As long as the writers’ strike rages on, loyal viewers will be deprived of some of their favorite shows (the absence of The Office stings especially badly). However, with the New Year, many old favorites will see their triumphant returns. While the prospect of uncovering new secrets surrounding the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815 might have Lost fans licking their lips, more intriguing might be the slew of new original series that mid-season brings. Here’s a cheat sheet to break down some of the more interesting new shows, with the aim of helping you to differentiate the good from the bad. Which shows will be this season’s Mad Men (the good ones) and which will be Cavemen (i.e. absolute crap)? While this is by no means a comprehensive list of this season’s debuts, it tries to sample a little bit of everything — comedy and drama, action and romance. It even dabbles in hardcore drugs. See for yourself:
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (Mondays, 9pm, FOX):
To try to explain the intricate mythology at the foundation of The Sarah Connor Chronicles would be an exercise in futility. The Terminator saga has gotten so convoluted as its creators continue to add on new chapters to the story that it would take far more effort than it’s really worth. It suffices to say that this new original series, which stars Thomas Dekker as future revolutionary and savior of the human race, and Lena Heady (of 300 fame) as his mother, Sarah, promises to be, at the very least, a cool, sci-fi/action mash-up, continuing the trend of increasingly cinematic television series. So far over 10 million viewers have tuned in for each of the first two episodes, so it must be doing something right … right?
Breaking Bad (Sundays, 10pm, AMC):
The American Movie Channel broke into the original programming market last fall with the critically acclaimed Mad Men, a subversive drama about advertising executives, and now continues to make waves with Breaking Bad. Here’s the recipe. Take Malcolm in the Middle dad Bryan Cranston. Now throw in a dash of Weeds, Showtime’s comedy series about a widower who takes up pot-dealing. Finally, stir it all up with a heaping helping of Coen Brothers-esque dark humor. What do you get? The short answer, Crystal Meth. A high school chemistry teacher is diagnosed with inoperable cancer, and starts up a meth lab to leave his wife and Cystic Fibrosis-affected child with a little bit of life insurance. Heavy stuff.
The Moment of Truth (Wednesdays, 9pm, FOX):
The bar is constantly rising when it comes to people agreeing to embarrass themselves for a chance to be on TV. It used to be that you had to settle for watching rednecks argue over alimony on Judge Judy, but now, thanks to a string of grossly exploitative reality TV shows, the possibilities are limitless. The newest gimmick? Hooking people up to a polygraph machine and making them tell the truth for up to a fifty-thousand dollars. Contestants are asked a broad range of questions, from the relatively innocuous, if embarrassing (“Do you care about people in third world countries?”) to the outrageously invasive (“Would you ever cheat on your wife?”). Honestly, how long is it before the networks start staging real life death matches a la Running Man?
Cashmere Mafia (Wednesdays, 10pm, ABC):
Sex and the City meets The Devil Wears Prada in this new series about a fearsome foursome of highly successful, smoking hot New York business women (Lucy Liu, Frances O’Connor, Miranda Otto and Bonny Somerville). For all those who went into severe withdrawal when HBO shut the door on Carrie and co. and need something to hold them over until the Sex and the City movie comes out this summer, Mafia might be the perfect solution. Everyone else will probably find this to be a shallow, vapid exercise in excess. In other words, it’ll probably be a huge hit.