2008's upcoming television
March 24, 8:00-9:00 PM
A dozen comely college-age boys crouch before three horizontal logs. Sporting T-shirts emblazoned with an alphabet soup of Greek letters, they're about to mount the poles and shimmy along to the other side. After all, the highly coveted title of Zeta Beta Mr. Purr-fect is at stake. But before the powder-pink-clad girl can whistle the start signal, one of the Kappa Tao brothers snarks, ''Hey, you can scratch my pole.'' The camera crews cut. Debate ensues: Should he say the word ''pole''? Or just let the whistle drown it out? Decisions, decisions.
That's about as intense as things get on the set of ABC Family's Greek, the frothy-as-keg-foam look at fraternity and sorority romances and rivalries at the fictional Cyprus-Rhodes University. Keeping things light is part of creator/co-exec producer Sean Smith's game plan.''I was inspired by '80s movies,'' says Smith. ''They weren't life or death. Ferris Bueller didn't learn that when you skip school people will die.'' The result is a hearty dose of generation-crossing nostalgia that feels downright refreshing after a decade of teen-angst TV. In its first season last summer, Greek rode that buzz to become ABC Family's most watched original series ever among 18- to 34-year-olds meaning, no, you weren't the only adult who found it confoundingly charming.
Expect more of the same when Greek returns for season 2. Ambitious Zeta Beta president Casey (Spencer Grammer) looks to get her sorority back on track after a scathing school-paper exposé, while awkward younger bro Rusty (Jacob Zachar) wants to get recently outed best bud Calvin (Paul James) into Kappa Tao. Also on tap: a liaison between Casey's first love Cappie (Scott Michael Foster) and her nemesis Rebecca (Dilshad Vadsaria), lots of campus rule-bending bashes (think: a Great Gatsby party with a speakeasy in the basement), and a lesson on the perils of dating the underaged.
And, yes, there's some (sorta) serious stuff, too. Casey and recent ex Evan (Jake McDorman) work out their fidelity issues, while Calvin teaches Rusty's Christian roommate Dale (Clark Duke) to open his mind...a bit. Point being, Grammer says, there is a little pathos behind those ubiquitous red plastic party cups. ''In the promos I'm taking my shirt off, like, five times, and people are half naked,'' she says. ''But that's just to draw the audience.'' Whatever we're not ashamed to be drawn. Jennifer Armstrong
Episodes set to air: 8
Jan. 28, 9:30-10:00PM
Dr. Melfi would be proud. The network that made it respectable for gangsters to seek therapy continued its shrink rap with last fall's racy couples' counseling series Tell Me You Love Me. And now it goes even deeper with In Treatment, which follows psychotherapist Paul (The Usual Suspects' Gabriel Byrne) through weekly sessions with four of his patients, plus his own turn on the couch with therapist Gina (Law & Order's Dianne Wiest). But this isn't some brainy exercise in Freudian analysis. Instead, In Treatment aims to make patients' problems relatable. "The idea was to keep it as unintellectual as possible," explains executive producer Rodrigo Garcia, who adapted the show from acclaimed Israeli series B'Tipul.
Garcia and HBO have also imported B'Tipul's ambitious schedule, with the show airing five nights Monday through Friday for eight and a half weeks (43 episodes were shot). Every half-hour installment comprises one session, and each night of the week is devoted to a particular patient. On Monday, Paul sees Laura (30 Days of Night's Melissa George), a doctor who believes she's in love with him. If it's Tuesday, it must be Alex (Dirty Sexy Money's Blair Underwood), a Navy fighter pilot responsible for bombing a school full of Iraqi children. On Wednesdays, say hello to Sophie (Rogue's Mia Wasikowska), a gymnast whose Olympic hopes were dashed by a bike accident that might have been a suicide attempt. Thursday is time for Jake (Sports Night's Josh Charles) and Amy (Junebug's Embeth Davidtz), a married couple debating whether to abort the baby they conceived after trying for five years. And on Fridays, Paul sees his shrink Gina, with whom he has a combative relationship.
''It was very much like doing a play,'' recalls Underwood of the intense one-on-one office setting. Add up all these ''plays,'' and after a while, ''you think you know what Paul is thinking,'' says Garcia. ''You think you're Paul's therapist.'' The more we learn about Paul's faltering relationship with his wife (24's Michelle Forbes) and children, the juicier it gets. Just like therapy.
