Channel Guide: A Column About TVAfter all of the hype from the fall television premieres has died down, we are now in for the second wave of excitement that happens midseason. If all of the shows that begin airing in September are dinner, then the ones that come in the winter are dessert – of course, that dessert can be horrible, you know, maybe taste a little like Sons of Tucson. This metaphor is wearing thin, so before I start talking about oatmeal raisin cookies and non-fat yogurt, here’s a list of the midseason series premieres that I have my eye on.

Napoleon Dynamite

Though the film no longer stirs up the kind of powerful emotions it once did – I seldom draw ligers in the margins of my notebook paper these days – I’m intrigued by this animated series based on the 2004 cult hit. Launching on January 15 as part of Fox’s animation domination line-up, Napoleon Dynamite will no doubt give us some insight into everything left unanswered by the film. Does Deb’s mom really go to college? Exactly how deep does Kip’s love for technology run? What’s life like under the Pedro administration? We’ve passed the point of Napoleon Dynamite oversaturation (the incessant quoting has stopped, Hot Topic has removed their Nessie shirts from the shelves), so this is probably the ideal time for this show to air – we can be nostalgic about these characters at this point (well, sort of). Husband-and-wife filmmakers Jared and Jerusha Hess haven’t had much critical success since their Sundance debut, but their brand of oddball humor is perfectly suited for animation.

Key & Peele

Since Chappelle’s Show’s odd, abrupt end in 2006, Comedy Central has been unable to find another sketch show as audacious or beloved – the astoundingly unfunny Mind of Mencia was their earliest, most feeble, and totally transparent attempt to replicate the success they’d had with Dave Chappelle. But Key & Peele, set to start January 31, may just turn things around. MADtv alums Keegan-Michael Key and Jordon Peele, both trained at the Second City, obviously know how to work and thrive within this format. Whenever I think about the possibilities here, my mind immediately flashes to this great MADtv sketch where Peele angrily picks apart a little kid’s YouTube video for its inaccurate description of the Star Wars saga. After watching that sketch, all I could say to myself was, “Yes! Someone finally has the guts to take 6-year-olds to task on all of their B.S.” It’s going to be fun to see what the two comedians produce given the freedom that comes with having their own show.

Smash

What impresses me most when it comes to this series about makin’ it on Broadway is that a five-minute preview clip featuring former American Idol contestant Katherine McPhee belting out Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful” nearly brought me to tears (damn you, Aguilera and the unholy grasp that that inspirational song has on my heart). Originally touted as “Glee for adults,” the only thing this series appears to have in common with that increasingly boring Fox comedy is that there’s music in both of them – though, even in that regard the two shows differ, as Smash will include original songs by the Tony and Grammy Award-winning composers of Hairspray. The series, which begins airing on NBC starting February 12, chronicles the creation of a musical about Marilyn Monroe. McPhee and Broadway actress Megan Hilty play the two young actresses vying for the lead role. I’m a fierce musical theater fan and am obviously excited about this show on that level but I’m an even fiercer Anjelica Huston fan – she plays one of the Marilyn musical’s producers. Huston could star in a Mind of Mencia reboot and I’d watch it.

Angry Boys

Many people would be quick to compare Australian comedian Chris Lilley to Christopher Guest since both men (a) have the same first name, and (b) are pathologically devoted to the improvisational mockumentary. But the most impressive aspect of Lilley’s previous work has been his incredible knack for playing multiple roles in the same series – each character exaggerated yet believably human- and so I’ve always felt that he has more in common with the great Peter Sellers. We Can Be Heroes and Summer Heights High both demonstrated that Lilley is a brilliant, bold satirist and, since hearing about Angry Boys back in May when it aired in Australia, I’ve been anxiously awaiting its arrival stateside. Premiering on HBO January 1, Lilley’s latest mockumentary finds the comedian playing an African-American rapper from Los Angeles and an overbearing Japanese mother, among other characters. Will the social critique be strong enough to justify blackface? I don’t know, but I’m more than willing to find out.

Alcatraz

With better-than-ever Fringe inching closer and closer to cancellation, it’s comforting to know that another J.J. Abrams-produced drama will be premiering on Fox this January. Alcatraz, starring Sam Neill and Lost’s Jorge Garcia, gives the history of America’s most infamous prison a supernatural rewrite. The show’s premise: inmates thought to have been transferred from the prison when it closed actually vanished mysteriously and have now, just as mysteriously, returned almost 50 years later. Alcatraz looks promising and not only because of Abrams’ involvement. The pilot episode (which I saw at San Diego Comic-Con this past July) is elusive enough to keep viewers interested and invested in the story but also makes it seem as though satisfying chunks of the overarching puzzle will be answered each week. Sure, Alcatraz is similar to Fringe – both have a tough, blonde female lead (in this case, Sarah Jones) and both are crime procedural-sci-fi hybrids – but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. (You can look at the two shows in the same way that you look at the catalogue of ’90s Swedish pop group Ace of Base – every one of the group’s songs may sound identical but every one of their songs is also awesome.) Hopefully though, unlike Fringe, this show garners the kind of solid ratings that will keep it off the chopping block.

Peel your eyes away from the idiot box for a moment, and check out our Channel Guide archive.


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