Who’s Your Daddy: Television’s Best Dads

Good fathers are a common trope on television, possibly because there are so few of them in the real world. Which makes it a challenge to narrow them down to just a few of our favorites. What follows is our top twelve, and we salute them, as well as the also-rans like Eric Taylor, Tony Micelli, Michael Bluth, Howard Cunningham, Mike Brady, Stephen Keaton, Henry Spencer, and James Evans. Happy Father’s Day, and thanks for making our real dads seem so inferior!

1. Cliff Huxtable (Bill Cosby), The Cosby Show
Let’s be honest: Bill Cosby was everyone’s dream dad in the ’80s. When he wasn’t making us laugh with his wholesome comedy routines, telling stories of Fat Albert and the gang, or extolling the virtues of pudding pops, he was delighting us all as Heathcliff Huxtable: obstetrician, jazz aficionado, husband, and father of five. Cliff was silly, kind-hearted, competitive, embarrassing, available to help whenever one of his kids had a problem, and usually clad in a fluffy sweater that just begged to be hugged. He was even chosen as America’s top TV dad in a Harris Interactive poll, the favorite among respondents of all races, ages, and political affiliations. Take that, Ward Cleaver.

2. Dan Conner (John Goodman), Roseanne
If Cliff Huxtable was the dream dad of the ’80s, Dan Conner was the reality. This beer-drinking, blue-collar everyman worried about money, fought with his wife, yelled at his kids and suffered through the recession along with the rest of us. But through it all he was the emotional center of a ground-breaking show that wasn’t afraid to give us an imperfect, realistic take on the American family. You never for a second doubted that Dan would do anything for his kids, and his triumphs were all the more meaningful because he had to work so hard for them. It’s possible he even helped us understand and appreciate our own over-worked, imperfect dads a little better.

3. Richard Castle (Nathan Fillion), Castle
Best-selling novelist Richard Castle is something of a playboy, a bit irresponsible, and frankly kind of self-centered. Except when it comes to his teenage daughter Alexis, whom he’s raised without any help from Alexis’ even-more irresponsible mother. He’s pretty much the ideal dad, to be honest. He has fun hanging out with Alexis (they have laser tag tournaments in their tony Manhattan apartment!), but he’s not afraid to set limits when he needs to. He trusts her, because he’s raised her to be trustworthy. He values her opinions and takes her advice as often as he offers his own fatherly guidance. In fact, the wonderfully heartfelt interactions between this father and daughter are one of the things that sets Castle apart from the other crime procedurals crowding the TV landscape.

4. Jed Bartlet (Martin Sheen), The West Wing
As we learned in the fifth season episode, “Abu el Banat,” to be a father of daughters is to be a man deserving of sympathy, and Jed Bartlet is the father of three very headstrong women. He may not always know how to relate to them, and he may not always approve of the choices they make or the men they marry, but he makes damn sure they know he’s always in their corner, like when he tells his middle daughter, Ellie: “The only thing you ever had to do to make me happy was come home at the end of the day.” *wibble* And on top of that he somehow manages to run the country AND co-parent his loyal inner circle of staffers (with a little help from Leo, of course).

5. Mitchell Pritchett & Cameron Tucker (Jesse Tyler Ferguson & Eric Stonestreet), Modern Family
Like any first time parents, Mitch and Cam have suffered their share of mishaps, like the time they accidentally locked baby Lily in the car (pshaw! Let me tell you about the time my two-year-old locked her babysitter out of the house). But on a show that’s all about the push and pull of family, these two dads are the perfect yin and yang. Between the two of them they’ve got all the bases covered—they’re smart, affectionate, serious, fun-loving, responsible, spontaneous, athletic, and artistic—ensuring that Lily (and any other children they might adopt in the future) will never want for anything.

6. Keith Mars (Enrico Colantoni), Veronica Mars
While we sometimes wished that Keith had kept a shorter leash on Veronica, you can’t deny that his example is the reason she grew up to be the clever, strong, fiercely independent champion of the underdog that we know and love. And the fact that the touching bond between this father and daughter was able to transcend the skeletons they each kept tucked in their respective closets is nothing short of miraculous. Even when it seems like the rest of the world is against them, Keith and Veronica always have each others’ backs. And dessert for dinner to ease some of the pain.

7. Howard “Bunny” Colvin (Robert Wisdom), The Wire
On a show with nary a good parent to be found (even the so-called good guys weren’t exactly model parents), Maj. Colvin stands out, not only as a father-figure to the officers who served under him and the neighborhood he wanted to protect with his Hamsterdam experiment, but to the corner kids he tried to help after he was pushed off the force. Even when his middle-school program was terminated, he did the one thing he could do—he pulled Namond out the thug life his mother was pushing him towards by convincing the incarcerated Wee-Bey to let the Colvins take in Namond and raise him away from the streets of West Baltimore. Namond’s out there somewhere right now, getting ready to go off to college thanks to his foster-father, Bunny Colvin.

