Greetings to the New Pilots: 20 Series We Hope to See in Fall 2011

Yes, once again, it’s pilot season: the time when the broadcast networks put all of the potential projects for the 2011 – 2012 season on the table, take a cold, hard look at what’s available to them, and decide which ones have the most potential for success come the fall…or spring, depending on how much or how little confidence they end up having in the final product.

Critics everywhere should be throwing parades in honor of TV Guide’s Natalie Abrams, who has done the heavy lifting for the rest of us and offered up The Complete Pilot Report, listing off all of the pilots currently in the running for ABC, CBS, The CW, Fox, and NBC, along with their creators, their premises, and the actors currently attached to them as of this writing.

Having taken a gander at Abrams’ decidedly comprehensive list, here’s our list of the 20 shows we’d most like to see turn up come the kickoff of the Fall 2011 season:

1. Alcatraz (Fox): A cop (Sarah Jones) and a team of FBI agents track down a group of missing Alcatraz prisoners and guards who reappear in the present day after disappearing 30 years earlier. J.J. Abrams will executive-produce and Liz Sarnoff (“Lost”) will be the showrunner. Jorge Garcia, Sam Neill, Jonny Coyne, Jason Butler Harner, Parminder Nagra, Santiago Cabrera and Robert Forster also star.

2. Awakening (The CW): Two sisters (Lucy Griffiths and Meredith Hagner) face off during a zombie uprising. William Laurin, Glenn Davis, Howard T. Owens, Carolyn Bernstein and Todd Cohen will executive-produce.

3. Brave New World (NBC): The project centers on a group of characters at Pilgrim Village, a theme park that recreates 1637 New England. Peter Tolan (“Rescue Me”) wrote the pilot and will executive-produce with Michael Wimer (“2012”). Ed Begley Jr., Nick Braun, Will Greenberg, Jazz Raycole, Robbie Benson and Anna Popplewell will star.

4. The Council of Dads (Fox): Based on the non-fiction book by Bruce Feiler, a man who learns he’s dying enlists five men to help his wife raise their two children. The project comes from “Rescue Me” creator Peter Tolan. Kyle Bornheimer, Diane Farr, Patrick Breen and Ken Howard will star.

5. Hail Mary (CBS): An Atlanta-set P.I. drama tells the story of a suburban single mom (Minnie Driver) who teams up with a street hustler (Brandon T. Jackson) to solve crimes. Jeff Wadlow will write and executive-produce with Joel Silver and “The L Word” creator Ilene Chaiken. Enrique Murciano and Stephen Tobolowsky will also star.

6. How to Be a Gentleman (CBS): An uptight guy (David Hornsby) learns to live his life with the help of an old high school friend. The project comes from Hornsby (“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”). Dave Foley, Nancy Lenehan and Rhys Darby will also star.

7. Little in Common (Fox): This project revolves around families whose children play Little League together. “Veronica Mars”‘ Rob Thomas will write and executive-produce. Rob Corddry, Paula Marshall, Kevin Hart and Gabrielle Union star.

8. Pan Am (ABC) – The stewardesses and pilots of the titular airline are the stars of this soap set in the Jet Age of the 1960s. Jack Orman (“ER”) wrote the pilot and will executive-produce with Nancy Hult Ganis and Tommy Schlamme (“The West Wing”). Christina Ricci, Margot Robbie, Karine Vanasse and Michael Mosley will star.

9. Person of Interest (CBS): A presumed-dead CIA agent (Jim Caviezel) is recruited by a billionaire (Michael Emerson) to catch violent criminals in New York City. “Memento”‘s Jonathan Nolan and J.J. Abrams will executive-produce. Taraji P. Henson will also star.

10. Playboy (NBC) – At the Playboy Club in Chicago in 1963, “bunnies” (incuding Amber Heard and Naturi Naughton) flirt with danger. Chad Hodge and “Apollo 13″‘s Brian Grazer will executive-produce. Jeff Hephner, Laura Benanti, Jenna Dewan-Tatum, Leah Renee, David Krumholtz and Wes Ramsey also star.

11. Reconstruction (NBC) – In the aftermath of the Civil War, a soldier (Martin Henderson) crosses the country and settles in a complicated town where he is welcomed as its savior — whether he likes it or not. “St. Elsewhere” co-creator Josh Brand wrote the pilot. Bill Sage, Claire Wellin, Emma Bell and Rachelle Lefevre will also star.

