Which new fall series make the grade?

By Matthew Gilbert
Globe Staff / September 4, 2011

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(When you see “??’’ for a grade, it means no pilot episode was made available to be reviewed. )

MONDAY “2 Broke Girls’’ (CBS)

Multi-camera sitcom

Starring: Kat Dennings, Beth Behrs

Concept: A trust funder whose fortune is gone and a working-class Brooklynite wait tables at a New York diner. Opposites attract.

Am I hooked? Yes. The actresses - especially the Gwen Stefani-esque Dennings - transcend their types, and the pop-savvy humor has spirit thanks to producer Michael Patrick King from “Sex and the City.’’ After the forced opening minutes, it’s the best multi-cam-com of the season.

Alternate title: “Laverne and Surly’’

Grade: B+ (Sept. 19)

“The Playboy Club’’ (NBC)

Period drama

Starring: Eddie Cibrian, David Krumholtz, Amber Heard

Concept: Early 1960s Chicago power brokers mingle with bunnies at the first Playboy Club. Cibrian is a lawyer who tries to rescue a new bunny from gangster trouble.

Am I hooked? No, not even on the articles. It wants to be “Mad Men,’’ as if that show is cloneable. But Cibrian, trying to be Jon Hamm, is too nice and dull; the bunnies are obvious types, from the alpha to the newbie; the club setting is claustrophobic; the gangsters are out of central casting; and historical clichés are everywhere.

Alternate title: “Hare Brained’’

Grade: C (Sept. 19)

“Terra Nova’’ (Fox)

Family adventure

Starring: Jason O’Mara, Stephen Lang

Concept: In 2149, Earth is dying. So scientists send colonists - including O’Mara’s fractured family - back 85 million years for a do-over. Power struggles emerge at the idyllic Terra Nova camp, which is surrounded by dinosaurs.

Am I hooked? I am, for now. The pilot, with subplots featuring O’Mara’s teen kids, is Spielberg 101 - mainstream, iconic, inoffensively predictable. As a weekly series, the effects need to remain impressive and the writers need to avoid falling into “Lost’’ and “Walking Dead’’ band-of-survivors rehash. Also, the family rapport is too smooth, given their troubled history. A rumored 13-episode first season might be just right.

Alternate title: “Swiss Family Dinosaur’’

Grade: B+ (Sept. 26)

“Hart of Dixie’’ (CW)

Ditzy doctor dramedy

Starring: Rachel Bilson, Scott Porter

Concept: A Manhattan doctor named Zoe Hart moves to small-town Alabama and turns her nose up at the quirky locals, including Porter’s hottie and his steel-magnolia fiancee. Hart needs more heart.

Am I hooked? Bilson is hard-pressed to pass as a doctor, and the relentless fish-out-of-water humor is exhausting. But what demotes it from a C to a D is some of the laziest plot setups ever, as well as the dumbing down of “Friday Night Lights’’ alums Porter and Cress Williams.

Alternate title: “Dr. Feelstupid’’

Grade: D (Sept. 26)



Starring: Christopher Moynihan, Mather Zickel, Dan Fogler

Concept: Another sitcom looks at what it means to be a white man in the modern world. Three clueless but lovable buddies try to butch up.

Am I hooked? The actors are likable, including the Ty Burrell-y Zickel, but this is familiar bromantic terrain. It wants to be “The Hangover,’’ but it’s more like the short-lived “Carpool.’’ At least the women on the show aren’t to blame for the masculinity crisis - as they are in “Last Man Standing.’’

Alternate title: “Testosty McTesterone’’

Grade: B- (Oct. 18)

“Last Man Standing’’ (ABC)

Multi-camera sitcom

Starring: Tim Allen, Nancy Travis

Concept: Allen plays a guy’s guy type surrounded by women - his executive wife, his daughter, and his boss. Modern life bugs him.

Am I hooked? I’m no masochist. This pilot was painful, as Allen tries too hard to be cranky and offensive and misogynistic and yet ultimately - aww - a good guy.