8. Charles “Pa” Ingalls (Michael Landon), Little House on the Prairie
Charles Ingalls did all the things you’d expect of a frontier-based SuperDad–protecting his offspring from wolves and rogues, carrying them across frozen rivers, keeping the fires stoked during bouts of fever and ague. He even welcomed prairie orphans into the family and put his own dreams of farm life on hold to work in the city during drought so no one would starve to death. But what makes Charles most memorable is his ability to put the 1800s behind him and rock the 1970s sensitive man fathering. Whether gently chastising his Half-Pint to set aside her selfishness or mourning the loss of his son, Charles Ingalls’ mix of stoicism, emotion, and gentleness makes him a pioneer in masculinity as well as the wide prairie.

9. Julius (Terry Crews), Everybody Hates Chris
Julius might be best remembered for his penny-pinching–heaven help you if you try to use an eletrical appliance–but he comes by it honestly. He works himself to the bone at multiple jobs to try to provide for his family in the big city. Julius is a lovable combination of big softy and unwilling disciplinarian (with a belt for every crime) who is a good example of making the best out of the little he has. He labors to make Thanksgiving and Christmas memorable for his kids, but his idea of the perfect Father’s Day is spending the day alone (or having the kids paying the bills). And as one of the hardest working dads on our list, he’s earned it.

10. Rupert Giles (Anthony Stewart Head), Buffy the Vampire Slayer
No, technically Giles wasn’t a father. But Joss Whedon’s shows are all about constructed families and there’s no denying that Giles was a father to not only Buffy (filling the gap left by her deadbeat dad), but also to the rest of the Scoobies, most of whom didn’t fare very well in the parental lottery. Teaching Buffy to kill vampires was the easy part–it was teaching her to survive the rest of the world that turned out to be hard. Without the benefit of biology or the even the advantage of similar temperaments, Giles forged a bond with his Slayer that was far stronger than most “real” dads ever manage to achieve, and was the glue that held the rest of Buffy’s “family” together to boot.

11. Burt Hummel (Mike O’Malley), Glee
As soon as you see that Burt’s only reaction to his son’s football-by-way-of-Beyonce exploits is to worry that Kurt is too little for the game, you know the truth: this baseball cap-wearing, Deadliest Catch-watching dad adores his kid, regardless of his sexuality or skin care routines. It’s pretty clear that Burt often doesn’t have the foggiest idea of what’s going on in Kurt’s head, but that doesn’t stop him from being by turns insistent on better behavior, a safe place to land during scary times, and fiercely protective (bullies beware: we hear he’s got a flamethrower). Contrary to his reputation, Burt’s not perfect–he’s a man of his generation and is still more likely to wish his kid would tone it down than demand that the world deal with Kurt dialed to 11–but this widower works hard at parenting and has good results to show for it, both with Kurt and with his new stepson Finn. Even with some gender fail, Burt’s version of The Sex Talk will likely be a great model for real-life parents for years to come.

12. Walter Bishop (John Noble), Fringe
While it seems unlikely that Walter’s own son, Peter, would nominate him for this list, our affection for this shattered genius is such that we can’t help including him. Okay, yeah, he’s got all of the ego and bad temper you’d expect from a mad savant, his childlike (and childish) mentality is often a trial for poor Peter, and, okay, he did sort of conduct unethical experiments on children and steal Peter from his real dad. But STILL. His love for his son was strong enough to literally tear a hole in the universe. And his intentions in doing so were unselfish and pure, even if he might have inadvertently destroyed two worlds in the process. And can you really blame Walter for loving his wife too much to watch her lose Peter twice? I know I can’t, and neither could Peter, even if he’s the one who has to go on all the two a.m. strawberry milkshake runs.

Why FRINGE is the Best Sci Fi Series on Television Right Now

We weren’t too nice to Fringe around here when it first premiered. I seem to recall phrases like “slow and derivative,” “disappointing,” and “bargain bin” being tossed around in our early reviews. And we weren’t wrong. The show got off to a pretty creaky start–creaky enough that we stopped tuning in altogether. But a funny thing happened while we weren’t watching: it got better.

It didn’t happen overnight. It took them most of the first season–and maybe even a good part of the second–to find their butter zone and figure out what they were good at. But once they did? Wow. And now that Doctor Who seems to have lost a lot of its mojo (a post for another day), I’m officially declaring Fringe the best sci fi show on television.

