Viewing TV's Latest Offerings with a Cautious Eye The fall TV season is upon us and the networks are rolling out their new shows. But it's hard to judge the potential success of a series based on just the pilot episode. Our TV critic looks at a few of the new shows with a cautious eye.
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Viewing TV's Latest Offerings with a Cautious Eye

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Viewing TV's Latest Offerings with a Cautious Eye

Viewing TV's Latest Offerings with a Cautious Eye

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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"Aliens in America" is just one of TV's new series this fall. It's the time of year when critics anoint the best new shows of the season. Our TV critic Andrew Wallenstein is not going to do that.

ANDREW WALLENSTEIN: Stop, because I already know what you're thinking. This guy's a coward, right? He doesn't want to go out on a limb and pick his favorite new TV shows because I'll look like a moron when they get canceled after one episode. Well, that's not entirely wrong, but hear me out.

Yes, I've been burned before. My favorite new TV shows from last year aren't around anymore. What's even stranger, I did preview a show that starts this season that seems so good I want to shout it from every satellite dish-strewn rooftop. But I'm not sure I will. Well, maybe.

But first, the show that broke my heart last year - the NBC drama "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip." Creator Aaron Sorkin crafted an opening hour of great intelligence and crackling dialogue.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip")

Mr. STEVEN WEBER (Actor): (As Jack Rudolph) You saw how fast I fired Wes Mendell? Screw this up, I'll fire you faster. See, I'm not like every other heterosexual male in show business, Jordan. I don't find you charming. And you've earned the loyalty of absolutely no one.

WALLENSTEIN: Naturally, I gave "Studio 60" a glowing review. But you know what? From the second episode onward, this show went into creative freefall. And it just goes to show what TV critics don't often tell you. They're often making pronouncements on the quality of a show based on a single pilot episode. That's like watching a toddler's first steps and assessing his future Olympic potential.

So here's the thing about TV pilots. Even when they're incredible, sometimes there's no gas left in the tank after that first hour. And sometimes a pilot is more like a work in progress that only comes into its own after writers and producers get a few episodes under their belts. And that's often true of the very best shows, in fact. Think back to "Seinfeld," which took months to hit its distinctive stride.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Seinfeld")

Mr. JERRY SEINFELD (Actor): (As Jerry Seinfeld) Kramer, you're just a dentist.

Mr. MICHEAL RICHARDS (Actor): (As Cosmo Kramer) Yeah, and you're an anti-dentite.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WALLENSTEIN: So I actually found myself going skeptical when I came across a great pilot this season. All right, I'll tell you. It's the new ABC drama "Pushing Daisies." It's about a man with a supernatural ability to bring the dead back to life with a touch of a finger, but that ability comes with a handicap in the romance department, as you'll hear in this scene.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Pushing Daisies")

Ms. ANNA FRIEL (Actor): (As Charlotte Charles) I can't even hug you. What if you need a hug? A hug can turn your day around.

Mr. LEE PACE (Actor): (As Ned) Well, I'm not a fan of the hug.

Ms. FRIEL: (As Charlotte Charles) Then you haven't been hugged properly. It's like an emotional Heimlich. Someone puts their arms around you and they give you a squeeze and all your fear and anxiety comes shooting out of your mouth in a big wet wad and you can breathe again.

Mr. PACE: (As Ned) That's fine for someone else to do if I'm choking on something other than emotion, but you can't touch me.

Ms. FRIEL: (As Charlotte Charles) So a kiss is out of the question?

WALLENSTEIN: The first episode of "Daisies" is dazzling. But now I wonder about what's coming next. Will the novelty of its premise wear thin after awhile? I mean you've seen one resurrection, you've seen them all, really. So how's this for brutal honesty? There could be 21 more hours of "Daisies" between now and the spring, and I can't vouch for any of it. The old me would have declared it the show to watch. But this fall season, I'm turning over a new leaf.

SMITH: Andrew Wallenstein is the editor to watch at the Hollywood Reporter.

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