These days the 2007 writers’ strike is being blamed for everything, up to and including the Wall Street crash, rising oil prices and Hannah Montana. Sadly, though, it really does seem to still be making its presence felt in the TV world. The 2008 fall season is but a small and slightly gangrenous cousin to the mighty seasons of times gone by. In those heady days, we had big prospects such as Lost and Heroes and quirky delights like Pushing Daisies and Dexter. This year, however, we are making do with X-Files: Alias Edition; Joss Whedon Does Something That Is Still Not Buffy; yet another Innovative Crime Drama that will be anything but, and a new reincarnation of the ever-popular Vampires are Evil and Sexy (Again).
None of these, at first sight, look particularly prepossessing. However, I have been wrong many a time, and am looking forward to being wrong again. Here’s a look at the shows that could make it big. Please note, however, that any or all of the shows listed here are liable to be cancelled, and even if they are not, they may never be bought by a channel that we provincials can receive. You have been warned.
#### True Blood, HBO
True Blood is the newest product from HBO, the cable channel that brought a grateful world Sex and the City and The Wire. HBO shows are famous for their sex and violence, and in this respect True Blood, from the creator of Six Feet Under, does not disappoint. It’s a gleeful mess of blood, breasts and Southern accents slathered over a fairly slender main concept.
It takes place in a world where, after the discovery of a way to create synthetic blood on tap, vampires have finally been able to ‘come out of the coffin’ and take their place alongside humans. If you’re thinking X-Men with fangs, you’re right – we get exactly the same recycled ‘civil rights’ debates and pro and anti viewpoints. The main hinge of the story, though, is the romance between Sookie the barmaid (Anna Paquin) and Bill (Stephen Moyer), a brooding, Mr Darcy-esque vampire. Bill is somewhat miscast, and the budding romance between the two leaves a lot to be desired in terms of actual sexual chemistry, but True Blood is worth watching for some fairly witty dialogue and an interesting take on what life with vampires might actually be like.
#### Fringe, Fox
Fringe is this year’s offering from wonder-producer JJ Abrams, the man behind Alias and Lost. He darts through TV land like a child with ADHD, creating beautiful concepts which he never quite manages to finish before his attention is caught by the next big project. This, then, is it: a sort of strange conspiracy-theory amalgamation of the X-Files and Alias that proposes to explore the mysterious (read: not in any way plausible) world of fringe science.
Helping feisty and beautiful Agent Olivia Dunham (newcomer Anna Torv) with all this weird science is obligatory sexy man Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson, AKA Pacey from Dawson’s Creek, playing a character who in no way resembles Alias’s Michael Vaughn) and his father Walter (the excellently insane John Noble, better known as Denethor from Lord of the Rings).
In fact, it would be difficult to convey just how similar to the pilot of Alias the first hour and a half of Fringe really is. A feisty, emotionally broken female agent discovers that her world is not what it seems when her boyfriend suffers a tragic plot device? It’s 2001, I’m 13, and I just got the worst haircut of my life.
However, if you love spy dramas and loved Alias, Fringe promises more strange sights, strange concepts and mysterious crashed planes, all of it impossibly glossy and entertaining. What I’ve seen makes me think that this show will be at the very least a lot of fun, and may quite possibly turn out to be as deeply addictive as any of Abrams’ previous series.
#### The Mentalist, CBS
I have to admit, I came to The Mentalist with expectations in the minus numbers. The world, after all, is not in great need of another show about a maverick detective with a bunch of attractive groupies. However, the Mentalist somehow manages to distance itself all those other achingly serious darklit criminal dramas.
There’s nothing wildly new here, plotwise, but there are some engaging riffs on old tropes and the main character, the mentalist himself, has a smart origin story that’s unusual even though it borrows from the oldest plotline in the book. Surprisingly, this is one to watch.
#### Dollhouse, Fox
Alas, Dollhouse will not burst onto our screens until January, but it deserves a mention here purely because of its creator. Joss Whedon, the man behind Buffy, Angel and Firefly, is making a return to TV with this series, which is currently being hailed among nerdly circles as something akin to the second coming of the Lord.
This is debatable. While Whedon does have a talent for creating clever and unusual cult hits. Dollhouse’s star, Eliza Dushku, is a Buffy refugee whose beauty is stunning but whose talent is more in doubt – her last vehicle was the execrable Tru Calling, a show so utterly dreadful that it did not even deserve the one and a half seasons it had.
Dollhouse’s plot revolves around five attractive young people whose minds have been wiped to enable them to be reprogrammed at will and hired out like bicycles. However, in a plot twist shocking only to those without TV or an internet connection, one of the operatives, Dushku’s Echo, begins to develop her own independent personality. The excitement is palpable.
#### Privileged and 90210, The CW
Both of these shows seem to be born of the CW’s new interest in the rich and unhappy. This time around the network is shamelessly building on the surprise success of last year’s Gossip Girl with two more lipstick-coated teen-drama-soap-sex-wealth-excitement-things.
Privileged is the exciting tale of a pretty, smart non-rich girl who is somehow roped into tutoring two pretty, not-so-smart rich girls. Hijinks quite obviously ensue, probably involving men, money and mistaken identities. It’ll either be instantly forgettable or the new OC.
90210, on the other hand, is a retread of the ‘90s soap series Beverly Hills 90210. However, this 90210 is vastly different in that it has up-to-date clothes and two non-white characters. Never say that the CW doesn’t care about racial equality. Expect poolside drama, insane outfits and Arrested Development’s Jessica Walter pretty much reprising her role as Sloshed Hilarious Grandma. Watch it for Walter and nothing else.