There’s no denying that lot of the first season felt like a mundane X-Files rip-off with a lot of cheap gross-outs (WARNING: Do not under any circumstances attempt to watch this show while eating. You will regret it.) and some truly ridiculous “science.” But as the show’s mytharc develops, you gradually begin to realize that all those seemingly isolated incidents were actually leading the characters somewhere pretty interesting. (The mad science, unfortunately, never gets any better, so you’ll just have to resign yourself to some serious suspension of disbelief.) And unlike its predecessor, The X-Files (or J.J. Abrams’ Lost, for that matter), the Fringe mytharc has a straightforward, linear progression that manages to be both satisfying and intriguing, while actually kind of making sense. In that respect it turns out to have a lot more in common with shows like Veronica Mars and Damages than its genre cousins.

But it’s in the second season that Fringe really hits its stride, because that’s when it really digs into the emotional lives of the characters. Monsters and supernatural phenomena are all well and good, but what gets me invested in a show is its characters. And with John Noble’s masterful turn as Walter Bishop, Fringe has managed to create one of the best characters on any drama, ever. If Walter’s tragic, fragile genius doesn’t break your heart again and again, well, you might want to check to make sure you’ve got one. And while I admit that I found Joshua Jackson’s Peter and Anna Torv’s Olivia awfully wooden at first (and Peter downright unlikable in the pilot), they’ve evolved quite a bit since then. That off-putting woodenness has transformed over time into a natural reserve that not only masks personal heartbreak but is a point of commonality that eventually draws the two characters together. Watching these two damaged, distrusting people slowly open up to one another has been an unexpected delight.

Speaking of which, that’s another thing Fringe does better than The X-Files (and almost every other show on TV with a will-they/won’t they couple, for that matter). Instead of dicking around the audience and dragging out the sexual tension between the leads interminably (*ahem* Hart Hanson *cough cough*), they let it develop steadily and naturally over the course of the first two seasons. And then they totally went for it. And then, of course, they threw some major, epic roadblocks in their way, just to keep things interesting. But something tells me these two kids aren’t going to let something as simple as the end of the world get in their way.

Fringe has a little something for every sci fi fan: star-crossed lovers, wacky mad scientists, doppelgangers from parallel universes, mysterious time-travelers, and Leonard Nimoy. There are even plenty of Easter eggs seeded throughout the show to keep hardcore conspiracy buffs busy, from the fedora-sporting Observer who’s hidden in every episode like a game of Where’s Waldo, to the cipher that appears before the commercial breaks, spelling out a new word each week. But those are just bonuses: you don’t need to devote hours of your life to searching for the clue that foreshadows the next episode or combing fan sites to see if you missed a hidden Massive Dynamic logo somewhere in order to enjoy this show. The main storyline is easy enough to follow even for casual viewers, although it’s not necessarily the sort of thing you can just jump right into the middle of.

The season three finale airs this Friday night and it looks to be another mind-blower, but if you haven’t been watching the show I honestly can’t recommend you start now. The long, hot desert of summer television is just around the corner, and what better time to give Fringe the chance it deserves? Start from the beginning on DVD (if you’re impatient you can even skip to season two, but if you’re a completist like me you’re going to want to see it all) and enjoy watching this Little Show That Could grow from a tiny caterpillar into a beautiful butterfly, albeit one with creepy finger-bone wings.

To Be Competent Or Not To Be Competent: NBC’s Loveable Comedy Losers Take On Fox’s Intrepid Investigators

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It’s the first huge night of the new fall season, with season premieres of several returning shows and the bow of a notable newbie. Hope you’ve got a quad-tuner DVR, because there’s a lot to see tonight. All times listed below are Eastern and Pacific, so if you’re like me and don’t actually trip the light fantastic in LA or NYC, count on your TiVo to help you add or subtract an hour. The TiVo is smarter than we are anyway.

You could tune in to the loveable losers on NBC’s strongest night, where even the characters who manage to do something right usually spiral gently downwards. Uneven Amy Poehler vehicle Parks and Recreation, where the failures occur regularly and have yet to be terribly funny, returns at 8:30. It’s followed at 9pm by its much more successful sibling, The Office, which promises an episode in which Michael causes an awkward situation that is resolved by Pam saving the day. Isn’t that essentially every episode of The Office? Doesn’t matter–with characters so engaging and writing so dry, we’re willing to go along for the same ride a few times. The Office is followed immediately by the debut of Community, a comedy in a similar single-camera, vertias vein, starring the delightfully snarky Joel McHale (The Soup) as an attorney whose license is pulled until he gets a real college degree. In addition to being in the middle of a promising set-up, McHale is supported by luminaries ranging from The Daily Show‘s John Oliver to Ken Jeong (Party Down, Role Models) and the legendary Chevy Chase. Here’s hoping the earn an A+.

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If the cavalcade of failure gets you down, you might prefer the return of the ultra-competent investigators on Fox. Many Bones fans (8pm) seem to be hoping that the show actually returns to competently solving mysteries after an odd detour into tumor-induced hallucinations. While the creators have promised more of the budding Booth-Brennan romance (pushed along by guest star Cyndi Lauper!), if you want to get your geek on this show has one of the highest science-to-silliness ratios on TV. Things get more serious with the return of the rejuvenated Fringe at 9pm. We weren’t terribly convinced by early Fringe episodes, but the show hit a groove later in the season and had fun, juicy cliffhangers. It might be difficult to keep the various timelines untangled, but both Joshua Jackson and Anna Torv have improved, making acceptable foils for John Noble‘s inspired wackiness.

