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Debuted Sept. 8

"Debuted Sept. 8."

That's how the Entertainment Weekly fall TV preview wraps up its blurb about Hellcats, the new cheerleading show airing Wednesday nights on the CW network. This, from an issue dated Sept. 17, which hit newsstands and mailboxes earlier that week. Well, pardon me, but what the fuck is the point of that information, then? Here's the cover of EW the week before this show began, when a Fall TV Preview might actually have been useful:

Not just a pointless list of movie monsters and aliens, but a user poll about movie monsters and aliens. Pivotal, time-sensitive information to be sure. It's a shame, with 18 staff writers working on the TV preview, they can't manage to get it out on time. For a magazine that will call you at home if Michael Ausiello uncovers some new dish about a plot development on Desperate Housewives or "Doc" Jensen has a new brainstorm about Lost, it seems like regurgitating the networks' press releases about their fall line-ups should be an easy priority to manage.

But I'm just bitter: three of the last four years, EW has printed their guide after the shows started airing, and I've had to tromp around to the networks' websites, one by one, to collect my information. This year, I didn't have time, so I'm stuck with the tardy information EW has to offer – and the added aggravation of Ken Tucker's 5 "picks," which are insinuating themselves into my brain and forcing me to question my instinctive revulsion to the concept of remaking Hawaii Five-O and calling it "new television."

The other thing EW gets wrong (and then I'll stop harping on them, I promise) is that their night-by-night program grids have absolutely all the information you need except for the premiere dates of the shows, which is why I generate my own little grid (linked below). I also generate another list, probably of little use to you, but linked anyway just in case: it's all the new shows in order of when they start, along with all the returning shows I happen to watch – to help me schedule TiVo recordings. (Both include ratings of anticipated quality so you know in advance which shows to watch!)

2010 Guide to Fall Premieres [116k PDF]
2010 Schedule of Fall Premieres [108k PDF]

(Okay, also, I really hate that juvenile "Bullseye" feature. Now I'm done, EW – I swear!)

What To Watch

Admittedly, I haven't spent a lot of time poring over the new fall schedule, but mainly because it hasn't given me much reason to. Only a couple of shows have really shown any amount of potential, and those are Raising Hope on Fox, which seems to have a quirky and entertaining feel to it (the sort of comedy Fox loves to tease you with and then squash like a bug – cf. Arrested Development, Wonderfalls), and Running Wilde – which actually looks like it could be fairly dumb and formulaic, but it has Will Arnett and he rarely disappoints. I've also recently discovered that Arrested Development's Mitch Hurwitz co-created it, which could be a plus. He also co-created Fox's Brothers from last year, which was simply horrible, so let's not put all our eggs in that basket.

Another late entry is IFC's The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret, starring and created by David Cross. It doesn't look perfect, but the clips I've watched online have been pretty funny, and I believe we can expect it to be incredible or else Cross would never have associated himself with it. And there's a decent chance NBC's J.J. Abrams show Undercovers will be worth watching, but that's just a guess. I will also admit that the concept of NBC's Chase sounded mildly intriguing once I realized that it wasn't going to be anything like Fox's terrible Drive from a couple of years ago (and I really wish the ads had made that clearer sooner).

Then there's a list of shows I fear I will be unable to not watch, even though I don't think they'll be good: ABC's The Whole Truth, because it has Maura Tierney in it; HBO's Boardwalk Empire, because it has Steve Buscemi and Kelly Macdonald in it; CW's Hellcats because it has cheerleading in it; and Fox's Lone Star, because it has Adrienne Palicki in it, whose removal from Friday Night Lights still hurts like a sucking wound. I'll do my best to avoid ABC's Better with You – as much as JoAnna Garcia charmed me in 2008's Privileged (she's the TV version of Amy Adams), I think she'll be canceled out by the abysmal Josh Cooke (NBC's Committed).

Last Week's Shows

Fortunately, the only shows we missed were on the CW network, which is a network for children, who don't watch their television on TV anyway – so both shows are available online (thanks for caving, striking writers!), which allowed me to catch up, and you can, too.

