Soap on a rope!

A handy clip 'n' save guide to the season's new dramas.

By Heather Havrilesky
Published September 10, 2007 3:00PM (UTC)
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Apparently someone in TV land thinks that we're desperate for more soaps like "Desperate Housewives" and overpowered by sci-fi wonders like "Heroes." As a result, the networks are trotting out shows that sound like the kind of hybrid pitches you might dream up after one too many piña coladas: He's a private investigator ... who's also a vampire! He's this homicide detective ... who's immortal! Or what about a newspaper reporter ... who travels through time, solving mysteries! It's exciting, sure, but ... his marriage is falling apart!

Gone are the "Lost"-alike serial dramas of 2006, replaced not only by superpowered cops and PIs, but also by high-powered big-city yuppies, striding around in expensive suits. Apparently someone believes that viewers are craving ensemble dramas about very rich people who live in New York City: There's "Big Shots," "Cashmere Mafia" and "Dirty Sexy Money," from ABC, and "Gossip Girl" from CW. And for some even dirtier, sexier Cuban money, there are the South Floridian sugar moguls of CBS' "Cane."


What do all of these shows have in common? Big, soapy love troubles, for one thing, from the plight of star-crossed lovers who haven't met yet, long ago lost each other, or can't touch for fear of dying, to the struggles of married couples, trying to honor their vows. Instead of complicated flashbacks and flash forwards, we're being coaxed into these dramas with lots of ... well, drama.

And strangely enough, the days of women taking a back seat on TV are definitely over, while men are TV's brand-new back-seat drivers. Remember when the four female leads on "Desperate Housewives" were an anomaly? This fall, all of the guys seem pretty whipped, if not utterly enslaved. Even the men on mogul-ensemble "Big Shots" are heard to whine, "Men: We're the new women!"

While it's still too early to tell which of these shows are worth watching, extra points for originality and flair straight out of the gate go to ABC's "Pushing Daisies," CW's "Gossip Girl" and NBC's "Bionic Woman."