If FBI agents aren’t your thing, you might check out a new season of Survivor (8pm on CBS), which moves to Samoa. I personally don’t think of Samoa as “off-road” enough for Survivor’s needs, but I suppose they could find a mile of isolated beach somewhere and limit their adventures to that. And the castaways tend to be neatly divided between loserdom and competence, so you can get it all in one classic reality show. Finally, you could always check out the Brothers Winchester on a new Supernatural. They’re pretty darned competent, considering their job is dispatching demons and other things that go bump in the night, but they do tend to suffer a bit from the Peter Principle. Snuff a demon, release Lucifer into the world–who knew that could happen? You can catch Supernatural on the CW at 9pm, putting it right up against The Office, Community, and Fringe. Be kind to your fine feathered DVR–you’re gonna need it.

THE WIRE, FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS Recognized by WGA

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The Writers Guild of America, West and the Writers Guild of America, East today announced nominations for outstanding achievement in television, radio, news, promotional writing, and graphic animation during the 2008 season. Obviously, we only care about television. And we’re excited, because finally someone has given The Wire and Friday Night Lights their due. And look, Burn Notice! Also, we’re loving the fact that the WGA isn’t afraid to nominate My Name Is Earl‘s hilariously titled episode “Vote for This and I Promise to Do Something Crazy at the Emmys.”

Although some of the WGA’s nominees do mystify us. Entourage? Fringe? True Blood? For real? You guys sure you don’t want to watch them again and reconsider?

Winners will be honored at the Writers Guild Awards on February 7, 2009, in Los Angeles and New York. A complete list of television nominees is behind the cut…

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Tuesday Night Showdown: Network Calcification

Although the fall development season was truncated by the writers’ strike, leading to fewer new shows this fall than in previous years, the networks in their infinite wisdom have decided to put three of their shiny new offerings up against one another. Interestingly, each of these new shows is a pretty good representation of the parent network:

Fox seems to have three modes: Sunday night animation, cheap (in all meanings of the word) reality programming, and action-packed dramas that are swamped under by increasingly convoluted mythologies. Joining its Monday night siblings (Prison Break and The Sarah Connor Chronicles), Fringe has unfathomable consipiracies and dark corners. If that sounds like your gig, Fox is home for you.

CBS cranks out traditional middlebrow comedies and interchangable procedurals. The Mentalist slots right into that lineup, using a team of mildly quirky but definitely pretty people to hunt down increasingly baroque murderers. While the fake psychic schtick has been done with more zest elsewhere (if you find star Simon Baker even remotely appealing, your mileage may vary on that point), The Mentalist is the kind of disposable, unchallenging detective show that makes up the bulk of CBS’s considerable bread and butter. If you want to come home, put on some slippers, be mildly distracted from the real world for a couple of hours, and then shuffle off to bed with nothing on your mind, the CBS lineup is for you.

The CW, on the other hand, targets a demographic more interested in stilettos than slippers, focusing on the very young, very attractive, and very rich. They have not one but two reality shows set in the fashion world, and not one but three shows about super-wealthy teenagers. The best of these is Privileged, which we have subtitled Rory Gilmore Faces Her Future. Imagine a world where Rory can’t make it in journalism and is shoehorned into a job tutoring twin granddaughters of a society matron. Now imagine that one of the twins in Paris and one is Lane (both with fancier clothes). Privileged is what it is–it’s on the CW for a reason–but it’s sharply executed and manages to carve endearing characters out of a slab of cliche, which is more than you can say for the competition. If you’re looking for escapist fantasy where everyone wears amazing clothes and always has a witty retort, the CW has just the show for you. Of the three, this is the one we’ll tune to.

Of course, you could always turn to ABC and NBC’s chestnuts, Dancing with the Stars and The Biggest Loser. Just don’t tell us if you do.

FRINGE “The Same Old Story”: Oof, You’ve Got That Right

Was the second episode of Fringe better than the pilot? Well…I guess so. The writing for Joshua Jackson’s Peter Bishop wasn’t nearly so abysmal, allowing for the show’s one really interesting relationship (between Peter and his mad scientist father [John Noble]) to take on some added depth and poignancy. Although she didn’t have as much to do this week, at least the cow stuck around.

Aside from that, there’s just a disappointing amount of either sizzle or steak in Fringe. We’ve seen investigations before. We’ve seen interrogations of obviously lying suspects before. We’ve seen government conspiracies before and questionable science before (from co-creator Abrams, no less). We’ve seen budding romantic tension between leads before. If a show is going to go down such worn roads it’s going to have to execute almost perfectly, and the execution of Fringe has yet to create anything special.

