Rob Sheffield’s 2012 Fall TV Preview – Rolling Stone
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Rob Sheffield’s 2012 Fall TV Preview

Your day-by-day guide to the 21 new and returning shows worth watching

Fall TV Preview 2012

Every fall, a new TV season dawns, all shiny with promise. Your favorite shows return to pick up where they left off. New shows compete for your attention, since they are fresh and bouncy and as yet unencumbered by the acrid stench of failure and despair. (That usually arrives by the first commercial break.) Some rookies can deliver the goods; some don't. The Office will try to limp to the finish line with a little dignity. CBS' 2 Broke Girls will try to top the lofty standards of lines like, "Once you go Ukraine, you will scream with sex pain." With that in mind, here's a daily viewing guide to the new and returning shows that are truly worth your time.

'Animal Practice'

Chris Haston/NBC

‘Animal Practice’

NBC, Wednesdays at 8 p.m.

It definitely says something about the sorry state of the sitcom when one of the best new ones is about a sex-starved veterinarian. Is Animal Practice groundbreaking comedy? No. Is it aggressively insulting to any functional human cortex? Well, yeah. In other words, it's an old-school lunkhead sitcom out for cheap giggles, and it proves why that kind of sitcom is often superior to the quippy mock­umentary-style clever-clever kind. The doctor even gets a zany monkey for his sidekick. (Does this monkey know how to give people the finger? Let us pray.) Justin Kirk, so under­used on Weeds, heads a cast full of hungry shoulda-beens who have to realize this could be their last shot, always a promising scenario. As the doctor, Kirk romances his boss, who owns the hospital. But he's a better match for the monkey.

'Arrow'

Jack Rowand/The CW

‘Arrow’

The CW, Wednesdays Starting October 10th at 8 p.m.

Ladies and gentlemen, the most topless vigilante superhero on television: Stephen Amell as the Green Arrow, of DC Comics fame. It's like this guy can't keep his shirt on, because that would interfere with the aerodynamics of his bow-and-arrows technique. On Arrow, Amell starts off as billionaire playboy Oliver Queen, who has to check his head when he gets shipwrecked on an island for a few years. When he returns home to Starling City, he adopts a secret identity, the kind that billionaire playboys love. By night, he fights crime, archery-style. It has all the glitz you expect from the CW, but Amell is the one who holds it all together. He battles the bad guys, armed with truth, justice, his trusty crossbow and his permanently erect nipples.

'The X Factor'

Nino Munoz/FOX

‘The X Factor’

Fox, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 8 p.m.

Has any show in TV history ditched Nicole Scherzinger and not improved drastically? How about Paula Abdul? Okay, so Idol has never really filled that Paula-shaped hole, but the reshuffled judge panel on X Factor can only mean better days after an underwhelming debut season. Demi Lovato, yeah yeah, but the real reason to watch: Britney. The very idea of our girl on live TV, speaking words no less, is enough to push the "gimme more" button. Bold prediction: This will make an even finer Brit TV series than Britney & Kevin: Chaotic.

'Nashville'

Craig Sjodin/ABC via Getty images

‘Nashville’

ABC, Wednesdays Starting October 10th at 10 p.m.

Connie Britton is building the most nonsensical résumé in Hollywood: from the mega-earnest Tami on Friday Night Lights, where she played the only straight woman in America who didn't seem like she wanted to sleep with Coach Taylor, to the hapless harridan of American Horror Story, where she jumped on the gimp in the attic and rode him like a funky pony. But Nashville may be her crowning glory. As a washed-up country star, Britton tries to salvage her career by going out on tour with a snotty, stuck-up little ingénue: Hayden Panettiere. Needless to say, the two square off with jealous mind games – Britton gets in touch with her self-righteous scorn, while Panettiere is bracingly believable as the brat. It all makes for extremely fruitful pulp – it's Smash meets Amadeus, only in cowboy boots.

