in, but what Ballard's level of employment is is a conundrum as the episode begins. The only important thing is that folks call him Mr. Ballard now, as he's Agent no more.

Meanwhile, Dr. Saunders (Amy Acker) knows she's Whiskey, but she's dealing with her Active self-recognition in a wonderfully Whedon-esquely oblique way which causes her to banter extensively with Topher (Fran Kranz).

The Saunders/Topher scenes were my favorite part of "Vows." They aren't merely wonderfully written (I love it when Whedon just decides to do little theatrical conversations in prose unlike anything else the characters have ever spoken previously), but they bring out the best in Kranz (who I'd never much cared for) and Acker (whose upcoming departure for ABC's midseason "Happy Town" saddens me). These scenes develop the show's bigger themes about the construction of human identity, plus they're fun to listen to. And they have nothing to do with Eliza Dushku.

It was repeated plenty during the first season that while Dushku may be the star and creative inspiration for "Dollhouse," she's also often its least compelling aspect. As Season One progressed, viewers became more and more intrigued by the dolls played by Dichen Lachman and the insanely versatile Enver Gjokaj and by the time "Omega" rolled around, Dushku was regularly a secondary figure in her own show and "Epitaph One" negated her even further. 

Although "Vows" spends almost no time reminding viewers of what dolls are, what imprinting is and why anybody would use the services of the Dollhouse, the one way in which it resets the series is that it moves Dushku and Echo back to the center of things. Fortunately, it's a more interesting and aware Echo than it was last year. She's definitely changed since her run-in with Alpha, very much moving in the direction we thought she was going last season before the writers turned to Ballard's discovery arc as the story they could tell in 12 episodes.

It means that Lachman's Sierra gets one very funny scene at the beginning and then doesn't reappear and that Gjokaj's Victor is still in the midst of a recovery process and doesn't factor. If you like those two characters and actors, "Vows" isn't fulfilling, but at least it pushes the story along and the episode represents narrative progress, which rarely happened for the first half of last season.

Some fans are going to miss the presence or acknowledgment of the "Epitaph One" universe. Me? Not-so-much. To me, "Epitaph One" felt like a lark. The creative team made the episode knowing that FOX had no plans to air it and Whedon and company couldn't have been blamed for suspecting/fearing that by the time anybody saw it in any form, "Dollhouse" would have been cancelled. "Epitaph One," with its apocalyptic future and dazzling distance from the series that spawned it, would have been a tantalizing tease of the show's potential, without any requirement for fulfillment. Maybe it would have acquired the requisite cult following and it would have given Whedon the chance to do a "Dollhouse" movie in a couple years. 

I don't think anybody working on that episode expected they'd be back or that anybody would expect them to live up to or feed into that "Epitaph One" world. But fans do. I'd kind of rather they wouldn't. "Epitaph One," while a great hour of television, is a trap. It makes promises and sets a timeline and foretells actions that Whedon and the other writers shouldn't need to be bound by. Who lives? Who dies? How does the technology evolve? "Epitaph One" gave one version, but will fans hold Whedon to that as an absolute and immutable future history? I'd rather he have free rein to do whatever he wants and not be bound by any end-point, however cool and filled with Felicia Day.

Anyway, HitFix will be recapping "Dollhouse," starting on Friday night, with the excellent Todd VanDerWerff doing the honors. I'm sure he'll be getting more into issues of the show's mythology, where it's going and keeping an eye on how "Epitaph One" fits into things.

 

"Dollhouse" returns to FOX on Friday, Sept. 25 at 9 p.m. 

 

 

 

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<p>Daryl 'Chill' Mitchell and Michael Strahan of FOX's 'Brothers'</p>

Daryl 'Chill' Mitchell and Michael Strahan of FOX's 'Brothers'

Credit: Michael Lavine/FOX

TV Review: FOX's 'Brothers'

The talents of Chill Mitchell, Michael Strahan, Carl Weathers and CCH Pounder go to waste on FOX

 

Love jokes about paraplegia?

FOX has a show for you!

Easily amused by grown men with a clear need for orthodontia? 

FOX has a show for you!

Captivated by the hilarious idea of returning home to discover your father has worsening dementia? 

FOX has a show for you!

Premiering on Friday, Sept. 25 with a full laughless hour, "Brothers" comes from the same FOX live-action comedy tradition that gave the world "Do Not Disturb" and "Happy Hour" (for seven combined airings). Offering hope for "Brothers" is the fact that it's been paired with "'Til Death," which is somehow moving its its fourth mirthless season this fall. 

