Winter’s Harvest — crop forecast
Hello to Don Cheadle and 302 Alcatraz inmates
Primetime television is breeding a nation of schizophrenics. More than 80 new and returning series will bombard us over the next three months, TV’s so-called "winter season." Just focusing on January’s first half (we’ll deal with others as their launch dates grow closer), here are a few debuts of note.
House of Lies, 10 p.m. Sundays, Showtime (premieres Sunday): The incomparable Don Cheadle gives TV another try as fast-talking corporate wheeler-dealer Marty Kaan in this outrageously unconventional comedy. Huzzahs for a black man getting rich on television dealing something other than crack. And if you really want to see more of Cheadle, don’t miss the show’s first seven minutes.
Are You There, Chelsea? 8:30 p.m. Wednesdays, NBC (premieres Jan. 11): Already sanitized from the bestselling book that inspired it (Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea), the sitcom stars Laura Prepon (That ’70s Show) as young Chelsea Handler, the late-night cable talk goddess, comedian and author. Handler co-stars, eerily, as her own older sister. Her books are uproarious, but there’s a big difference between page and stage. From the clips I’ve seen, this show could be as desperately hollow as the show it’s being paired with, Whitney.
The Finder, 9 p.m. Thursdays, FOX (Jan. 12): This Bones spin-off, taking the hit show’s time slot while Emily Deschanel enjoys maternity leave, reminds me of A&E’s The Glades, only with a waaay more likable star. Geoff Stults is Walter Sherman, a former Iraq war vet who suffered a brain injury in combat and now fashions himself as a gifted "finder" of all things lost. He doesn’t just think outside the box; he thinks beyond the cardboard factory. And how can any show with mountainous Michael Clarke Duncan as sidekick not be worth watching? Look for a rare cameo by rocker John Fogerty in the opener.
ROB, 8:30 p.m. Thursdays, CBS (Jan. 12): Eternal nebbish Rob Schneider returns to TV as an extremely lucky dork who marries a gorgeous Latina (Claudia Bassols) after a whirlwind affair. Reaction from her family, led by papa Cheech Marin, is, shall we say, negative. Nary a stereotype goes untouched here, but the cast is solid and CBS’s track record for sitcoms has been impressive lately.
Alcatraz, 9 p.m. Mondays, FOX (premieres 8 p.m. Jan. 16): What is it with J.J. Abrams and islands? Channeling the mysterious aura of Lost onto America’s most famous prison, this creepy crime hour spins the mythology that the 302 inmates on "The Rock" when it closed in March 1963 never transferred: they disappeared. Now they’re coming back, exactly as they were 49 years ago, to exact a murderous revenge. The cast is appealing, with visually sublime Sarah Jones as a nosy SFPD detective, Lost favorite Jorge Garcia as her professor teammate and Sam Neill as an FBI know-it-all. Could recapture Lost’s viewer obsession.
Napoleon Dynamite, 8:30 p.m. Sundays, FOX (Jan. 15): Come to think of it, the 2004 neo-cult movie upon which this new "Animation Domination" entry is based always felt more like cartoon than live action anyway. Having Jon Heder, Efren Ramirez ("Pedro") and other original cast members lend their voices to the animated version lends an air of authenticity, and the same quirky humor is on display. One key will be how many people remember the movie, and how fondly.
Southland, 10 p.m. Tuesdays (Jan. 17): The shockingly raw cop drama re-establishes itself in Season 4 as one of the Best Things on TV. It’s energized by the addition of U-M grad Lucy Liu as a flinty street cop who partners with Cooper (Michael Cudlitz), now free from pain-pill addiction after back surgery and anxious to rebuild his rep, and a guest arc by Lou Diamond Phillips as a jaded patrol officer who proves a pain in the ass to Sherman (Ben McKenzie), a rookie no longer. The lid-lifter includes one of the most stunning pedestrian accidents I’ve ever seen.
Big wheel in town: The first time John Quiñones traveled outside his native Texas, he came to Michigan. "My father got laid off the summer I was 13, and we joined a caravan of migrant farm workers," he recalls. "We journeyed up to Northport, near Traverse City, and picked cherries with my family."
Quiñones, now an Emmy-winning ABC News correspondent, co-anchor of Primetime — and host of the news division’s wildly popular reality series What Would You Do? — returns to the state Sunday in a far more prominent position: co-host of the 16th annual Urban Wheel Awards, official multicultural event of the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS), at the Sound Board inside Detroit’s Motor City Casino Hotel.
"Now that I live in New York, I walk everywhere, and I miss having a car," Quiñones says. "But I grew up in San Antonio, where in the Mexican community everybody had a ’57 Chevy or a souped-up hot rod. My first car was a ’59 Pontiac I bought for $75, the money I earned from that summer I worked in Michigan. We drove it down to San Antonio and it lasted for years. Then I had a Corvair in high school."
Beyond a fondness for things automotive, Quiñones says he happily accepted the emcee invitation because, "Being Hispanic, whenever I can work it into my crazy schedule, I try to give back and express the importance of diversification. I’m a living example of how an integrated workforce can benefit a corporation. Diversity works."
His focus now is on What Would You Do? — a hidden-camera series that sets up provocative situations to see how everyday Americans will respond — launching its new 13-week season at 9 p.m. Friday, Jan. 20, as lead-in to 20/20.
"The scenarios run the gamut this season," Quiñones says. "I thought we would have run out of ideas by now. One of the most interesting, I think, is a visit we took to Provo, Utah, the most conservative town in the country according to voting records, where we look at interracial and gay relationships, among other issues."
Quiñones will be joined by actress and Cosby Show legend Phylicia Rashad to co-host the Urban Wheel Awards at 7 p.m. Sunday, preceded by a 4 p.m. reception honoring NAIAS chairman William "Bill" Perkins, the first African-American to hold the title. Tickets are available online at www.ticketmaster.com or by calling 800-745-3000.
'Hung’ over: HBO has decided three seasons is enough for Hung, the seriocomedy set in Detroit with Thomas Jane as a desperate teacher turned male prostitute. We should have known he couldn’t keep it up much longer. While canceling Hung, Bored to Death and How to Make It in America, HBO has renewed Laura Dern’s much-maligned freshman comedy Enlightened. This is enlightenment?
Rob on CBS
Alcatraz is coming on Fox.