This is perhaps most disappointing when it comes to atmosphere. We’ve seen creepy atmosphere before, and Fringe just isn’t very scary. It is occasionally yucky (thanks so much for the hanging eyeball), but it lacks the goosebump factor. With the exception of Dunham’s unsettling daydream backed by giant tulips, the way the show was imagined and shot didn’t add anything to a story that would have been bargain bin X-Files, Supernatural, or Smallville material.

We’ve compared Fringe to The X-Files before, and nowhere was this more apparent than in “The Same Old Story”‘s denouement. Walter Bishop and cronies once tried to invent super-soldiers by creating embryos that could age to maturity within three years, but they could never figure out how to turn off the aging. A serial killer who steals pituitary glands–a case on which Dunham just happened to work in the past, of course–turns out to be one of these experiments, ingesting the glands to prevent rapid aging (don’t ask). Our heroes stop the bad guys in the middle of an extraction, chasing the weird guy through a darkened warehouse before he can suck down his latest pituitary. As the villain sinks to the ground, the only light bulb in the entire place begins to sway, coming closer and closer to revealing his face as he spends his last moments on Earth helpfully filling in plot holes. Each swing of the light bulb is meant to build tension, but we already know what’s happening: [swing] He’s old. [swing] Yes, we know–he’s old. [swing] We get it–he didn’t get the pituitary, so his aging sped up. [swing] Oh, for the love of John Bartley! He’s going to be old! Get on with it! Old-school X-Files may not have had any money to show its scary stuff, but it found a way to make its atmosphere the scariest thing on TV, just by turning out the lights. On Fringe, they play with the lights as an excuse to let the villain dump a bunch of exposition so the investigation won’t go past the 43-minute mark. If Fringe doesn’t find a way to do something fresh–or at least make something old creepy–we might be changing the channel to be scared by rich teenagers on Privileged.

FRINGE: So, Pacey is Scully…

I’ve been burned by J.J. Abrams before. The pilot of Alias was a hoot, but the series fell into the realm of the ludicrous by the end of the first season. The pilot of Lost was so much fun I spent my flight the next day imagining who would help me stitch up our fellow passengers and who we would eat, but the show has been a roller coaster ride since (thank goodness last season was an up). I’m not sure what this means for Fringe–since the pilot was a little slow and derivative, will it be in the toilet by the end of the year, or will it have room, free of hype and expectations, to breathe?

The show gets off to an eyebrow-raising start, not because of the airline passengers (here we go again) whose faces are melting off, but because it is so very reminiscent of its superior progenitor, The X-Files. They even use a handprint in the credits and break out the super-powered flashlights. This time around, the troubled FBI agent who believes in the possibilities of the impossible is a woman (newcomer Anna Torv, who, depending on the lighting, looks either like Cate Blanchett or Laura Prepon). The science-genius skeptic is a man in this version, and a gambling addict to boot (Joshua Jackson). The superscientist (and the skeptic’s father) who provides the key insights to their cases was driven mad by his forays into fringe science, meaning Mulder and Scul…er, Dunham and Bishop have to babysit the over-the-edge combination of Frohike, Byers, and Langley. Their version of Assistant Director Skinner might actually be the Cigarette Smoking Man (Lance Reddick of Lost and The Wire). Their version of The Syndicate is a super-corporation run by a woman with a robotic arm. And they revealed their Krycek awfully early in the game.

Also, there is a cow.

The best part (aside from the cow) is John Noble‘s (The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King) nutty professor. While the pilot had nice production values and an Abrams-esque twist, it lacked humor aside from Noble’s attempts to interact with the world outside his mental institution. While Jackson was woeful in this episode, perhaps suggesting he is miscast, he did have some truly atrocious dialogue to sell. If the writing for his character settles in, the relationship between Dunham!Mulder and Bishop!Scully might rise to be nearly as interesting as the senior Bishop’s tenuous hold on reality. They shot frighteningly high right from the top, though–it took even the notoriously reckless Mulder four full seasons to undergo experimental craziness to access untapped regions of his brain. Dunham went for it in the pilot. Where can you go from there?

Still, we have such a soft spot for The X-Files (and for Abrams, who weaves a fun yarn and looks like he could shop in the juniors section) that we’re willing to see where this ride takes us, at least for a while. If the cow turns out to be Dunham’s long-lost sister, however, we’re gone.

Guide to September 2008 Series Premieres

September is nearly upon us and that can mean only one thing–the busiest month of the year for new television programming. Well, it’s not quite as busy as usual thanks to the writers strike, but we’ve still got a good number of new shows debuting in the coming weeks. So many, in fact, that’s it’s hard to keep them all straight. So to help you navigate the maze we’ve prepared a guide to all the new shows premiering this month.