Nikita airs Thursdays at 9:00, and Hellcats airs Wednesdays at 9:00, and both follow the CW model of showing twentysomething hotties in as little clothing as possible as often as possible. (It's a viable model, because even though I'm very well aware – very well aware – that soft core porn is available freely on the Internet, I still get excited watching their shows; and clearly enough people do that they keep making the exact same shows year after year.) The main difference is that Nikita is another remake of 1990's La Femme Nikita about a spy-assassin, with an Alias bring-down-the-black-ops-from-within kind of twist, while Hellcats is more of a Bring It On homage. You'll never find me saying anything bad about Alias or Bring It On, so on the surface, these should both be great shows. On the surface, they are – but, this being CW, there's little below the surface. Nikita's a little too heavy on exposition (there's voiceover narration, frequent monologues where characters explain things to other characters, plus flashbacks), where it could just be fun ass-kicking – the tweens in the target audience really don't care about a Lost-style backstory that holds up to rigorous scrutiny. Joseph "McG" Nichol is a producer on this (of course he is), so he should know that a fun, Charlie's Angels romp is all that's needed. The central idea – that Nikita has escaped the assassin agency, and vows to take it down with the help of a well-placed mole – could be fun; and Maggie Q is sparky and fetching as Nikita. But the show doesn't really live up to its potential.

Knowing the target audience, I think it's worth noting that the pilot video of Hellcats has twice as many Facebook "likes" as the video for Nikita. It's got its own front-loaded backstory, about Marti and the desperate scholarship situation that led her to join the cheerleading squad against her will, but for the most part it proceeds a lot more like a typical CW show. Lots of catty remarks, way too much pop music on the soundtrack, and lots of interpersonal drama (Marti and her mom; Marti and cheerleading captain Savannah [High School Musical's Ashley Tisdale]; Marti and the injured cheerleader she's replacing; there's even a whole brewing side drama about the cheerleading coach and her ex who's the new football coach). But, anyway, the point is, there's cheerleading. (Sigh.) The chief problem with the show is that Marti begins from a stance of hating the cheerleaders for their conformity and über-cheerful spirit, and all the reasons well-rounded, self-possessed girls like Marti are always shown to resent cheerleaders. Which is all well and good (a tad pat, but it's a CW show and you need to get this across in about 3 minutes, so that's fine). But then her scholarship gets yanked away from her, and a cheerleading scholarship seems like her only chance to stay in school, so she reluctantly tries out, and of course she's a natural. Also, fine. This is a TV show after all. What's unfortunate is that she then does a complete 180 on everything else, too. Suddenly, she's BFFsville with Savannah and giving 110% at practice and all of that. What I'd like to have seen is a little more friction (and a lot more shower scenes, frankly), but seriously – more of Marti having a hard time keeping a straight face when it comes to the "world" of cheerleading. This isn't a high school show like Glee or 90210: Marti's in college now and should have a stronger sense of her own identity (especially considering the way her character was introduced). Seems like the central of the conflict of the show is tossed overboard and instead it's going to be about her battle with the injured girl she's replacing, who's out to sabotage her, and the team, and pretty much anything.

Ah, well. This is what happens when the only shows of the week are on the CW network – I start expecting them to work at the level of actual TV shows.

2 stars (40/100) Hellcats
1 star (20/100) Nikita

Premiering This Week

Outlaw: NBC, Wednesday at 10:00 2 stars (40/100)
Boardwalk Empire: HBO, Sunday at 9:00 3 stars (60/100)

3 Comments (Add your comments)

Joe MulderFri, 9/17/10 8:06pm

Feel free to accompany every new entry in the fall TiVo gauntlet with a photo of those "Hellcats" girls' tummies.

Bee BoySat, 9/18/10 9:58am

See? Don't you love that? Once again, freely available on the net but for some reason, CW has figured out that we'd rather see it in the middle of their half-formed stories. You should've seen the Marti-works-out-then-bikes-to-class-late-in-a-half-shirt montage in episode two. I refuse to feel guilty about this: I'm keeping Americans employed by gawking at it. (Well, mostly Canadians. Although Executive Producer Tom Welling (!) is an American by birth – if you don't count his home planet of Krypton. )

Joe MulderMon, 9/20/10 2:57pm

You should've seen the Marti-works-out-then-bikes-to-class-late-in-a-half-shirt montage in episode two.

Yes. Yes I should have.

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