''There were some moments when you forgot that you're filming and you felt like you were in therapy,'' admits George. ''You cried and talked about things that maybe reminded you of your own life, and it became cathartic.'' Perhaps the series will even prompt some people like George to seek treatment for the first time: ''I've never had a therapist, but I'm starting to think that that's a really good idea.'' Ari Karpel
Episodes set to air: 43
The Return of Jezebel James
March 7, 8:30-9:00PM
A sitcom about a single New York book editor named Sarah (Parker Posey) who gets her free-spirited younger sister Coco (Six Feet Under's Lauren Ambrose) to carry a baby for her, Jezebel was birthed by the writer-producer who created Gilmore Girls, Amy Sherman-Palladino. ''I was still reeling from the whole Gilmore thing,'' says Sherman-Palladino, referring to her April 2006 departure from the series, which muddled on for a final season without its guiding voice. ''Fox called and said they wanted to do a female comedy. What I felt like creating was what I started out doing: a traditional studio-audience sitcom, like Roseanne.'' (She wrote for that storied series from 1990 to '94.) ''My favorite scenes to write were the Roseanne-and-Jackie [Laurie Metcalf] moments, so it was an easy leap: Make this show about sisters. Either that,'' Sherman-Palladino adds with typical impishness, ''or make 'em gay.''
She went with (straight) sisters. Ambrose says taping in front of a live audience is ''wonderfully scary.'' When asked what decisions she makes in playing a sometimes grumpy, glowering character, the star is admirably forthright: "Oh, let's face it it's not up to me. It's what Amy writes on the page. I just say her lines correctly." As for Posey, Sherman-Palladino says her image as a "wacky, out-there indie girl" is "ridiculous; she's a sweet perfectionist." Fans adored Gilmore's tart perfection; we'll see if they bite on Posey's sweet version, too.Ken Tucker
Episodes set to air: 7
Best of the Rest
ABC Family, Jan. 14, 8:00 PM
The second half of season 2 finds Kyle (Matt Dallas) back in the good graces of the Trager family, who plan to help him take down the Dharma-esque Madacorp.
ABC, Jan. 31, 10:00 PM
Hallucinations, some of which involve a crooning George Michael, befuddle high-powered lawyer Eli (Jonny Lee Miller), who discovers he may be the next great prophet.
Welcome to the Captain
CBS, Feb. 4, 8:30 PM
A young writer (Fran Kranz) moves into a storied Hollywood apartment building with quirky (''wacky,'' ''nutty,'' or ''zany'' would also suffice) tenants played by Jeffrey Tambor, Raquel Welch, and Chris Klein.
Paradise Hotel 2
MyNetworkTV, Feb. 4, 9:00 PM
It's baaack! The unwieldy, hookup-heavy reality show features 11 lusty singles who get the boot if they go to bed alone. Bonus: A sexier, TV-MA version airs on Fox Reality at 1 a.m. on Tuesdays.
The New Adventures of Old Christine
CBS, Feb. 4, 9:30 PM
In the comedy's third season, Christine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) considers plastic surgery (don't do it!), a blind date (do it!), and taking her relationship with Mr. Harris (Blair Underwood) to the next level (definitely do it!).
Big Brother 9
CBS, Feb. 12, 9:00 PM
Blame (or thank) the strike for this one. The Chenbot still hosts as lunkheads get locked in a house together for the show's first non-summer run.
NBC, Feb. 17, 9:00 PM
In this next-generation TV movie, an unlikely pair set out with the shape-shifting KITT (voiced by Will Arnett) to find the car's missing creator. Original star David Hasselhoff makes a cameo.
The Baby Borrowers
NBC, Feb. 18, 8:00 PM
This reality ''social experiment'' puts teen couples in charge of a revolving door of infants, toddlers, adolescents, and then, randomly, senior citizens. The tots may not be the only ones throwing up.
Fox, Feb. 22, 9:00 PM
NYPD officer John Amsterdam, who's been immortal for nearly 400 years thanks to an ancient Native American spell, solves crimes and falls for his dream girl in the Big Apple.
Flavor of Love 3
VH1, Feb. 11, 9:00 PM
With Deelishis out of the picture, Flav starts fresh with 20 new ''ladies.'' One challenge finds the always classy gals composing hip-hoperas for their man.
Fox, April 11, 9:00 PM
Julianna Margulies plays a ball-busting attorney who's suffering her own injustice after the disappearance of her young son.
Eight ''bonus'' episodes follow Lauren and Whitney in Paris as they work the Crillon Ball. Back in L.A., Heidi and Spencer continue their made-for-TV courtship.