RAISING THE BAR (TNT)
Premieres: Monday, Sept. 1 at 10 p.m.
Time slot: Mondays at 10 p.m.
This series from Steven Bochco follows the lives and cases of young lawyers who have been friends since law school but now work on opposing sides. Mark-Paul Gosselaar (NYPD Blue), Gloria Reuben (ER), and Jane Kaczmarek (Malcolm in the Middle) star, along with Teddy Sears (Ugly Betty), Melissa Sagemiller (Sleeper Cell), Currie Graham (Boston Legal), J. August Richards (Angel) and Jonathan Scarfe (Into the West). Created by Bochco and lawyer/writer David Feige (author of the book Indefensible).

90210 (The CW)
Premieres: Tuesday, Sept. 2 at 8 p.m.
Time slot: Tuesdays at 8 p.m.
Freaks and Geeks‘ Gabe Sachs and Jeff Judah are exec producing this contemporary spin-off of the ’90s-era teen drama. The new incarnation centers on Annie Mills (Shenae Grimes, Degrassi: The Next Generation) and her adopted brother Dixon (Tristan Wilds, The Wire), who’ve moved from Kansas to attend West Beverly Hills High. Co-starring Lori Loughlin (Summerland), Jessica Walter (Arrested Development), AnnaLynne McCord (Nip/Tuck), Dustin Milligan (Runaway), Michael Steger (The Winner), Jessica Stroup (Reaper), and Ryan Eggold (Dirt). 90210: Original Flavor alums Jennie Garth and Shannen Doherty guest star.

SONS OF ANARCHY (FX)
Premieres: Wednesday, Sept. 3 at 10 p.m.
Time slot: Wednesdays at 10 p.m.
This darkly comedic drama from executive producer Kurt Sutter (The Shield) focuses on an outlaw motorcycle club intent on protecting their sheltered town from advancing drug dealers and local corporate developers, and equally determined to preserve their thriving illegal arms business. Starring Charlie Hunnam (Children of Men), Katey Sagal (8 Simple Rules), Ron Perlman (Hellboy), Drea de Matteo (The Sopranos) and Maggie Siff (Mad Men).

HOLE IN THE WALL (Fox)
Premieres:
Sunday, Sept. 7 at 8 p.m.
Time slot: Thursdays at 8 p.m.
This game show is based on the popular Japanese show where two teams face various barrier walls speeding toward them with weird and wacky cut-out shapes. Team members must contort their bodies to fit through these cut-outs or they will be swept away into the pool below. Described as one of the trickiest, fastest, funniest and wettest half-hours on the planet, versions of the show have already been produced in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, China, Colombia, Denmark, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Israel, Malaysia, Mexico, Russia and Sweden.

TRUE BLOOD (HBO)
Premieres: Sunday, Sept. 7 at 9 p.m.
Time slot: Sundays at 9 p.m.
The latest offering from Alan Ball (Six Feet Under) is a new twist on the vampire genre based on Charlaine Harris’ Southern Vampire Mysteries books. The series centers on a psychic small-town waitress (Anna Paquin, X-Men) and the mysterious gentleman vampire (Stephen Moyer, NY-LON) who catches her fancy. This comedic drama is set in an alternate-universe Louisiana in which vampires are real and have “come out of the coffin” only recently with the advent of a synthetic blood beverage–“Tru Blood”–that removes their need to feed on live humans. Or does it? Ryan Kwanten (Summerland), Nelsan Ellis (The Inside), Rutina Wesley, and Sam Trammell co-star.

FRINGE (Fox)
Premieres: Tuesday, Sept. 9 at 8 p.m.
Time slot: Tuesdays at 8 p.m.
When the passengers on an international flight turn up dead under unusual and grisly circumstances, an up-and-coming FBI agent (newcomer Anna Torv) teams up with an eccentric scientist (John Noble, The Lord of the Rings) and his estranged genius son (Joshua Jackson, Dawson’s Creek) to unravel the mystery. Mark Valley (Boston Legal), Blair Brown (Altered States), Lance Reddick (The Wire), Kirk Acevedo (Oz), and Jasika Nicole (Law & Order: Criminal Intent) costar in this thriller from executive producers J.J. Abrams, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, (Mission: Impossible III, Alias).

PRIVILEGED (The CW)
Premieres: Tuesday, Sept. 9 at 9 p.m.
Time slot: Tuesdays at 9:00 p.m.
Based on Zoey Dean’s young adult book, How To Teach Filthy Rich Girls, this show centers on a Yale-educated young woman (JoAnna Garcia, Reba) hired to be the live-in tutor/life coach to two rich heiresses (Ashley Newbrough, The Best Years, and Lucy Kate Hale, Bionic Woman) in Palm Beach. Anne Archer (Fatal Attraction), Allan Louis (Stomp the Yard), Kristina Apgar (Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles), Michael Cassidy (Smallville), and Brian Hallisay costar. From executive producers Rina Mimoun (Gilmore Girls, Everwood), Bob Levy (Gossip Girl) and Leslie Morgenstein (Gossip Girl, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants).

