When an E! True Hollywood Story gives you perspective on your own life, it could be a sign that you’re watching far to much television.
I already knew this about myself, having turned a tube obsession into sort of a job and all, but then came last week’s two-hour THS saga of Fox’s Married … With Children. Non-TV addicts may believe the mere idea of devoting 120 E!-investigative minutes to a dead sitcom like Married is as warranted as a Crazy Town box set, but those of us who’ve watched the Fox network since its 1987 launch know better: This is history, damn it!
Married … With Children was the first show aired by Rupert Murdoch’s new net (not counting an aborted Joan Rivers late-night talk show the year before—be grateful you know nothing of it). Somehow, MWS outlasted everything on Fox, running for 11 years despite being relentlessly pissed on by critics and moral watchdogs. Now, it’s considered a groundbreaking show from a cultural phenomenon of a network. Me, I just thought it was funny and simply sucked less than everything else on Fox—for every cult fave like Married, Get a Life or The Ben Stiller Show, Fox has posted horrific airballs like Whoops!, Herman’s Head and The X-Files (last two seasons only).
How did we get to the point where Fox is a real network player going into the fall season with three new mucho-buzzed shows and two more that don’t look, er, too bad? Wasn’t it just last year that they dumped a flaming bag of Normal, Ohio on our doorstep? Weird.
No new show on any network has more critical buzz than 24 (debuts Tuesday, Oct. 30), a midnight-to-midnight real-time thriller centered on the possible assassination of the country’s first black presidential candidate—make that viable candidate, Allen Keyes fans; simmer down now. As a CIA agent dealing with an on-the-rocks marriage and a missing party-girl daughter, Kiefer Sutherland hasn’t been this good since Freeway, or at least Young Guns II. Snazzy split-screens, genuinely surprising plot twists and the constant clock (which even figures in commercial time) justify the buzz, but 24 will need a full 24 episodes to wrap up the hour-by-hour story: built-in run guarantee, or bad, bad planning?
There’s nothing revolutionary about Undeclared (debuts Tuesday, Sept. 18), the critically anticipated college comedy from Freaks & Geeks creator Judd Apatow. It’s just a hysterical show with sweet insights and believable characters—oh, and no laugh track, thank you very much. Apatow emphatically claims this isn’t Geeks Go to College (even though ex-Freak Seth Rogen is involved), and Undeclared is a tight half-hour very much of the now, following freshman Steven Karp’s (Jay Baruchel) quest to transform himself from high-school dork to campus stud. Yeah, it’s Geeks Go to College.
The buzz surrounding the long-delayed The Tick (debuts Thursday, Nov. 1) is more about its seemingly inevitable too-bizarre-to-fly doom than its comic merits, unfortunately. Patrick Warburton (Seinfeld’s Puddy) was born to play this superhero role, a big blue (and possibly brain-damaged) defender of good ripped directly from the comic book and cartoon show with nary a concession to the realities of live-action TV. If you’re not hooked by the opening scene, wherein The Tick defeats a bus stop coffee machine and hands over the java with a hearty “Have a steaming cup of justice, citizen,” this ain’t for you—don’t even stick around for the appearance of super-villain Apocalypse Cow, OK? Just flip over to Survivor 3 like a good little automaton.
Fox has been trying to get over the sitcom hump since, well, Married … With Children, and this could be the year it finally happens if the aforementioned comedies and the new Bernie Mac Show (debuts Wednesday, Nov. 7) catch on. Anyone who saw BM in The Original Kings of Comedy is probably wondering how in the hell he can transfer his beyond-blue stand-up act to primetime TV. You’ll probably still be wondering after the first episode, but at least there’s no laugh track—that’s gotta count for something, right?
Pasadena (debuts Friday, Sept. 21) could really use a laugh track, because this howler of a soap throwback to Dynasty, with a twist of Twin Peaks/Wild Palms noir, is waaay too self-serious to exist outside of basic cable. Special overacting honors go to Dana Delaney as the matriarch of a rich Pasadena newspaper family with more skeletons in their closet than an Evil Dead convention, but dig this pedigree: It’s written and produced by Mike White (Chuck & Buck), and directed by Diane Keaton. Huh? If Pasadena somehow becomes a hit, can a Todd Solondz/Goldie Hawn joint be far behind? “Coming to UPN this fall: Tarzana.”