Alternate title: “According to Tim’’

Grade: D (Oct. 11)

“Unforgettable’’ (CBS)

Crime procedural

Starring: Poppy Montgomery, Dylan Walsh

Concept: She has hyperthymesia, so she remembers everything. But - irony alert - she has blacked out details of her sister’s death. Meanwhile, she helps cop and ex-lover Walsh solve murders.

Am I hooked? Wait. I forgot. Oh yeah - no, not hooked on this generic-looking crime-solver. The premise is nonsensical. The first murder involves a neighbor, so her memories help, but how will her memory assist cases from the world at large? This should have been a one-off Lifetime movie.

Alternate title: “Unnecessary’’

Grade: C (Sept. 20)

“New Girl’’ (Fox)


Starring: Zooey Deschanel, Max Greenfield, Jake Johnson

Concept: A ditzy, lovable loser moves in with three dudes after a breakup. She wins them over, making up impromptu songs and luring them into “Dirty Dancing’’ marathons.

Am I hooked? Hi, my name is Matthew, and I’m a Zooey-holic. I love this show, because I love the wide-eyed star, who is fully engaged in her role here. If you dislike her hipster adorability, though, beware.

Alternate title: “1500 Seconds of Zooey’’

Grade: Zooey lovers: A-, Zooey haters: D (Sept. 20)

“Ringer’’ (CW)


Starring: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Nestor Carbonell, Ioan Gruffudd

Concept: Gellar does double duty as an ex-stripper on the run from the mob who adopts the identity of her wealthy twin in NYC.

Am I hooked? No, and no. The lousy effects that put the twins in the same room are sloppy, and the story line - ripped from a cheesy daytime soap - is worse. Gellar hasn’t got a firm handle on her characters.

Alternate title: “Uh, Deux’’

Grade: D (Sept. 13)

WEDNESDAY “Suburgatory’’ (ABC)

Cultural satire

Starring: Cheryl Hines, Jeremy Sisto, Jane Levy

Concept: Sisto is the overprotective single dad who moves sardonic teen daughter Levy from New York City to the burbs in this stylized single-camera comedy.

Am I hooked? Yes. I love the suburban satire, which is old territory made fresh again. Levy, from “Shameless,’’ is tart and sympathetic, and Hines is a revelation as a rabidly superficial mom.

Alternate title: “Hunky Dory-tory’’

Grade: A- (Sept. 28)

“Revenge’’ (ABC)

Scandalous soap

Starring: Emily VanCamp, Madeleine Stowe

Concept: VanCamp stars as a woman who returns to the Hamptons bent on destroying the rich folks who tore her family apart years ago.

Am I hooked? The trash-head in me says yes. This is a classic guilty pleasure, with campy twists and a fabulously diva-esque performance by Stowe. VanCamp isn’t believably nasty; she’ll need to strengthen her steeliness. But no serious drama here, just kicks.

Alternate title: “Countess of Monte Cristo’’

Grade: B+ (Sept. 21)

“Up All Night’’ (NBC)

Parenthood sitcom

Starring: Christina Applegate, Will Arnett, Maya Rudolph

Concept: Sleep-deprived new parents try to hold on to their hip selves in this single-camera-com. Arnett’s the stay-at-home dad, Applegate produces a talk show that stars the narcissistic Rudolph.

Am I hooked? Yeah, mostly because of the scenery-chewing Rudolph, whose line delivery is unique. It’s an upbeat look at the basics of young parenthood, and it’s nice to see Arnett branch out and play a guy who’s not obnoxious like Gob Bluth from “Arrested Development’’ or Devon Banks from “30 Rock.’’

Alternate title: “It’s Maya Turn’’

Grade: A- (Sept. 14)

“The X Factor’’ (Fox)

Reality singing contest

Starring: Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul, L.A. Reid, Nicole Scherzinger

Concept: “American Idol’’ émigrés Cowell and Abdul take the stakes higher on this talent contest, which allows groups and solo artists age 12 or older. The winner gets $5 million plus a recording contract.

