I'm always hoping for something different in the new TV season - something other than another cop, doctor or lawyer show. Well, be careful what you wish for.
Pushing Daisies (Wednesday, 7 p.m., ABC) is a fractured fairy tale about Ned (Lee Pace), whose touch can raise the dead. But there's a catch: If Ned resuscitates someone for more than one minute, another person has to die. And the first person can only stay alive if Ned doesn't touch him again. The second touch turns the lights out for good.
After painful childhood experiences - resuscitating his mom, only to kill his true love's dad - Ned hides out from the world, growing up to be a socially awkward pie-maker. A surly detective (Chi McBride) learns of his power and strong-arms him into a shady partnership. They seek out homicides with rewards attached for finding the killer. Ned temporarily resuscitates the victims to ask them who did it, and the two partners split the cash. All goes well until Ned is faced with the freshly murdered corpse of his true love from childhood (Anna Friel).
I admit that Pushing Daisies is amazing, with brilliantly cracked dialogue and eye-popping art direction. But there's such a thing as too amazing. The show is so relentlessly inventive that it's almost unbearable, to the point where you crave the comfort of, say, yet another cop, doctor or lawyer show.
Pushing Daisies is pure genius. And I hope I never see it again.
Aliens in America, Monday, 7:30 pm (CW)
This new comedy has the guts to portray the clash between the West and Islam. The setting is not Iraq or Afghanistan, but small-town Wisconsin. Justin (Dan Byrd) is a 16-year-old so nerdy that his mom (Amy Pietz) resigns from the PTA to focus on "normalizing" him. She decides to take in a foreign-exchange student whose hip exoticism will make Justin more popular at school. But instead of the expected glamour boy from London, they get Raja (Adhir Kalyan), a devout Muslim from Pakistan in traditional garb. Suddenly, Justin's prospects seem even bleaker. "Why can't we, like, just return him?" Justin asks his parents.
The object of satire here is American ignorance and prejudice. "Raja, you are so different from us," Justin's mother says condescendingly. "How does that feel?"
Aliens in America is hilarious, but it remains to be seen if we're able to laugh at ourselves in this particular way.
Journeyman, Monday, 9 pm (NBC)
A married San Francisco journalist named Dan (Kevin McKidd) finds himself traveling to the past via time warps. He runs into his old girlfriend, who died in a plane crash. Should he have sex with her, thus being unfaithful to his current wife? Or should he just wander the streets looking confused for hours and hours? Maybe he should get involved in other people's lives, trying to save them from tragedies that will occur in the future. Periodically Dan zaps back to the present, where people are as puzzled by his story as we are.
I bet NBC executives wish they could travel to the past themselves - all the way back to the pitch meeting where they made the disastrous decision to greenlight Journeyman.
Private Practice, Wednesday, 8 pm (ABC)
This spinoff of Grey's Anatomy spins right off the tracks. Hotshot surgeon Addison (Kate Walsh) moves from Seattle Grace Hospital to private practice in L.A., where she hopes to make a fresh start in life. She sets up shop in a wellness center filled with kooky doctors (Amy Brenneman, Taye Diggs, Tim Daly, Audra McDonald) and kooky plot points. A wife and a mistress fight over a corpse's sperm; a kid shoves vegetables up his nose; a fellow doctor details his comically freaky sex life. "Ah," you think, "Private Practice is a farce, featuring actors with no flair for comedy."
But soon the actors get a chance to show that they have no flair for drama, either. The farcical scenes crudely alternate with heart-tugging scenes: Cue dead children and grieving mothers. The soundtrack suddenly changes from cutesy to concerned.
Meanwhile, the soundtrack in your own head will suddenly change from bored to disgusted.
Big Shots, Thursday, 9 pm (ABC)
Want to spend an hour with the most obnoxious guys imaginable? Meet James (Michael Vartan), Brody (Christopher Titus), Duncan (Dylan McDermott) and Karl (Joshua Malina), arrogant business types who cackle at each other's locker-room jokes. They're on top of the world, save for one problem: dames. Their wives are either ballbusters, whores or irritating saints. Their mistresses are treacherous and manipulative. Even Duncan's teenage daughter is a nag.
Does Big Shots come to bury male chauvinist pigs? Nope. Aside from a bit of good-natured joshing, it comes to praise them. We're supposed to feel their pain when a wife sleeps around or a mistress demands to be treated like a human being. And guess what? Despite their creepy behavior, they've got hearts of gold.
"You're a great guy," a co-worker earnestly tells James.
"You're a good man," Duncan's ex-wife tells him during yet another outbreak of sincerity.
Good man? I don't think so. Good series? Even more doubtful.