SOMEBODIES (BET)
Premieres: Tuesday, Sept. 9 at 10 p.m.
Time slot: Tuesdays at 10 p.m.
BET’s first original sitcom, based on the 2006 Sundance film by series star Hadjii, tells the story of Scottie, an everyday, party-hopping, church-going, African-American undergraduate student looking for a good time with his friends and a little luck with the ladies. Kaira Akita, Quante Strickland, Corey Redding, Anthony K. Hyatt, Tyler Craig, Eric L. Register, Pat Brown, and Carlos Davis round out the ensemble cast.

THE RACHEL ZOE PROJECT (Bravo)
Premieres: Tuesday, Sept. 9 at 11 p.m.
Time slot: Tuesdays at 10 p.m.
Celebrity stylist Rachel Zoe, along with her husband Rodger and fashion team, Taylor and Brad, are featured in this docu-drama as they endeavor to take Zoe’s business to the next level. In the series, the perfectly styled, go-to force among “it” starlets, fashion houses, beauty firms and magazine editors will give viewers a fly on the wall look at how she juggles constant deadlines, fashion shows and celebrity clients.

DO NOT DISTURB (Fox)
Premieres: Wednesday, Sept 10 at 9:30 p.m.
Time slot: Wednesdays at 9:30 p.m.
This workplace comedy from Abraham Higginbotham (Back to You) centers on the upstairs/downstairs dynamic at a hip New York City hotel. The series stars Jerry O’Connell (Carpoolers) as the hotel’s image-conscious general manager and Niecy Nash (Reno 911!) as the head of human resources who looks after the staff and tries to keep everyone out of trouble. Molly Stanton (Twins), Brando Eaton (Zoey 101), Jolene Purdy (Donnie Darko), and Jesse Tyler Ferguson (The Class) also star.

WORST WEEK (CBS)
Premieres: Monday, Sept. 22 at 9:30 p.m.
Time slot: Mondays at 9:30 p.m.
A half-hour comedy about an unwed couple with a baby on the way (Kyle Bornheimer, Jericho, and Erinn Hayes, Kitchen Confidential), who must break the news to her conservative parents (Kurtwood Smith, That ’70s Show, and Nancy Lenehan, My Name is Earl). From exec producers Matt Tarses (Scrubs) and Jimmy Mulville (Whose Line Is It Anyway?), based on the BBC comedy The Worst Week of My Life.

OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS (ABC)
Premieres: Tuesday, Sept. 23 at 8 p.m.
Time slot: Tuesdays at 8 p.m.
A mobile game show that travels to different neighborhoods and selects a family from each to play for money and prizes. Host J.D. Roth poses trivia questions to family members based directly on their lives, each other and articles found in and around their home. Produced by Ashton Kutcher, Jason Goldberg, Karey Burke (Beauty and the Geek), J.D. Roth and Todd A. Nelson.

THE MENTALIST (CBS)
Premieres: Tuesday, Sept. 23 at 9 p.m.
Time slot: Tuesdays at 9 p.m.
Simon Baker (The Devil Wears Prada) stars as Patrick Jane, an independent consultant for the California Bureau of Investigation and former charlatan TV medium, who uses his razor-sharp skills of observation to solve crimes. Co-starring Robin Tunney (Prison Break), Tim Kang (Rambo), Owain Yeoman (The Nine), and Amanda Righetti, (The O.C.). Bruno Heller (creator of Rome) is creator/executive producer, and David Nutter (Band of Brothers) is the executive producer.

KNIGHT RIDER (NBC)
Premieres: Wednesday, Sept. 24 at 8 p.m.
Time slot: Wednesdays at 8 p.m.
An update of the ’80s television series, following on the heels of last year’s TV movie. The new, customized KITT (Knight Industries Three Thousand) is now a Ford Mustang powered by nanotechnology, with Michael Knight’s son (Justin Bruening, Cold Case) behind the wheel. Deanna Russo (NCIS), Sydney Tamiia Poitier (Veronica Mars), and Bruce Davison (Kingdom Hospital, X-Men) co-star. David Bartis (Heist, The O.C.), Doug Liman (Mr. and Mrs. Smith, The Bourne Identity) and Gary Scott Thompson (Las Vegas, The Fast and The Furious) are executive producers.

