LOS ANGELES, Sept. 14 (UPI) -- This season's new fall TV dramas run the usual gamut of awful (lots) to mediocre (ditto) to not bad, I'd watch it again (a couple). Here's the rundown of five I've heard the most buzz about, bad news first.
Feature film explosion-meister Jerry Bruckheimer ("Pirates of the Caribbean," "Pearl Harbor," etc.) has teamed up with TV writer Jim Leonard (Fox's quickly canceled anthology series "Night Visions") to produce "Skin," a contemporary teen drama inspired by "Romeo & Juliet," with a twist: the battling Capulets and Montagues are headed by a porn mogul and a district attorney out to get him.
Romeo and Juliet -- or in this case Adam (D.J. Cotrona) and Jewel (Olivia Wilde) -- meet cute on the roof of L.A.'s groovy Standard hotel. Her boorish date has tossed her car keys in the pool, and as Jewel dives for them (wet dress action!) so does gallant Adam.
Quicker than you can say "Debbie Does Dallas" they're staring wide-eyed at each other underwater, so in love that chlorine doesn't matter.
"Skin," which premieres Oct. 20 on Fox, is full of phoning-it-in dialogue like this:
Adam: "I'm half Mexican, half Irish-Catholic."
Jewel: "My dad says we're not really Jews, we're Jew-ish."
Gee, did dad (Ron Silver, as the porn mogul) think that one up all himself? Anyway, as "Skin" makes clear, Porn Dad is a misunderstood mensch -- "I HATE kiddie porn! There's a REASON we call it adult entertainment!" he yells at one point -- and all-around cool guy who doesn't mind if his 16-year-old daughter stays out till 4 a.m.
D.A. Dad (Kevin Anderson), on the other hand, is an uptight egomaniac. "How many politicians does it take to screw in a lightbulb?" his son seethes, in another phoning-it-in bit of writing. "One. He holds the fixture in place and the world revolves around him."
Ooh, harsh! And snaps to actor Kevin Anderson, who manages to look sincerely stricken at this supposedly original and deeply cutting line of dialogue.
I've only seen the partial presentation pilot of David E. Kelley's new CBS drama "The Brotherhood of Poland, N.H.," which premieres Sept. 24, and it looks pretty dull. Still, it can't be as bad as Kelley's canceled-after-two-episodes "girls club" last year on Fox, simply because another show that bad probably violates the laws of the known universe. Also, although Kelley can be quite pretentious, he's normally a decent craftsman.
Star Randy Quaid did offer the most philosophical reason I've heard for a crappy show being canceled at the CBS press conference, when someone asked him about "The Grubbs," a Fox sitcom so awful it was never even aired. Quaid, who starred as Daddy Grubb, said: "When the Lord closes one door, he opens a window."
And that window would be, yes, "The Brotherhood," which creator-producer Kelley described on the second page of the script as about "three brothers, 40 and fat."
Kelley recalled that when the pilot script was making the rounds, some Fox executives called him up after reading the "fat" description and said, "Clearly, you're not looking to write for Fox."
"And it was true," Kelley said. "I wasn't." (Maybe because he's still sore about how quickly they cancelled "girls club.") CBS is still Hollywood though, so none of the wives are fat.
Anyway, they've been joking on "The Brotherhood" set that the new show is sort of like "Bonanza," except instead of Adam and Little Joe it's just Hoss, Hoss and Hoss.
"The Handler," which debuts on CBS Sept. 26, stars Joe Pantoliano as a tough FBI agent in charge of training other agents. I'm getting a little tired of "CSI"-inspired gross-out forensic details (enough with the bodies in the freezer already!) and at times the show seems rather like a dead serious, warmed-over "Charlie's Angels" starring Charlie instead of the angels, which kind of dampens the fun factor.
Still, Pantoliano (best known as the decapitated mob stoolie in "The Sopranos") is a charismatic actor with an appealingly mookish persona -- sort of like Baretta sans cockatoo, but not totally sans the hints of sociopathy -- and the pilot episode I saw was engaging and compelling, with a nice little twist at the end.
I'm a sucker for teen soap operas so I'll probably keep watching "One Tree Hill," which premieres on the WB Sept. 23 and is basically a mishmash of "East of Eden" meets "The O.C." meets "Everwood," with a healthy dollop of "Peyton Place" tossed in for good measure.
Chad Michael Murray -- whom I loved as spoiled preppie Tristan on the first season of the WB's "Gilmore Girls" -- stars here as Lucas, the poor and illegitimate (but Shakespeare-reading and basketball-playing!) son of Dan, the rich town jerk (Paul Johansson) who left Lucas's mom in the lurch when she got pregnant in high-school. Dan later married, and fathered an acknowledged son (James Lafferty) who also plays basketball. And -- would you believe it? -- the half-brothers end up shooting hoops on the same team AND vying for the same girl.
Barry Corbin (of "Northern Exposure" fame) plays the twinkly, wise basketball coach, who, when Dan yells that Coach is full of crap, twinkles wisely in response: "It's called constipation, Dan. Comes with old age."
And yes, that Corbin character does seem like a shameless ripoff of the twinkly, wise, black bus driver on "Everwood," last fall's breakout teen drama on the WB. Perhaps lest you suspect this, Coach's given name is Whitey.
Speaking of the WB, "Joan of Arcadia," which debuts Sept. 26 and is about a contemporary teenaged Saint Joan, is CBS's first serious effort to try to WB-ize itself. Middle-aged dramas like "Brotherhood" and crime dramas like "The Handler" are more in keeping with CBS's traditionally older demographic, although "Joan"'s religious fantasy theme does echo that old Eye network hit "Touched By An Angel."
CBS's Maid of Orleans is 16-year-old Joan Girardi (Amber Tamblyn), daughter of a police chief (Joe Mantegna) and housewife (Mary Steenburgen) who are both lapsed Catholics. Creator-excutive producer Barbara Hall (previous credits: "Judging Amy," "Moonlighting," "Northern Exposure") is a lapsed Methodist who became convinced of the existence of God through reading books about physics.
"It's so clear when you look at physics how little we understand," Hall said at the CBS news conference. "We are really the fish who don't know that they're in water." Hall is a convert to Catholicism. But one of the rules for "Joan of Arcadia" writers, she added, is that God doesn't favor any particular religion.
"I can safely say that we're going with monotheism," Hall noted with a laugh. "It's sort of worked for a while now."
Other rules of the show are: God can't directly intervene in human affairs, he can only work through humans; God won't answer any direct questions; God doesn't punish directly; Joan always has the right to refuse God's requests; God may be benign, but the universe is not.
God does not speak to "Joan of Arcadia" as a disembodied voice or burning bush but appears in various human forms -- most commonly, in the pilot, as a cute guy not much older than Joan herself.
Of all the theological questions posed through the ages, this may be a first: What if God were a hottie? (Or ... a nice black cafeteria lady who gives you extra tartar sauce for your fish?)
The show could be cloying. But Hall's an intelligent writer, and she has a sharp, edgy actress in young Amber Tamblyn (daughter of actor/dancer Russ Tamblyn of "West Side Story").
I asked Hall if God would ever appear to Joan as unpleasant or frightening.
"He can be odd-looking, but he's never going to be malevolent," she responded. "There will be scary elements in the show, because my thinking is that God is only interesting in a scary world."
The real Joan of Arc, of course, led great armies into bloody battles and ended up burnt at the stake, which would be kind of a TV downer. But also, I guess, a must-see series finale when sweeps time comes around! So I wouldn't count anything out at this point.