Outsiders are the new insiders

Nerds and middle-aged losers lead the charge as this fall's favorite comic heroes! A clip 'n' save guide to the new comedies.

Published September 13, 2007 11:00AM (EDT)

Giving in to their usual copycat compulsions, the network masterminds have combined the self-deprecating-misfit high jinks of "Ugly Betty" with the supernatural wonders of "Heroes," presenting an assortment of fall sitcoms and dramedies that focus on the trials and tribulations of the Very Special outsider. These awkward, offbeat protagonists struggle with a wide range of challenges, from lovable nerdiness to a Cro-Magnon brow. But whether their self-esteem, their souls or their long-term memories have gone missing, one thing is clear: Mild amusement and halfhearted chuckles are coming right up!

When you peruse this handy clip 'n' save 2007 Comedy Chart (or the 2007 Drama Chart that ran earlier this week), you'll notice something odd: The former rules of genre no longer seem to apply, and hybrids are the flavor of the month. Just as many of this year's drama pilots were unexpectedly humorous and jaunty, so, too, are many of this year's comedy pilots surprisingly somber. In fact, we were so confused by ABC's hourlong dramedy "Pushing Daisies" that we decided to list it on both charts. (OK, we also did that because it's one of our favorites in the group.) Other comedies that look reasonably promising are CW's "Aliens in America," Fox's "Back to You" and the midseason sitcom "The Return of Jezebel James," also on Fox.

New comedies

Show Stars Premise See also All you need to know Typical joke Pain rating
ABC's "Cavemen" Bill English, Nick Kroll, Sam Huntington Three cavemen friends face discrimination at every turn! Based on a 30-second Geico commercial that wasn't funny in the first place Caveman attends party, gets pushed into a fire, ends up waving a burning stick around. "These people like to think they're sooo civilized, but you know what? They're no different than us, just not as good looking."
5 -- Severe F*&#ing Pain
CBS's "The Big Bang Theory" Johnny Galecki, Jim Parsons, Kaley Cuoco Two serious nerds move in next door to major babe and blow her mind with how nerdy they are! "Meet two brainiacs with a lot to learn!" Although created by Chuck Lorre of "Two and a Half Men," this one alternates between predictably dorky and surprisingly funny. "Four years I lived with him! That's, like, as long as high school!" "It took you four years to get through high school?"
3 -- Sorta Painful
ABC's "Samantha Who?" Christina Applegate, Jean Smart, Kevin Dunn Psychiatrist gets amnesia after an accident, is forced to redesign her life from the ground up! See the pretty mean girl get her comeuppance, try to make nice First scene features Samantha's mom making a hospital-bedside audition tape for "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition." "Good things about being in a coma: No fattening food, lots of rest, they sponge you down every day ..."
2 -- A Little Pain
Fox's "Back to You" Kelsey Grammer, Patricia Heaton, Fred Willard Successful jackass news anchor reunited with former co-anchor when a scandal sends him back to Pittsburgh! Successful sitcom stars united in search of big hit! If heavyweights like Grammer, Heaton and Willard plus solid jokes can't make this one work, then the traditional sitcom really is dead. "Last week I told a perfectly harmless PMS joke, and she threw a bottle at me. Whose point did she prove there?"
1 -- Relatively Painless
ABC's "Carpoolers" Jerry O'Connell, Jerry Minor, Tim Peper, Fred Goss Four working guys share a ride and see one another through the ups and downs of suburban life! Just a bunch of average guys, getting themselves into big, corny, sitcom-style trouble First scene involves singing along to Air Supply's "I'm All Out of Love." "I'm kind of holding down the fort right now. My wife is exhausted from watching her TV shows."
3 -- Sorta Painful
CW's "Reaper" Bret Harrison, Ray Wise Slacker guy turns 21 and parents inform him that they sold his soul to the devil, who's not a very forgiving boss! Rounding up escapees from hell is a serious bummer of a job, man. Ray Wise is great as the devil, but otherwise this show is pretty hokey. Satan: "Any place that seems like hell on earth is hell on earth. Like the DMV on Union Street?"
3 -- Sorta Painful
ABC's "Pushing Daisies" Lee Pace, Anna Friel, Chi McBride Pie-maker discovers he can resurrect the dead, solve crime! Surreal, goofy procedural dramedy with exaggerated style of Jean-Pierre Jeunet Charmingly weird and unpredictable; created by Bryan Fuller of "Heroes," "Wonderfalls" and "Dead Like Me" "How was your convention?"

0 -- No Pain
NBC's "Chuck" Zachary Levi, Yvonne Strahovski, Joshua Gomez, Adam Baldwin Nerd unwittingly downloads government secrets into his brain, becomes secret agent! Quirky suspense-action dramedy with self-deprecating aw-shucks style of Judd Apatow Created by Josh Schwartz ("The OC"), this show feels as if it were written for Seth Cohen, by Seth Cohen. So where is Seth Cohen? "Wow, I didn't think people still named their kids Chuck -- or Morgan, for that matter."
"My parents are sadists, and carnival freaks found him in a dumpster."

3 -- Sorta Painful
CW's "Aliens in America" Dan Byrd, Adhir Kalyan Pakistani exchange student comes to live with a nerd in small-town Wisconsin, turns his life upside down! Nutty nerd comedy with the clueless parents, nasty teenagers and sweetness of John Hughes Kalyan's winning turn as an earnest, helpful imported pal to an awkward outcast makes this show irresistible. "Class, for one year, we'll be in the presence of a real live Pakistani, who practices Muslimism!"
1 -- Relatively Painless
Fox's "The Return of Jezebel James" Parker Posey, Lauren Ambrose Type-A bossy professional who's infertile asks her slacker sister to give birth to a baby for her! They're sisters, they're opposites, they love each other. I'm misting up already. Smart jokes, good story, and as odd as it is to see them in this format, Posey and Ambrose are both great. "You'd have to move into my house for the length of the pregnancy, so that I can make sure that the baby doesn't come out with two heads and the words 'aged in oak barrel' stamped on it."
1 -- Relatively Painless
Fox's "The Rules for Starting Over" Craig Bierko, Rashida Jones, Johnny Sneed, Shaun Majumder Middle-aged divorcées jump back into a fetid dating pool! Farrelly brothers gross-out fest about getting laid, bad marriages The main character suffers an attempted ass rape by an orangutan in the first scene. "Gator had a little run-in with a bi-curious George!"
5 -- Severe F&*#ing Pain

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By 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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