Pause the Tivo! It’s time for part two of my guide to the shows to watch (and maybe a couple to avoid) this new TV season.
Undercovers (NBC, Wednesday 8pm)
This is a new JJ Abrams joint, which is not quite the guarantee of success that a lot of folks think it is. He has more hits than misses - Felicity, Alias and Fringe have all found audiences, and Lost is obviously a phenomenon - but he does have misses. What About Brian lasted 26 episodes. Six Degrees lasted 13.
Undercovers is a show about two spies who are also husband and wife, hence the egregious title - they’re undercover agents and they’re under covers, do you see? They’re shagging! And the twist is that they work together, rather than trying to kill each other, so it’s totally not Mr & Mrs Smith. Assuming the show is any good, I hope it will add one more to Abrams’ hits column - but I have some concerns that it won’t.
You see, Undercovers is attempting to do something bold and subversive that you simply don’t see on primetime. It’s trying to do a one-hour drama series with black people in the leads. This is a first for network television. More than 25 years after The Cosby Show first aired, a black man and a black woman sharing top billing in a drama is bold and new. Is America ready for it? Well, it bloody well should be, of course, but America has been known to let itself down before.
It’s worth noting that they chose two especially attractive people to play the leads, which might mitigate their possibly scary blackness. If redneck America is ever going to let a black man into their homes, it’s going to be a sexy black man who looks good to their daughters. Wait, that’s not right…
Hellcats (CW, Wednesday 9pm)
A show about cheerleaders is guaranteed light frothy fun, right? This show should do for dance what Glee did for singing - make it brainlessly chipper! Except, two episodes in, I’m of the opinion that the cheerleading routines in Glee are actually better than the cheerleading routines in Hellcats - and while Hellcats certainly isn’t heavy drama, it lacks Glee’s campy joie de vivre. The pilot had its charms; the second episode was a snooze. Let me say it again; this is a show about cheerleaders. It should never be a snooze.
Hellcats is also boringly heterosexual, which just makes no sense to me. It’s not like the show is strenuously trying to avoid clichés - the main characters are the anti-pep rebel and the preppy Christian. If you’re giving me cheerleaders, I expect gay cheerleaders. It’s almost as if Hellcats is trying to keep its tongue out of its cheek, which is surely its natural habitat. Cheerleaders.
Nikita (CW, Thursday 9pm)
There have been many Nikitas. There was the 1990 Luc Besson movie. There was the 1993 US remake with Bridget Fonda (Point of No Return). There was the 1997 TV show La Femme Nikita, which always aired at awkward o’clock in the UK, probably on ITV. It was one of those shows for insomniacs, full of actors you’ve never seen anywhere else, and with that odd whiff of cheap desperation that usually marks a show out as Canadian. (Imagine my surprise when I learned that Highlander: The Series was not Canadian.)
This new show is the fourth Nikita (fifth if you count Khrushchev), and it’s still about a down-on-her-luck young woman who is trained as a government assassin, but in this series Nikita has gone rogue and means to bring her former handlers down. It’s a colourful premise, but the first episode proved pretty tedious in its execution. Sexy deadly lady ninjas! That’s almost as much of a no-brainer as cheerleaders!
Supernatural (CW, Friday 9pm)
This is the sixth of Supernatural’s five seasons, which in itself is a little eerie. This show was meant to die last year. Now it is undead!
I love Supernatural, but I actually wanted it to end last year. There was a five year plan. An arc. Despite mediocre ratings, the show actually got its five years and played out its full arc. It was going to be that rarest of things, a TV show that tells its whole story and then gets off the stage of its own accord. Now that’s not going to happen. Now the show is going to trot on for another year, maybe two, and get cancelled. Probably on a cliffhanger.
So, I’m braced for disappointment. But, on the other hand, we do get another season of hot boys fighting demons - and that’s a no-brainer concept that they actually followed through on. With a new showrunner in charge, and a fresh slate on the Apocalypse, this sixth - and probably final - season should offer up some surprises. Bring it on, zombie show.
Dexter (Showtime, Sunday 9pm)
If you didn’t watch last year’s fourth season of Dexter, you’re a damned fool. With Jon Lithgow as the Trinity Killer, the show achieved such a high that everyone involved was probably slightly dreading coming back for the fifth season. That was it. That was the peak. And now the show has to come back from that.
I’m actually looking forward to the new season, because although it can’t hope to match the last, it is starting from an enviably strong position. I’m confident that it will plateau, rather than crash. I don’t know what’s on the cards for the plot this year, but there’s a lot to deal with - seriously, if you haven’t watched season four, you have to do it now - and there’s an epic cast coming on board, including Julia Stiles, Shawn Hatosy, Chris Vance, Jonny Lee Miller and Maria Doyle Kennedy. Exciting!
Desperate Housewives (ABC, Sunday 9pm)
This show is now in its… I’m going to say seventh season, which means it has gone through all kinds of peaks and troughs - a sterling first season, a weird sophomore slump (the Applewhites), an awkward attempt to settle into its own soap rhythms, and a moderate return to form in the last couple of years - hampered by some weird stunt nonsense. And I’ve stuck through it all these years, because… well, I’ve never really asked why. Maybe that’s why? That, and Bree Van De Kamp Hodge.
And now I get my reward, because this season there is a new housewife, and she’s played by Vanessa Williams, Mz Wilhelmina Slater herself. There has always been a Vanessa Williams-sized hole in this show, and now that Ugly Betty has finished, Williams’ arrival on Wisteria Lane feels like destiny. This cannot go wrong.
And then I remember the cheerleaders, and the ass-kicking ninja women, and how TV messes everything up. Please don’t mess this up for me, TV.