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Couch Potatoes Anonymous: Where Is Fall's Must-see TV?

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Nov 03, 2011 | 6:54am EDT

Two and a Half MenCall me picky – maybe even cynical – but so far, doesn’t this TV season feel slightly lackluster? Think about it. Is there any series that premiered this fall that you need to see as soon as it airs? Have we become spoiled by the advent of DVR and OnDemand services, or am I right? Is there truly no new fall show that can be dubbed must-see TV?

Maybe it’s just indicative of our time. We have two wars going on, a country divided between the right, the left, and the comically insane. We’re distracted by the reality show that has become the Republican Debates, protestors occupying wherever and whatever institution they feel has wronged this country, and about a million channels to flip through, many of which have their own original programming. From wild-eyed chefs who traverse the world looking for good eats, to nerds and the women who love them, to murder, mischief, and mayhem galore, every season holds more options and more and more markets are eschewed and widened. Maybe there isn’t time enough or desire enough to gather around the electronic hearth anymore.

Usually, at least one Fall show debuts that is dynamite from the get-go and demands to be watched the very instant it’s on. In recent years shows like Lost, 24, The Walking Dead, The Sopranos, and Modern Family instantly became hits and water-cooler shows. You’d feel left out if you made it to the office and everyone knew whose kneecap Tony broke or what was in the hatch. Are there any shows this season that have that effect on you?

It seems as if this season’s most hyped series was The Playboy Club, though that is mostly because it was doomed to be cancelled almost instantly and there was more interest in that fact than the actual show. NBC, which desperately needs an influx of must-see shows, might have found one with its new series Grimm. The premise seems to be a sound one, and if they truly stick to what the swindling Grimm brother’s stories were about, we might be in for a gory, twisted ride. However, I remain skeptical, considering DC Comics has been bringing this premise to their readers for almost a decade now with its series, Fables. Not to mention rival network, ABC is doing a similar show with the hit show, Once Upon A Time. ABC has shown it can handle the sci-fi fantasy genre with Lost, but as of late, NBC has floundered with the genre (see: The Cape, Heroes).

The reboots aren’t must-see either. Two and Half Men’s season premiere could be counted as a series debut, since the dynamic has changed a bit, but much of the good faith that the season premiere generated has dwindled since. Don’t get me wrong, the show still pulls in numbers like gangbusters, but with each week, Ashton Kutcher’s Walden is waning, and as hysterical it is to see Alan fail at life, it can only go so far. First, the show had Charlie Sheen to mock Alan, however watching Alan fail, and Walden sulk or act like Michael Kelso is getting old. The experiment is sinking fast and the must-see atmosphere generated in the off-season is waning almost as badly as Walden is.The same can be said about The Office over on NBC, last year’s good faith earned by Steve Carell’s final season has been wasted on a lackluster season so far. Law and Order: SVU might be on its last legs as well now that the Stabler/Benson dynamic is gone. Heck, there could be a whole column on the problems over at the peacock.

New Girl FoxWhen it comes to new shows, the MLB playoffs and World Series on Fox might have shot the network right in the foot. The well-hyped, much-loved, and positively-reviewed New Girl and the Steven Spielberg-produced Terra Novaboth started out like gangbusters in September and then went on hiatus for baseball. I can’t even remember what happened on Terra Nova the last time it was on and the only reason I can remember the last New Girl is because I get paid to watch it. Speaking of taking a shotgun to the foot, Fox spent a whole lot of money on The X-Factor, hoping it would be just as phenomenal as American Idol or So You Think You Can Dance, but it doesn’t seem to be catching on like the network hoped it would. Maybe the first episode shouldn’t have had a man drop trough; I know that it turned me off to the competition.

Maybe I’m just being greedy for great TV. But DVR might have ended the era of water cooler shows. Series like The Walking Dead, Modern Family, and How I Met Your Mother have all debuted during the advent of OnDemand and while all of these shows and more are great shows, none of them have the sense of urgency of viewership as shows like The Sopranos or The X-Files (which eventually became required viewing) once did. Then again, VCRs were the original DVRs and we used them often, if not as often as DVRs to record our favorite shows.

Now that the World Series is over, I think our best bet for Must-See entertainment will be Terra Nova, but it has a lot of road to cover; a month off TV after airing a mere four episodes before the hiatus and some decidedly negative feedback, such as Mark Perigard of The Boston Herald citing the series as “Stargate: SGU by Dr. Suess.” As fun as this show is and unless it is going to reinvent the wheel, Terra Nova needs to decide what kind of show it is going to be. Each week, elements of Lost, Jurassic Park, Avatar, Swiss Family Robinson, and several other established hits are all hurled into an hour-long episode. There are eight shows left in the first season and it will be interesting to see if the series can succeed in bringing in the kind of rabid fan base of water cooler shows of old.

As far as comedies go, while all of the chatter is centered on Zooey Deschanel and New Girl, the dark horse in that race is Suburgatory. While New Girl is a worthy show and along with Raising Hope makes for a great hour of comedy, over at ABC, Suburgatory is equally worthy of laughs. Take Mean Girls or Clueless type brash, spunky teen humor and infuse it with dark angst and oddball quirks, and something truly special is percolating as a great lead-in to Modern Family. As I said in my review of the pilot, much of the cast can carry their own shows; it’s an enjoyable group, but it’s not the kind of lightning-in-a-bottle show that I’m talking about here.

So we come back to the initial quandary: where are the 2011-2012 Fall Season Must-See Hits? They’re just not here. Perhaps it is a combination of issues that have made this season lackluster so far. Nevertheless, a couch potato is looking for the next new show and a new reason to watch TV and forget the troubles of the day. For now, no show this season has stepped up to the plate.

What do you guys think? Is there any new show this year that you’d commit murder to see when it airs, or are all of this year’s freshmen class members forgettable until you turn your DVR lists on?
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