That may offer less hope for viewers and for fans of "Dollhouse," which gets this sitcom block as its inexplicable Friday lead-in.

More kind words for "Brothers" after the break...

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<p>John Cho and Joseph Fiennes of 'FlashForward'</p>

John Cho and Joseph Fiennes of 'FlashForward'

Credit: ABC

TV Review: ABC's 'FlashForward'

Shakespeare, Sulu and a big mystery carry one of the fall's most intriguing shows

When I jotted out my list of the TV season's Best New Shows, ABC's "FlashForward" came in at No. 3 and I felt like that placement might even have been generous. But if I were to have listed the shows I was most interested in seeing additional episodes for, "FlashForward" would soar to the very top. 

The David Goyer directed pilot for "FlashForward" is intriguingly and maddeningly uneven, opening with 17 minutes that rival any pilot since "Lost," spinning its wheels for nearly 25 minutes and then closing with a wallop. 

Those opening acts, already made available online by ABC in an attempt to stir interest as well as curb piracy of the pilot, will probably be enough to hook any fan of complicated mythology-driven TV. Those next 25 minutes will probably be enough scare off any casual viewer just interested in killing time before "Grey's Anatomy."

That's probably what Goyer and fellow executive producers Brannon Braga, Marc Guggenheim and Jessika Borsiczky want. "FlashForward" doesn't appear to be designed for in-and-out samplers. You're either in all the way or you're out and you'll probably know for sure by the time the kangaroo hops across the screen.

[Full review of "FlashForward" after the break...]

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<p>Lindsay Price, Paul Gross and Rebecca Romijn of 'Eastwick'</p>

Lindsay Price, Paul Gross and Rebecca Romijn of 'Eastwick'

Credit: ABC

TV Review: ABC's 'Eastwick'

Rebecca Romijn, Lindsay Price, Jaime Rae Newman and Paul Gross get witchy

 

Entertainment executives like to work with recognizable brand names, because they think audiences respond to familiarity, as if The CW's "Melrose Place" would be doing even worse if it were called, say, "Pretty Twentysomethings Canoodle In An Apartment Complex None of Them Could Afford." Similarly is NBC's "Parenthood" more or less likely to succeed with an old Ron Howard movie's name attached than if the network just called it "Brothers & Sisters"? Wait. That name's already taken.

Another case study in brand names run amuck is ABC's new "Eastwick," which somehow still assumes there's money to be made from playing off of memories of a tepidly reviewed 1984 John Updike novel and a slightly better remembered 1987 film from George Miller.

From the source material,"Eastwick" takes a core -- the arrival of a dark stranger (The Devil, presumably) is part of the trigger for three lovely women to uncover their witching powers. It's interpreted here as a flimsy metaphor for empowerment for women in their 30s, but as such, it's really just an aged up "Charmed" or a slightly expanded "Practical Magic."

I can't figure why ABC thinks that calling this mixture of female bonding, sex talk and magic "Eastwick" is any more or less marketable than calling it "Broomstick Jungle."

[Review after the break...]

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<p>Courteney Cox of ABC's 'Cougar Town'</p>

Courteney Cox of ABC's 'Cougar Town'

Credit: ABC

TV Review: ABC's 'Cougar Town'

We're big enough fans of the cast and the creators that we'll give Courteney Cox's latest time to find itself

Watching the pilot for "Cougar Town" multiple times in multiple incarnations hasn't helped. I still laugh a couple times and smile at a few more jokes, but I'm no closer to knowing how I feel about the series as a whole.

Perhaps part of the problem is that the creators of "Cougar Town," Bill Lawrence and Kevin Biegel have admitted that they weren't completely sure what the series was initially. And it shows.

I like Bill Lawrence and Kevin Biegel. I like "Cougar Town" star Courteney Cox. I like supporting players like Busy Philipps, Christa Miller, Ian Gomez and Brian Van Holt. As many DOA shows (some of them quite awful) as Josh Hopkins has starred in, I've even grown to like him over the years. And I think Dan Byrd is a major talent even if, at fresh-faced 23, there's a real chance he could be stuck playing high school kids until he's 50.

So "Cougar Town," which premieres on ABC on Wednesday (Sept. 23) night is a show that I don't dislike, but it's also a show that I want to like more.

And if my repetition of the word "like" isn't enough of a reflection of my warm-spirited ambivalence, I don't know what is. 

[More musing on "Cougar Town" after the break...]

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