New dramas

Show Stars Premise See Also Upside Downside
ABC's "Big Shots" Michael Vartan, Dylan McDermott, Christopher Titus, Joshua Malina Four powerful businessmen balance their big-deal jobs with their wacky love lives! Desperate Moguls It's about time we got a show about men that didn't focus completely on adulterous fantasies. Not even random encounters with transvestites can make yuppies less boring.
ABC's "Cashmere Mafia" Lucy Liu, Frances O'Connor, Miranda Otto, Bonnie Somerville Four powerful businesswomen balance their big-deal jobs with their wacky love lives! Desperate Business Women It's hard to argue with four bossy, high-powered women who won't take no for an answer. No amount of white wine and shocking revelations can make yuppies less boring.
HBO's "Tell Me You Love Me" Sonya Walger, Ally Walker, Tim DeKay, David Selby Four wealthy couples argue, have sex (or don't), then argue some more! Angry, unhappy people not holding hands. The sex is realistic. Very, very realistic. The bickering is also very realistic. If we wanted to spend an hour every week listening to couples argue, we'd like to get paid for it.
ABC's "Dirty Sexy Money" Peter Krause, Donald Sutherland, Samaire Armstrong Regular lawyer guy gets tangled up in the chaotic legal troubles of a filthy rich, dysfunctional family in NYC! "Dynasty" sharpens its teeth and moves to Manhattan. Krause is great as the conflicted guy who hates these bad people but can't resist their money or their endless drama. The family is a little too zany to be believable, which makes this story less than interesting.
CW's "Gossip Girl" Blake Lively, Leighton Meester, Penn Badgley, Chace Crawford, Taylor Momsen Regular siblings get tangled up in the chaotic lives of a bunch of filthy rich, dysfunctional teenagers in NYC! "The OC" sharpens its teeth and moves to Manhattan. Deliciously mean-spirited and modern, takes aim at spoiled, wealthy teens and their careless, shallow parents. Creator Josh Schwartz ("The OC") better prove quickly that these stories won't always devolve into drunken fisticuffs, followed by a frenzy of texting "OMG!"
ABC's "Private Practice" Kate Walsh, Taye Diggs, Amy Brenneman, Tim Daly Addison from "Grey's Anatomy" moves to sunny California and joins kooky colleagues at wellness center! Desperate Doc Goes California McDreamin'! Addison has always been one of the more interesting, likable characters on "Grey's Anatomy." Seconds into her flight from Seattle, Addison develops an Ally McBeal-esque giggle, and loses every last ounce of her former charm.
Fox's "Canterbury's Law" Julianna Margulies One obnoxiously self-centered, pushy defense lawyer charms her way into our pants! Ms. Shark Margulies is deliciously nasty and believable as a pushy lawyer, like a slick Nancy Grace who switched sides. How many times can we watch the genius lawyer make a key witness break down and confess to the crime?
ABC's "Women's Murder Club" Angie Harmon, Paula Newsome, Laura Harris, Aubrey Dollar Four hard-hitting female professionals join together to solve murders! Desperate Lady Detectives When a female detective, lawyer, medical examiner and reporter put their pretty heads together to solve a crime, it's super sexy! It's also super dorky and not all that believable.
CBS's "Cane" Jimmy Smits, Hector Elizondo, Polly Walker, Rita Moreno A wealthy Cuban family faces uncertain times and threats to its financial and emotional security! Cuban "Dynasty" meets "Miami Vice" What could be better than Jimmy Smits in what CBS's Web site calls a "steamy" "seductive" "sizzling saga"? Sizzling sagas are never all they're cracked up to be, and "Cane" doesn't look like an exception.
Show Stars Premise See Also Upside Downside
CW's "Life is Wild" Leah Pipes, D.W. Moffett, Stephanie Niznik Teen girl and her stepbrother freak out when widower dad moves them all to Africa! "Everwood" meets "Hidden Palms" meets "Born Free" Teens lay around a tiny rock pond surrounded by tall yellow grass, gossiping. It's like '"90210," but with lions! Katie is sassy to the point of severe chafing, and her stepbrother is so sullen and surly you'll pray for a lion to pounce and swallow him whole.
CBS's "Viva Laughlin" Lloyd Owen, Hugh Jackman, Madchen Amick, D.B. Woodside, Melanie Griffith Nutty guy struggles to open a casino in Laughlin, Nevada, copes with the pressure by... breaking into song! "Cop Rock" meets "Las Vegas" Based on BBC's "Viva Blackpool," this may be the strangest show on the fall line-up. It would be the most exciting show on the fall line-up, too... if it weren't outrageously bad. Tune in to gawk before it's gone!
NBC's "Life" Damian Lewis, Sarah Shahi, Adam Arkin, Robin Weiger Quirky nutcase cop, once jailed for a crime he didn't commit, returns to the force and seeks vengeance on his enemies! Desperately Disturbed Detective Damian Lewis plays the twitchy/obsessive weirdo detective well, and the injustice of his incarceration fuels the show's season-long mystery. While the thirst for vengeance is a nice touch, Vincent D'Onofrio has perfected the brilliant twitchy-obsessive weirdo detective already.
Fox's "K-Ville" Anthony Anderson, Cole Hauser Loyal cop struggles to protect and rebuild chaotic post-Katrina New Orleans! Desperate Big Easy Cops Fascinating, unique setting with endless potential, story-wise. So why does this feel like just another cop show?
NBC's "Bionic Woman" Michelle Ryan, Katee Sackhoff, Miguel Ferrer, Will Yun Lee Rebuilt robot lady reigns supreme I guess this means Starbuck really is dead. Good clean cheesy fun. Jaime Sommers takes orders from no man this time around. And Katee Sackhoff is excellent as the first, eeeevil bionic woman. So cheesy, you'll feel dirty inside for watching. But then you'll find yourself making the wa-wa-wa sound when you're running, just like you did when you were 8.
CBS's "Moonlight" Alex O'Loughlin, Sophia Myles Vampire private investigator fights the undead, argues with girlfriend! "Life's gravest dangers are found in the moonlight." It sounds kind of cheesy, but it's actually... Very cheesy.
Fox's "New Amsterdam"* Nikolaj C. Waldau, Zuleikha Robinson Immortal homicide detective who's been alive for centuries solves mysteries, searches for his one true love! "Having witnessed its entire history, John Amsterdam is the living embodiment of New York City." It sounds kind of stupid, but it's actually... Very stupid.
NBC's "Journeyman" Kevin McKidd, Brian Howe, Gretchen Egolf, Moon Bloodgood Time-traveling newspaper reporter solves mysteries, juggles two true loves! "They say you can't live in the past, but Dan Vasser does that and more!" "Hey, it's Lucius Vorenus, from 'Rome'!" "Hey, it's 'Quantum Leap,' only a lot less interesting!"
Fox's "The Sarah Connor Chronicles" Lena Headey, Thomas Dekker, Summer Glau Teen savior of humankind flees from deadly time-traveling robot, whines to Mommy that it's no-fair! Bam! Kabooooom! Blam blam! Juh-juh-juh-juh! Blammo! Kablooey! Imagine, all of the explosions and chase scenes of the action-packed "Terminator" movies on the small screen! After the evil robot breaks up high school math class for the 15th time, what then?
ABC's "Pushing Daisies" Lee Pace, Anna Friel, Chi McBride, Swoosie Kurtz Pie-making private investigator resurrects the dead by touching them, can't touch his one true love! "A Series of Unfortunate Events" meets "Dead Like Me" Stylish and exaggerated, but clever, this is this year's "Ugly Betty," a smart cartoon for angsty adults. Will a quirky, touch-free love story hold our attention?
Show Stars Premise See Also Upside Downside

* Currently slated for midseason

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Heather Havrilesky

Heather Havrilesky is a regular contributor to the New York Times Magazine, The Awl and Bookforum, and is the author of the memoir "Disaster Preparedness." You can also follow her on Twitter at @hhavrilesky.

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