We’re upon one of my favorite times of year: the fall TV season! Increasingly, program releases are staggered throughout the year, with some of my favorites airing in the traditionally rerun-dominated summer (“Breaking Bad,” and “The Real Housewives of New Jersey” being two). Yet despite these chaotic programming practices, there is still a huge influx of new TV every fall. Of course, most of these new shows will crash and burn within the first year (about 70 percent), and many won’t make it past the first episode. It’s hard to predict a show’s success based on its pilot—both “Parks and Recreation” and “The Office” had disappointing pilots but turned out to be two of the best comedies currently on TV—but let’s give it a shot anyway.
The Mindy Project
(FOX) Premiered Sept. 25
“The Mindy Project” is being touted as the next “New Girl.” “New Girl” was FOX’s runaway hit last season, featuring Zooey Deschanel as quirky, innocent school teacher, Jess. But instead of quirky and innocent, Mindy (played by Mindy Kaling from “The Office”) is loud and snarky. The first scene features Mindy getting wasted at a wedding and biking down the road yelling, “I’m Sandra Bullock!” before falling into a pool and getting arrested for public intoxication.
This awesomely out-of-control behavior is Mindy’s way of dealing with an ex’s marriage to a younger woman, and her lamenting the fact that she is still single in her 30s. Despite her career success as a new OB/GYN, she feels incomplete because her life isn’t mimicking all the romantic comedies she’s obsessed over since childhood.
I generally hate gendered plotlines like this because it’s so rare that you see a dude on TV who’s worried because he isn’t yet married with kids. Professional women in TV Land always seem to be faced with “ticking clock” narratives that emphasize the potential “costs” of putting one’s professional life before one’s personal life. Guys get to be Charlie Sheen-style bachelors with a goddess on each arm, while women get to be barren cat ladies. Totally unfair! However, I’m always happy to see another show created by and starring a woman when most TV creators and showrunners are still men.
Additionally, the chemistry between characters is already pretty strong, especially with fellow “Office” alum Ed Helms. Although the pilot doesn’t quite reach the levels of self-deprecation achieved on “30 Rock” or “Louie,” given time, I think it could. This one should easily find an audience.
(NBC) Premiered Sept. 26
This show will probably be a hit. Not because it’s any good, but because people are suckers for cute animals (understandably). “Animal Practice” takes place at a veterinary hospital that is under new ownership. Dr. George Coleman (played by Justin Kirk) is a handsome, human-hating vet that has worked at the hospital for many years. He isn’t quite Dr. Dolittle in that he can’t talk to animals, but he prefers them to humans and has a knack for understanding their needs.
The opening scene depicts a cat, named Giggles, diving off a high rise building in an apparent suicide attempt. Dr. Coleman interprets the attempt as Giggles trying to tell her owner something, and advises, “Your cat’s in heat. Let her meet someone that will grab her by the scruff of her neck and make her purr so loud that the neighbors complain.” Hopefully he’s referring to Giggles meeting another cat, but based on his facial expression after delivering this line, and the odd addition afterward, “And I get off at 6,” I’m not so sure.
To give you a further sense of the show’s comedic style, consider the following scene: the veterinary staff is shown watching a horse race on TV, a nurse comes in and says, “This is an animal hospital, not Chuck E. Cheese!” Hilarious? Absolutely not! The most enjoyable part of the show is Dr. Coleman’s pet monkey, Rizzo. Except they rely on him for comedy and cuteness instead of actually writing decent jokes for their human characters. The same goes for most of the other animals on the show, and there are tons. One animal schtick involves a veterinarian being choked by a boa constrictor. However, the show doesn’t really address the choking man. He’s just there. Choking. I don’t plan on sticking with this show, but one thing’s for sure, it would benefit from an old-school laugh track. At least then I would have a clue as to what I’m supposed to find funny.
(NBC) Premiered Sept. 11
I’m normally not a fan of Matthew Perry, but I became more of one after watching the pilot for “Go On.” Perry is at his absolute Perryest, playing an arrogant yet lonely radio personality, Ryan King. The show features other familiar faces, including John Cho, who, to me, will always be Harold of Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle. After the death of King’s wife, his employer requires him to attend a transitions therapy group because no one thinks he is taking the time to properly grieve his loss.
The quirky characters that comprise the therapy group remind me of “Community,” another NBC sitcom. When King joins, he attempts to lighten up the group by creating a tournament, dubbed “March Sadness,” to see who has the worst life. In the tourney, a tale of blindness beats a failed music career and a feline’s death beats a human’s heart exploding (albeit on a technicality). As each sad story is repackaged into a potential tournament victory, and each character’s weirdness is showcased, the pilot really starts to hit its stride.
It’s rare that a sitcom can make you feel an entire range of emotions, but this pilot actually got me to both laugh out loud and feel sadness for its characters. Given time, “Go On” could make a great addition to the NBC comedy line-up.
Now, we’ll just have to wait and see which of these will be spared from the TV chopping block.
Melissa Zimdars is a doctoral student in Communication Studies at The University of Iowa, specializing in media and critical cultural studies.