12. REM (NBC): A police detective (Jason Isaacs) who’s involved in a traumatic car accident wakes up in two fractured realities. The project comes from Kyle Killen, creator of Fox’s short-lived “Lone Star,” and “24”‘s Howard Gordon will also executive-produce.

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Fox: What’s New for Fall 2010

MONDAY

Lone Star (Mon., Sept. 20 @ 9:00 PM, Fox)

* The competition: “Dancing with the Stars” (ABC), “Two and a Half Men” and “Mike & Molly” (CBS), “The Event” (NBC), “Gossip Girl” (The CW)

Starring: James Wolk, Adrianne Palicki, Eloise Mumford, Bryce Johnson, Mark Deklin, Jon Voight, David Keith

Producers: Christopher Keyser (“Party of Five”), Amy Lippman (“In Treatment”), Kerry Kohansky and Paul Weitz (“American Dreamz,” “Nick & Nora’s Infinite Playlist”)

Network’s Description: a sophisticated and provocative drama set against the sprawling backdrop of big Texas oil, about a charismatic and brilliant schemer who has entangled himself in a deep, complex web from which he can’t break free. He’s caught between two very different lives and two very different women.

The Buzz: Critically, I feel like it’s tracking higher than anything else out there, but it’s a thinking man’s show and it’s on Fox. This is traditionally not a combination that equals ratings success…or a second season.

Pilot Highlight: Ostensibly, the money shot is supposed to be when we realize that Bob has two families, but since there’s no way Fox won’t give away the premise of the show in the commercials, then it’s his reaction during a backyard barbeque when he has an abrupt attack of guilt over the hurt his actions are going to cause.

Bottom Line: It’s an intriguing premise for a drama that takes a lot of interesting turns in its first hour, which is probably why it feels way more like an FX series than a Fox series. As such, it hhasn’t much hope to make it to the end of the season, let alone beyond…and that’s a real shame, because – drum roll, please – “Lone Star” is the best drama of the season.

TUESDAY

Raising Hope (Tues., Sept. 21 @ 9:00 PM, Fox)

* The competition: “Dancing with the Stars” (ABC), “NCIS: Los Angeles” (CBS), “The Biggest Loser” (NBC), “Life Unexpected” (The CW)

Starring: Lucas Neff, Martha Plimpton, Garret Dillahunt, Cloris Leachman. Shannon Woodward, Skyler Stone

Producers: Greg Garcia (“My Name Is Earl”), Kim Hamberg (“The Middle”

Network’s Description: a sweet, offbeat comedy which follows Jimmy Chance, a well-meaning screw-up trying his best to raise his infant daughter with the help of the eccentric family who did a less-than-stellar job of raising him.

The Buzz: Not that the competition is all that strong, but most critics have pegged this as the best comedy of the season. Plus, while having Cloris Leachman in the cast isn’t quite as impressive as, say, Betty White, it ain’t half bad, either.

Pilot Highlight: The moment when Jimmy learns a very valuable lesson about his daughter’s car seat. Hand on heart, it has probably been two years since I laughed so hard at a moment in a sitcom.

Bottom Line: The ghost of “My Name Is Earl” seriously haunts the show, but the pilot has several laugh-out-loud moments, and a baby allows for a new spin on the sweet-natured white-trash comedy in which Garcia specializes.

Running Wilde (Tues., Sept. 21 @ 9:30 PM, Fox)

* The competition: “Dancing with the Stars” (ABC), “NCIS: Los Angeles” (CBS), “The Biggest Loser” (NBC), “Life Unexpected” (The CW)

Starring: Will Arnett, Keri Russell, Stefania Owen, Peter Serafinowicz, Robert Michael Morris, Mel Rodriguez, David Cross

Producers: Mitch Hurwitz and Jim Vallely, (“Arrested Development”), Eric Tannenbaum and Kim Tannenbaum (“Two and a Half Men”), Peter Principato and Paul Young (“Reno 911”), Will Arnett

Network’s Description: a romantic comedy series in which a spoiled filthy rich playboy desperately tries to win the heart of his humanitarian childhood sweetheart by helping raise her 12-year-old daughter.

