The Ten Most Promising Pilots for Fall 2011 (Plus One Guaranteed Bomb)

The majority of new shows are complete bullcrap. Of the dozens of shows that premiered on a network channel during the 2010-2011 season, only three have been any good: “Bob’s Burgers,” “Lone Star,” and “Raising Hope” (all Fox shows incidentally) — and only “Hawaii Five-0” was a breakout success.

All we have between May (when shows are picked up) and September (when they air) is optimism that this year will be as good as, say, the 1999-2000 season, when “Freaks and Geeks,” “Angel,” “Malcolm in the Middle,” “The West Wing,” “Popular,” and “Shasta McNasty” all debuted. With that in mind, here are the ten new pilots that sound the most promising.

#10. “How to Be a Gentleman

“Homer and Marge Simpson raise Bart, Lisa, and baby Maggie.” That’s how my DVR describes “The Simpsons”, the greatest show of all time. Point is, it’s tough to judge a show by its blurb, especially when it comes to sitcoms. So, when deciding what new shows to watch, you’re left with two options: what do critics think and whether it stars anyone you like. The Wrap says “How to Be a Gentleman” is about “an oddball friendship between a straitlaced columnist and his less cultured pal/trainer” (ugh), starring Dave Foley, Rhys Darby, and David Hornsby, a.k.a. Rickety Cricket (not ugh).

#9. “Locke and Key

TV shows with puns in their titles should usually be avoided like…well, like “Miss Match,” that horrific NBC show starring Alicia Silverstone from 2003 (God, I miss Jeff Zucker), but “Locke and Key” has potential. It’s based on a graphic novel (a phrase you’ll read again later) and has family patriarchs getting murdered, uncles played by “Carnivàle” actors, secret keys, and, most importantly, a creative team that includes Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, and One Hour Photo director Mark Romanek. [Kurtzman and Orci are the geek heroes who wrote “Alias,” Star Trek, Cowboys & Aliens, and — less sexily — the last two Transformers movies. -Ed.]

#8. “Alcatraz

“Undercovers” notwithstanding, J.J. Abrams has an excellent track record on television, including “Felicity,” “Lost,” “Alias,” and “Fringe.” Along with former “Lost”-er Jorge Garcia and Sam “Not from the Front, but From the Side” Neil, Abrams is hoping to duplicate his previous successes with “Alcatraz,” about a team of FBI agents looking into the disappearance of a group of prisoners from 30 years ago. If it’s anything like The Rock, it’s worth a season pass on your DVR.

[Ed. note: The show will also star Sarah Jones, AKA Polly Zobelle from Season 2 of “Sons of Anarchy.”]

#7. “17th Precinct

The biggest gamble this pilot season is “17th Precinct”, the Ronald Moore-created series that’s been described as an “adult Harry Potter,” with lots of magic and cities with silly names (such as Excelsior). If you like “Battlestar Galactica”, it’s likely you’ll at least give “Precinct” a chance (outside of Moore, the show stars Jamie Bamber, Tricia Helfer, and James Callis), and if you don’t, I direct you to the photo of Helfer above.

#6. “House of Lies

Although they’re not comedies per se, as Matt pointed out recently, I am a big fan of Showtime’s original programming, such as the-much-better-than-it-should-be “Shameless” and “Weeds” (I swear I don’t have a side gig working for Showtime). Their next dark not-a-comedy, “House of Lies” — which really could be the name of any of their shows — is based on the book of the same name with the subtitle: How Management Consultants Steal Your Watch and Then Tell You the Time. The show stars Don Cheadle and Kristen Bell, who will presumably play a strong, conflicted woman.

#5. “Wonder Woman” / “Charlie’s Angels”

I honestly don’t know what to think about either one of these shows. On one hand, they feature Adrianne Palicki (I miss you, Tyra) in a skintight superhero outfit and Minka Kelly (I miss you, Lyla) in a bathing suit every week, but on the other hand, one’s overseen by the magnificently overrated David E. Kelley and the other is being described as a gritty update of the original. At the very least, they’ll be easy-on-the-eyes entertainment fluff, like “Hawaii Five-0”, and can’t be any worse than “The Munsters Today” or “Knight Rider” or “Bionic Woman” or…

#4. “Rest

Based on the graphic novel of the same name (see, told you), “Rest” is about John Barrett, a friendless man in his 20s working a dead-end job (oh, been there) who’s one day offered a drug that makes it so that you never have to sleep again. The comic was co-created by Milo Ventimiglia (“Gilmore Girls,” “Heroes”), who’s also set to co-produce the show, so he’ll hopefully keep “Rest” honest to the original material, like Robert Kirkman and “The Walking Dead.”

#3. “Ringer

The words “CBS” and “drama” together are about as appetizing as a three-hour marathon of the same episode of “Osbournes Reloaded” over and over again, but when you also include “Sarah Michelle Gellar,” “Nestor Carbonell” (Richard Alpert from “Lost”), and “boating accident,” my interest perks up. Gellar, who hasn’t starred in a TV show since “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” went off the air in 2003, stars in “Ringer” as a woman on the run who, according to Entertainment Weekly, “hides out by living the life of her wealthy twin sister, until she learns her sibling’s life has a bounty on it as well.” And in a twist that hasn’t been admirably accomplished since Lindsay Lohan in The Parent Trap, Gellar plays both sisters.

#2. “More As the Story Develops

An incomplete list of boring things Aaron Sorkin has made interesting in his career: coders, students from Harvard, Matthew Perry, Mormon farmers, TV politics, lobbyists, and Martin Sheen. With HBO’s “More As the Story Develops” (potentially starring Jeff “Not Bridges” Daniels), he’s starting with a fascinating topic (what goes on behind the scenes at networks like Fox News and CNN), so the sky’s the limit on how good this show could be. Plus, “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” isn’t nearly as bad as you remember it being.

#1. “The River

Broadcast TV could really use a thriller that keeps people tuning in on a week-to-week basis like “Lost” did—and I don’t mean that we need another “Lost” clone, either, like “FlashForward” or “The Event”. So I’m really pulling for “The River,” which, according to Deadline, “centers on a small group that goes deep into the Amazon in search for [sic] a missing TV explorer.” It’s created by the team who made Paranormal Activity, so expect lots of handheld cameras, and set to star Bruce Greenwood (Star Trek’s Pike) and Eloise Mumford, who sounds like an uptight British nanny but is actually a very talented actress most recently from “Lone Star”.


I can convince myself to give almost every new show a shot. Hey, “Don’t Trust the Bitch in Apt 23” has the girl from “Breaking Bad” in it! How bad can “Grimm” be when it’s made by David Greenwalt? I should at least give “Once Upon a Time” a chance because of “Big Love”‘s Margie.

But not NBC’s “Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea,” based on the literary travesty by Chelsea Handler. The way most people feel about Tucker Max is the way I feel about Handler, except I think she’s done even more to harm to her gender than Max has. Amazing to think that this show will be on the same channel as “Community.”