My dad used to say that you could tell a movie would be bad if you could explain the plot in fewer than five words. For example: “DeVito and Schwarzenegger are Twins” makes for a bad movie. I’m beginning to think that the opposite holds true for TV shows, though. For example, some of the best shows are very simple setups which rely on excellent acting and writing. Think about it: Sex and the City is “four single women are friends in New York.” “Friends” is just that– some friends interact in funny ways. A complicated premise is often an excuse to avoid the hard work of writing a good script.
Looking at the fall TV schedules, I’m guessing we’ll have a combination of absurd concepts that fail to hide poor execution, and simple concepts which are imitations of successful concepts and which fail because of poor execution. Typical pessimism from me, though. There’s a chance that one or two of these will be good.
The first batch of shows is basically Sex and the City variations. The Women’s Murder Club, in which four women share friendships and crime clues, is basically Sex and the City but with murder. Plus, it’s an adaptation of a James Patterson series, so that’s two strikes against it already. Lipstick Jungle features three powerful New York City women are who are friends, making it Sex and the City with fewer women. Because it’s on broadcast TV, there will also be less sex. I can’t wait. A few shows try to do Sex and the City with men: Carpoolers might as well be titled Sex and Dudes in the Suburbs, and Big Shots is the same thing with CEOs and country clubs. A special shout-out to Cavemen which places the gimmick cavemen from the Geico ads into big city life: Neanderthals and the City.
Then, you’ve got your silly, complicated ideas that are ripoffs of other silly, complicated ideas: a man goes back in time and has to decide whether to save his ex-girlfriend and risk changing his future (Journeyman— but it’s basically Quantum Leap); a NYPD cop is cursed with immortality (New Amsterdam, but it’s basically Highlander); a private detective feels conflicted about also being a blood-sucking vampire (Moonlight, but it’s basically Angel, which is basically Buffy the Vampire Slayer).
Finally there are two shows which at least are not obviously plagiarizing other shows. That’s about the only thing I can say in their favor, though: there’s a good reason nobody else used these ideas before. Pushing Daisies features a baker who can bring dead people back to life by touching them once and return them to death by touching them again– he uses this ability mostly to solve murders but things get awkward when he saves his childhood sweetheart’s life but can never touch her again. Reaper is about a slacker who discovers on his 21st birthday that his parents sold his soul to the devil before he was born and that he’s going to have to do Satan’s bidding, which turns out not to be so bad because his job is to find escaped evil souls and capture them using a vacuum cleaner.