Am I hooked? I’m thinking I will be, now that “Idol’’ is so soft and talentless. I miss Simon’s sense and Abdul’s nonsense. She’s the original crazyhead.

Alternate title: “Simon and Bizarrefunkel’’

Grade: ?? (Sept. 21)

“Free Agents’’ (NBC)

Workplace comedy

Starring: Hank Azaria, Kathryn Hahn, Anthony Head

Concept: Adapted from a UK series by John Enbom of “Party Down,’’ this single-camera-com follows the reluctant romance of two PR execs on the rebound. Her fiance died, he’s newly divorced.

Am I hooked? I could be. I was surprised by the charming pilot, and especially by the wry Hahn. The tone tips awkwardly between crude and romantic, and a little of Azaria goes a long way. But I’m game for episode 2.

Alternate title: “Public Relations’’

Grade: B+ (Sept. 14)

“I Hate My Teenage Daughter’’ (Fox)

Multi-camera sitcom

Starring: Jaime Pressly, Katie Finneran

Concept: Former high school outcasts are mothers. They spoil their daughters, who are now the mean girls.

Am I hooked? Oh yeah, I’m hooked - on hating “I Hate.’’ It’s one joke ground to dust as the moms abuse their daughters and vice versa, ad infinitum.

Alternate title: “Birth Control’’

Grade: D (Nov. 23)

“H8R’’ (CW)


Starring: Mario Lopez

Concept: Controversial famous people such as Snooki and Kim Kardashian face everyday people who don’t like them. Mike Fleiss of “The Bachelor’’ produces.

Am I hooked? I’m sure I won’t be. The last thing I want is to hear the Snookis of the world defend themselves and their windfalls.

Alternate title: “H8able’’

Grade: ?? (Sept. 14)

“American Horror Story’’ (FX)

Psychological horror

Starring: Connie Britton, Jessica Lange, Dylan McDermott

Concept: Ryan Murphy of “Nip/Tuck’’ and “Glee’’ created this creepfest, as a family moves into a new house in LA to escape their psychological demons. Whoops - actual demons are waiting for them.

Am I hooked? The cast, which includes Denis O’Hare and Frances Conroy, is awesome. But Murphy has a habit of screwing up story line, and FX won’t release the pilot, so I’m wary.

Alternate title: “Flee’’

Grade: ?? (Oct. 5)

THURSDAY “How to Be a Gentleman’’ (CBS)


Starring: David Hornsby, Kevin Dillon, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Rhys Darby

Concept: An uptight magazine columnist tries to get hip to impress a new editor. He buddies up with Dillon’s personal trainer for life lessons.

Am I hooked? No. The cast is an embarrassment of potential, but Dillon is wearing as a Drama-like dude; the cultural-obsession-with-youth trope is old; and the learning-to-be-a-man stuff is pat. It’s very meh.

Alternate title: “Pig-male-eon’’

Grade: C+ (Sept. 29)

“Person of Interest’’ (CBS)

Vigilante drama

Starring: Michael Emerson, Jim Caviezel

Concept: Emerson from “Lost’’ is a billionaire whose sophisticated machine, built on data collected from public cameras and cellphone conversations, predicts crimes before they happen. Caviezel is the down-and-out former CIA agent who helps him prevent them.

Am I hooked? No. With J.J. Abrams as an executive producer, this tech-driven “Early Edition’’ is shockingly lifeless. Caviezel’s Clint Eastwood impression is flat, and Emerson is too darkly eccentric to keep the drama afloat. CBS claims it tested well, but I can’t understand why the show is getting the network’s high-profile 9 p.m. slot.

Alternate title: “Linus + the Machine’’

Grade: C+ (Sept. 22)

“Charlie’s Angels’’ (ABC)

Action reboot

Starring: Minka Kelly, Annie Ilonzeh, Rachael Taylor

Concept: A remake of the movie franchise and 1970s TV series about three gorgeous female detectives in Miami.

