The new fall season begins in earnest next week, but two new Fox series debut in the next few days. They're a mixed bag, as rough-cuts of two pilots prove. We'll start with the better show first.
Starring: Kelsey Grammer, Patricia Heaton.
"Prison Break" (8 p.m. Monday, Fox)
"Deal or No Deal" (8 p.m. Monday, NBC)
"Beauty and the Geek" (8 p.m. Tuesday, WPCW)
"America's Next Top Model" (8 p.m. Wednesday, WPCW)
"Kid Nation" (8 p.m. Wednesday, CBS)
"Til Death" (8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Fox)
"Gossip Girl" (9 p.m. Wednesday, WPCW)
"Kitchen Nightmares" (9 p.m. Wednesday, Fox)
"Survivor: China" (8 p.m. Thursday, CBS)
'Back to You'
TV comedies have been in the doldrums for some time, so it's refreshing to see two professionals like Kelsey Grammer ("Frasier") and Patricia Heaton ("Everybody Loves Raymond") return to the format in this funny multicamera comedy that easily delivers the laughs viewers have come to expect from these stars.
Grammer stars as Chuck Darling, a former Pittsburgh newscaster who returns to town after an on-air meltdown at a Los Angeles station lands on YouTube. Heaton plays Kelly Carr, his Pittsburgh co-anchor, with whom he had a one-night stand after his last night at WURG in 1996.
While some may wonder if we ever will be able to forget Grammer's Frasier Crane or Heaton's Debra Barone, "Back to You" makes clear it doesn't matter. Chuck Darling is a snob and Kelly Carr is fed up with his nonsense, so they're both playing characters viewers will be totally comfortable watching.
"If you want the real breaking news, I cannot do this with you again, you preening gas bag!" Kelly shouts at Chuck just before going on the air to welcome him back with a pat on the hand. As soon as they're clear, he rages, "Good Lord, cut your nails! It's like a falcon landed on my wrist."
See? Neither one is breaking new ground with these characters, and that's fine. Viewers liked them before and they'll like them again.
Written by Steven Levitan ("Just Shoot Me") and Christopher Lloyd ("Frasier"), "Back to You" also takes some deserved shots at the conventions of TV news, particularly pointless live shots at locations where the news actually happened hours earlier.
The show's biggest detriment is an over-reliance in the pilot on smarmy sex jokes, a Levitan speciality, as "Just Shoot Me" viewers can attest. The pilot's plot leads them in a direction where "this just in" becomes an obvious sexual metaphor -- some of it is funny, but there's just too much.
If the writers can tame their baser urges in future episodes, it will be easier to come back to "Back to You" on a weekly basis.
If "Back to You" breaks no new ground, then "K-Ville" is positively regressive. It sports the trappings of Serious Entertainment with a setting in post-Katrina New Orleans, but the show squanders any high-mindedness with ridiculous shoot-'em-up scenes reminiscent of any cop show circa 1979.
Marlin Boulet (Anthony Anderson, "The Shield") is a veteran N.O.P.D. cop who drinks on the job but didn't shirk his duties during Katrina, as his ex-partner did. His new partner, Trevor Cobb (Cole Hauser), has a mysterious background that Marlin picks at until he uncovers the unbelievable truth at the pilot's end.
In the premiere, Boulet and Cobb go running through the streets with guns firing on two occasions, including after a drive-by shooting at a benefit concert. This unapologetically over-the-top approach nullifies any attempts at social significance and reduces "K-Ville" to just another cop show.