'Parks and Recreation'

Mitchell Haaseth/NBC

‘Parks and Recreation’

NBC, Thursdays at 9:30 p.m.

Leslie Knope goes to Washington? The mind reels. A John McCain cameo is one thing – but an Olympia Snowe cameo? Now that's hardcore. Moderate Republicans might have to settle for Parks and Rec as the last American institution where they still exist.

'Big Bang Theory'

Michael Yarish/CBS

‘Big Bang Theory’

CBS, Thursdays at 8 p.m.

Talk about boldly going. Thanks to saturation airplay in late-night reruns, the nerds of The Big Bang Theory are now huger than ever. They continue to defy every law of show-biz science by charming the masses with ridiculously arcane jokes about experimental physics. And the Green Lantern. And brisket. As the sixth season begins, newlywed Wolowitz (Simon Helberg) orbits in outer space. (Will his mother still torment him there? Of course she will!) Meanwhile on earth, Jim Parsons and Mayim Bialik are one of TV's most compellingly anti-romantic couples.

'Last Resort'

Craig Sjodin/ABC via Getty images

‘Last Resort’

ABC, Thursdays at 8 p.m.

Last Resort, the new show from The Shield's Shawn Ryan, goes for the sort of big-budget huge-cast tropical-location gusto you thought the networks were too chicken to attempt any more. When the crew of the USS Colorado receives a suspicious order to launch a nuclear attack on Pakistan, the captain (Andre Braugher from Homicide: Life on the Street) has a hunch he's getting suckered into starting World War III. The White House strips him of command, the sub gets attacked, and the crew winds up taking over a NATO base and declaring itself an independent nation – complete with nukes. All of the acting is strong, and Braugher is superb as the troubled chief. But it's the wide-screen ambition of Last Resort that makes you hungry to know what happens next.

'Elementary'

Craig Blankenhorn/CBS

‘Elementary’

CBS, Thursdays at 10 p.m.

We're living in a golden age of Sherlock Holmes knockoffs, from House to Breaking Bad, with brainy asshole antiheroes who boast superdeveloped intellects and no other human skills. But the Sherlock of
Elementary captures the brain-for-hire cynicism of the original stories. Jonny Lee Miller, best known as Sick Boy from Trainspotting, has a bratty restlessness that's perfect for this Holmes, a London-born rogue who just got out of rehab and moved to New York to get off drugs. (People do that in real life all the time, right?) Lucy Liu is his sober sidekick, Dr. Watson, and Aidan Quinn gives them a run for their money as the NYPD captain who has to work with this head case. It's Sherlock Holmes as the ultimate freelancer – especially since he has a rich daddy to cover his health insurance.

'Community'

Trae Patton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

‘Community’

NBC, Fridays Starting October 19th at 8:30 p.m.

Exit Dan Harmon, enter Malcolm McDowell as the creepy new history professor. And Chevy Chase is hanging in there. So will they have more fun and be less weird than the first three years combined? The Greendale study group got a welcome death-row reprieve from the network guillotine, but Harmon was the visionary who gave Community its distinctively twisted touch. Even if it fails without him, the typical Community fan can at least find a perverse way to appreciate this season as a parallel-universe timeline.

'Fringe'

Andrew Matusik/FOX

‘Fringe’

Fox, Saturdays at 11 p.m.

Like The Office, of all shows, Fringe heads into a final season where nobody can even guess what the hell is going on. It's superb news that the astoundingly inventive Fringe is getting a fifth season to bring the story to a close. And it's a sure bet to be awesome, because Fringe has never screwed up before; every step of the way, through all the drugs and time travel, the writers have kept faith with the viewers without cheating or cutting narrative corners. Last season ended with a badass flash-forward to 2036, with Walter Bishop and the Fringe heroes plotting to outsmart the Observers who have taken over the planet. Despite all the complex lysergic narratives dangling in the air, this should be a hell of an endgame.

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