The Buzz: Pretty crappy the first time around, actually, and it didn’t take long for word to get back to the show’s producers. As I recall, there was some serious squirming going on when Arnett turned up to welcome critics to the Fox day of the TCA tour and asked us what we thought of it. For my part, I didn’t have to fake appreciation, as I kind of liked it…but, then, I even laughed at Arnett in “Let’s Go to Prison,” so take that opinion with a grain of salt. Still, they’ve switched things up a bit since then, adding David Cross to the mix as a recurring character, which certainly increases the show’s value for “Arrested Development” fans.

Pilot Highlight: Peter Serafinowicz successfully steals every scene he’s in (though we should probably give his horse part of the credit of that), but the moment when Arnett’s and Russell’s characters are reunited – pay attention to the music playing behind them, as it’s a payoff to an earlier joke – is both sweet and silly at the same time.

Bottom Line: Don’t get too excited about Cross’s contribution to the pilot (it plays exactly like the last-second addition that it was), but casting Arnett as a spoiled man-child of a character certainly finds him playing to his comedic strengths. “Running Wilde” isn’t going to a rash of “The ‘Arrested Development’ magic is back!” headlines, but if Hurwitz and Vallely can quickly find the balance between the sweet / silly vibe that pops up in the scenes when the Arnett / Russell relationship is the focus and the poor-little-rich-boy aspect of Arnett’s character, things could start looking up.

  

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SXSW 2010: Elektra Luxx

It’s only been a year since the premiere of the micro-budget comedy, “Women in Trouble,” but that hasn’t stopped director Sebastian Gutierrez from rushing out the second installment in his proposed trilogy just in time for its anniversary. There wasn’t a whole lot of outcry for a sequel, but considering just how fast and cheap these movies are to make, there probably wasn’t any time to wait around to find out. Unfortunately, while “Women in Trouble” featured a series of fun interconnected stories anchored by a clever script and strong performances from its mostly female cast, “Elektra Luxx” only offers a sliver of what made the first movie one of 2009’s underrated gems.

Picking up weeks after the events of “Women in Trouble,” the film opens with adult film star Elektra Luxx (Carla Gugino) still coping with the news that she’s pregnant. Now teaching a class on on making love like a porn star at the local community center, Elektra’s life is complicated once again when Cora (Marley Shelton) arrives in town with a proposition: help ease her guilty conscience by sleeping with her fiancé (Justin Kirk), and in return, she’ll give Elektra the lost lyrics of her late boyfriend, Nick Chapel (Josh Brolin). On the other side of town, porn blogger Bert Rodriguez (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) mourns Elektra’s exit from the adult film industry, only to be horrified to discover his sister (Amy Rossof) is interested in breaking in to the business, while Bambi Emmanuelle Chriqui) and Holly (Adrianne Palicki) head to Mexico for vacation.

electra_luxx

To say that either plotline is integral to Elektra’s story would be pushing it, however, because while they do eventually come together in the end, “Elektra Luxx” isn’t as much of an ensemble effort as the first film. You needn’t look any further than the title of the movie to know that it’s predominantly about Elektra, and although Carla Gugino is great as the blonde bombshell (even getting a chance to show off her diversity playing Elektra’s lispy twin sister in a flashback sequence), it just doesn’t have the same charm as “Women in Trouble.” Only a handful of actors return for the second go-around (including Joseph Gordon-Levitt, whose role has been expanded beyond a short cameo), while many of the new characters, like Timothy Olyphant’s private investigator and Emma Bell’s cheating wife, aren’t on screen long enough to make an impression.

Thankfully, Emmanuelle Chriqui and Adrianne Palicki are also back for more, because they’re easily my favorite characters of the series. Palicki, in particular, steals the show as the lovesick amateur porn star, earning big laughs just about every time she opens her mouth. It’s at times like these where Gutierrez’s script shines, and although there aren’t as many here as in the previous movie, the writing remains his biggest strength. As a director, it’s a completely different story. Though Gutierrez definitely deserves points for experimenting with everything from black-and-white flashbacks to fantasy sequences and musical numbers, none of them are necessary and only take you out of the moment. Granted, “Elektra Luxx” isn’t a bad movie, but it’s still a disappointment after seeing how much could be accomplished with so little in “Women in Trouble.”

  

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