Am I hooked? Definitely not. The underwhelming cast brings nothing to the boilerplate action. Kelly is miscast as a biker chick, and making Bosley a hunk with computer skills fails to add life.

Alternate title: “Jiggle Belles’’

Grade: C (Sept. 22)

“Whitney’’ (NBC)

Relationship sitcom

Starring: Whitney Cummings, Chris D’Elia

Concept: A happily unmarried couple tries to keep the relationship fresh, despite their personality differences.

Am I hooked? I’m hooked on wondering what NBC is thinking by adding this to its otherwise stellar Thursday lineup. Standup comic Cummings has potential, but no one could overcome these dated relationship clichés.

Alternate title: “Witless’’

Grade: C- (Sept. 22)

“Prime Suspect’’ (NBC)

Cop procedural

Starring: Maria Bello, Aidan Quinn, Brian O’Byrne

Concept: This remake of the British series with Helen Mirren bears little resemblance to the original. Bello is a reckless action hero, as she deals with workplace sexism from the precinct’s “beef trust.’’

Am I hooked? Maybe so. This is a million miles from PBS and Mirren, but it works because of Bello’s visceral energy. If she has a chance to explore her troubled character, if the show doesn’t get stuck in a procedural rut, I’m in.

Alternate title: “Maria Full of Chase’’

Grade: B (Sept. 22)

“The Secret Circle’’ (CW)

Supernatural soap

Starring: Britt Robertson, Thomas Dekker, Gale Harold

Concept: Another post-“Twilight,’’ supernatural-power-as-teen-metaphor product, this one from the young adult trilogy by L.J. Smith. Adapted by Kevin Williamson of “Dawson’s Creek,’’ it’s about Robertson’s orphan, who learns she comes from a long line of witches.

Am I hooked? No, but that won’t matter. The CW built this predictable teen supernatural romance as a companion to the similar and better “Vampire Diaries,’’ and it’s going to be critic proof.

Alternate title: “Charmed, I’m Sure ’’

Grade: C+ (Sept. 15)

FRIDAY “A Gifted Man’’ (CBS)

Psychological drama

Starring: Patrick Wilson, Jennifer Ehle, Margo Martindale

Concept: Wilson is an arrogant, gifted surgeon whose ex-wife, Ehle, shows up to school him in compassion. Correction: It’s his ex-wife’s ghost.

Am I hooked? No. I want to be, because the actors are so charismatic. Remember Ehle with Colin Firth in PBS’s 1995 “Pride & Prejudice’’? But the New Agey ghost-as-conscience thing - done better with so much crazy verve in the hallucinatory “Eli Stone’’ - is strained by the end of the first episode. Where can the story go?

Alternate title: “Truly, Madly, Deeply, M.D.’’

Grade: B (Sept. 23)

“Grimm’’ (NBC)

Mythology mystery

Starring: David Giuntoli, Silas Weir Mitchell

Concept: “Road Rules’’ alum Giuntoli is a cop who, because of his Grimm family destiny, must save the world from predatory fairy tale creatures.

Am I hooked? This is a darkly lit, bland mix of the mythological, procedural, and supernatural. It should be more original, and the characters should be less forgettable.

Alternate title: “Grim’’

Grade: C- (Oct. 21)

“Boss’’ (Starz)

Urban corruption drama

Starring: Kelsey Grammer, Connie Nielsen, Martin Donovan

Concept: Grammer dives into drama as Chicago mayor Tom Kane, who has been secretly diagnosed with a debilitating illness. He’s manipulative and crooked, in politics and in romance.

Am I hooked? I did not see this coming. What a pleasure to find Grammer doing something other than being sniffy. The script is tight and ambitious, as it attempts to anatomize corruption in the big city. It’s not “The Wire,’’ but it has that kind of scope.