GARY UNMARRIED (CBS)
Premieres: Wednesday, Sept. 24 at 8:30 p.m.
Time slot: Wednesdays at 8:30 p.m.
Jay Mohr (Ghost Whisperer) and Paula Marshall (Nip/Tuck) star in this comedy about Gary Barnes, a recently single painting contractor, and his controlling ex-wife, Allison, who face post-divorce mayhem after 15 years of marriage as they each juggle parenthood and embark on new relationships. Jaime King (Kitchen Confidential), Ed Begley Jr. (Recount), Al Madrigal (Welcome to the Captain), Kathryn Newton, and Ryan Malgarini (How to Eat Fried Worms) co-star. From exec producers Ed Yeager (Still Standing) and Ric Swartzlander (8 Simple Rules).

LITTLE BRITAIN (HBO)
Premieres: Sunday, Sept. 28 at 10:30 p.m.
Time slot: Sundays at 10:30
Matt Lucas and David Walliams, the stars of the smash-hit BBC comedy Little Britain, bring their surreal, edgy sketch comedy to the U.S., featuring an outrageous look at the quirkiest inhabitants of the country from coast to coast.

THE LIFE & TIMES OF TIM (HBO)
Premieres: Sunday, Sept. 28 at 11 p.m.
Time slot: Sundays a 11 p.m.
An animated show about a guy who just can’t seem to catch a break. Tim (Steve Dildarian, co-creator of the Budweiser “Lizards” TV campaign) is 25 years old and lives in New York City with his girlfriend Amy (MJ Otto), who’s patiently putting up with his antics while he gets his life in order. Rounding out the voice cast are Bob Morrow, Cheri Oteri (Saturday Night Live), Kurtwood Smith (That 70s Show), Matt Johnson (Passions), and Nick Kroll (Cavemen, Best Week Ever). Created by Dildarian and executive-produced by Tom Werner (That 70s Show, 3rd Rock from the Sun), Jimmy Miller (Talladega Nights, Borat) and Mike Clements.

Bacon Bits: GOSSIP GIRL, PUSHING DAISIES and More

– Can’t wait for the Gossip Girl premiere? The CW has posted the first five minutes on YouTube.

– ABC is sexing up Dirty Sexy Money and dumbing down Pushing Daisies. And NBC is upping the romance quotient on Chuck. This right here, this is how good television shows jump the shark.

– Speaking of jumping the shark, Dancing with the Stars laughs in the face of the TV Gods by signing Original Show Killer Ted McGingley! Also, Cloris Leachman, Susan Lucci, Lance Bass, Toni Braxton, Rocco DiSpirito, Brooke Burke, some kid from Hannah Montana, Kim Kardashian, Jeffrey Ross, Warren Sapp and Olympians Maurice Greene and Misty May-Treanor.

– Remember when we actually wanted our MTV? Defamer lists “7 MTV-Defining Stars Who Wouldn’t Be Allowed on MTV Anymore.”

– Fox says you can watch the premieres of Fringe and Sarah Connor Chronicles online! But only if you live in a dorm.

Lost is resurrecting Michelle Rodriguez for an episode. Oy, does this mean Nikki and Paulo are next?

Wrapping Up the Upfronts

Well, upfront week has come and gone and what do we have to show for it? An unusually short, not terribly exciting list of new shows premiering in the upcoming season. And a bunch of network-penned blurbs meant to get us tingly with anticipation of said new shows. Are you feeling tingly? Yeah, me neither.

In fairness, it is kind of hard to get worked up about a description in a press release. Which is why, of course, the networks always come to the upfronts with a big, splashy presentation, a bunch of smiling celebrities, and–most importantly–video clips promoting their new shows. Fortunately for us, the good folks over at TV Week have collected all the various clips and trailers together so we can all get started deciding which new shows look good enough to be Season Pass worthy.

The ABC upfront videos offer up a sneak peek at The Goode Family, Life on Mars, Opportunity Knocks and the eighth season of Scrubs. CBS gives us a glimpse of Eleventh Hour, The Ex List, Harper’s Island, Project Gary, The Mentalist and Worst Week. The CW videos include four clips from Surviving the Filthy Rich and three clips of Stylista (but sadly none of 90210). And finally, Fox serves up the previously mentioned scene from Dollhouse, as well as a couple of clips from Fringe (although for the full, fully creepy trailer you should hop over here), a look at The Cleveland Show and three clips each of Do Not Disturb and Sit Down, Shut Up.

So, after watching all of these clips, which shows will I be saving TiVo space for? Fox is the big winner this year with three shows I’m actively looking forward to from three talented creators with an excellent track record in television: Fringe (pictured above), Dollhouse and Sit Down, Shut Up. ABC’s The Goode Family seems a safe bet since Mike Judge can pretty much always make me laugh. CBS’s Harper’s Island doesn’t so much look good as like it might be a scary good time, but everything else on CBS’s schedule looks, frankly, really really bad. And as for the CW… well, let’s just say if the network doesn’t survive until next year’s upfronts I won’t go into mourning.

Oh, and let’s not forget NBC, who brilliantly made their non-upfront upfront presentation a month ago. Oops, too late, I’ve already forgotten all of NBC’s new shows.