Alternate title: “Citizen Kane’’

Grade: A- (Oct. 21)

SUNDAY “Pan Am’’ (ABC)

Soapy drama

Starring: Christina Ricci, Michael Mosley

Concept: Stewardesses and pilots get caught up in romance and international spying in 1963, when flying was glamorous.

Am I hooked? Next to “The Playboy Club,’’ it’s the better network 1960s drama. The romance and the attractively stylized innocence of the era is addictive, but the espionage plot, with its link to political history, is absurd. And the female empowerment message grows feeble.

Alternate title: “The More-Than-Friendly Skies’’

Grade: B (Sept. 25)

“Hell on Wheels’’ (AMC)


Starring: Anson Mount, Colm Meaney

Concept: A post-Civil War drama set in the traveling tent city that was home to the transcontinental railroad workers. Mount is a stoic Confederate veteran out to avenge his wife’s death.

Am I hooked? Yes. It’s gritty like “Deadwood,’’ but less stylized and complex. The characters - including Meaney’s monster - are promising, the racial tensions are bracing, and the atmosphere is transporting. I don’t know if it will catch on - westerns can be a hard sell - but it’s another fine AMC choice.

Alternate title: “Slow Train Coming’’

Grade: A- (Nov. 6)

“Allen Gregory’’ (Fox)

Animated sitcom

Starring the voice of: Jonah Hill

Concept: Hill created a pretentious 7-year-old who watches Charlie Rose and drinks Pinot Grigio at lunch. Can the obnoxious home-schooled genius make it in public school?

Am I hooked? The trailer is inviting, with Hill at his passive-aggressive best. With this and “Cyrus,’’ he’s created a great comic niche. But Fox didn’t have the pilot ready for preview.

Alternate title: “Frasier: The Prequel’’

Grade: ?? (Oct. 30)

“Enlightened’’ (HBO)

Black comedy

Starring: Laura Dern, Luke Wilson

Concept: Dern and Mike White (“Chuck & Buck’’) created this portrait of a self-destructive executive at a health and beauty company trying to be more spiritual after she has a breakdown.

Am I hooked? Yes indeed. This is a double-dark comedy. Dern is fantastic as Amy - you cringe as her histrionics drive people away, and cringe again as she tries to suppress her feelings behind a veneer of New Age peacefulness. Dern’s real-life mother, Diane Ladd, is perfectly icy as Amy’s withholding mother.

Alternate title: “Emotional Rescue’’

Grade: A- (Oct. 10)

“Homeland’’ (Showtime)


Starring: Claire Danes, Damian Lewis, Morena Baccarin

Concept: Danes is a bipolar CIA agent who is convinced that Lewis’s newly rescued Iraq POW has terrorist intentions. It’s from Howard Gordon of “24,’’ but it’s a lot more psychologically layered than that terrorism drama.

Am I hooked? Big time. Of all the drama pilots I watched, this was my favorite. It has a “Manchurian Candidate’’ vibe. Danes and Lewis are complex in different ways, and they make tense cat-and-mouse partners. She’s untethered, he’s a master of self-control. And Baccarin is haunting as Lewis’s confused wife.

Alternate title: “POW Wow’’

Grade: A (Oct. 2)

“Once Upon a Time’’ (ABC)

Modern fairy tale

Starring: Ginnifer Goodwin, Jennifer Morrison, Lana Parrilla

Concept: Morrison’s 10-year-old son, whom she’d given up for adoption, finds her and takes her to a Maine town called Storybrooke, where people who were once fairy tale characters live. They’ve been robbed of happy endings, and their memories. Meanwhile, we flash back to their familiar tales.

Am I hooked? From a pair of “Lost’’ producers, this is a love-or-hate proposition, and I mostly hated. The ambition is impressive, as it asks us to imagine Goodwin’s Snow White and Parrilla’s Evil Queen as moderns. But Morrison is a wooden lead, and the back stories - a random collection of fairy tales - don’t promise to surprise.

Alternate title: “Rumpel-stilted-skin’’

Grade: C+ (Oct. 23)