"Bionic Woman" A mess, really, from the stupid scene in the pilot that feels it's necessary to spell out the whole central metaphor in explicit dialogue (the little girl in the car with her mother watching Jaime Sommers run supersonically through the forest) and the continuous yawning plot holes. The research department, a big "Battlestar Galactica" guy, told me a lot of the reviews he read wondered why Michelle Ryan was cast as the lead instead of Katee Sackhoff, who's the standout player in the first episode as a simultaneously pathetic and superpowerful botched experiment. Ryan has the exact same expression in every scene, whether she's pouring drinks, comforting her little sister (Lucy Hale, pretty winning), having her legs amputated or getting plowed. There's a little "Buffy" and a little Akira in "Bionic Woman," which doesn't do anywhere near as good a job shading its sci-fi with currently relevant themes as "Heroes" does without seeming preachy or killing off the escapist-fun factor. There's a really scary and terrifying plot concept behind "Bionic Woman" -- the notion, reported in the pilot by Miguel Ferrer's generic operative guy, that the government has all sorts of amazing technology far beyond our imagination and they're not exactly using it responsibly. There's a show there, but I don't think it's this one.
"Back to You" Seems like a can't-miss formula for a successful sitcom, and it is. That might sound boring but I was glad I took the time to add this show with Kelsey Grammer and Patricia Heaton to the watch list. Fred Willard has been crying out for a regular sitcom role that gives him as much freedom as he's given here for ages; as Marsh McGinley he's doing the same Fred Willard bit as always and it's just as funny as it always is. It's amazing how bad the level of acting in the average sitcom is. I've been glancing at "Two and Half Men," previously unseen by me, sporadically since it started in syndication, and I can't believe it's a popular show. The only person in the cast with the least bit of comic timing is the kid! Grammer is obviously one of the best TV actors we have and it's nice to see him playing a character differentiated from Frasier; he's still a pompous blowhard (this is TV, no one wants to reinvent the wheel) but anchorman Chuck Darling is more comfortable looking middle-aged, somewhat more assertive, and seemingly has a very different set of problems with women. The pilot drops kind of a big bomb on Heaton's character so she's not really allowed to be as funny in the first two shows, although she's a pro at doing the hysterical crying bits and much easier than Grammer to accept right away as a different character from her famous established one. I like the way that the legendary James Burrows-Christopher Lloyd directing/writing team mixes in younger, edgier humor with the traditional sitcom fare with well-drawn twentysomething supporting characters. (Josh Gad as nebbish young news director Ryan Church recalls the beloved Miles Silverberg.) There's nothing really new about "Back to You" but there's nothing wrong with being predictably entertaining. This might be the only debut sitcom on any network this season to make it to a second year.
"The Big Bang Theory" I go back and forth with the affected nerd voices Johnny Galecki and Jim Parsons use as adult theoretical physicists, but otherwise I have extremely high hopes for this show. I once wrote that no half-hour comedy other than "Futurama" could ever run a Heisenberg uncertainty principle joke, and now that's not true. This show is packed with references to seriously interesting and cutting-edge science stuff, and it's also really funny (funnier than the preview clips). Simon Helberg is very lovable as bell-bottomed supporting nerd Wolowitz, and Kaley Cuoco is surprisingly self-aware as the hottie who moves in next door to Galecki and Parsons' dateless losers. It's tricky to play a character who's of average intelligence among geniuses -- a lot of the jokes play on Cuoco's dumb-blonde innocence -- but not eventually earn the audience's contempt. The writers of "The Big Bang Theory" clearly understand the concept of emotional intelligence, and right away they make it believable that the scientists and the Cheesecake Factory waitress could form a real friendship. Like any brand-new sitcom there are a few howlers in the pilot, but for the most part "Big Bang Theory" is really funny. The cast could use a little bit more normal-person balance but that can easily be addressed.
"Chuck" Can't judge a book by its cover, can't judge a show by its creators. "Big Bang Theory" is the invention of Chuck Lorre, creator of the dastardly "Dharma and Greg," and it's funny and natural and has five immediately distinctive characters. "Chuck" boasts the involvement of "O.C." dude Josh Schwartz, and yet the dialogue couldn't be flatter or more out-of-touch. When the script needs a video game that its early-twenties hero might have played with his roommate in college, it goes for early-eighties text-parser legend "Zork." No, that's not the right choice. "Big Bang Theory" seems to be written by reformed nerds for current nerds, while "Chuck" is a show about nerds by mean regular people. Like Napolean Dynamite, it's all about laughing at the pathetic loser without necessarily feeling any kind of real sympathy. The pilot of "Chuck" has just a horrible idea; that this poor, damaged young man is going to find a woman who genuinely seems to like him only to find out she's actually a government agent who has to protect him -- because of something his BMOC college roommate did against his will. That's awful! Cruelly, "Chuck" is mostly paced like a comedy but it fecklessly tries to use action sequences to pay off comedy conflicts; when secret agent Bryce Larkin gets (apparently) killed I honestly feel like the writers think that's going to "make up" for how Larkin stole Chuck's only girlfriend back at school. My goodness, that must take an amazingly low opinion of American empathy. This vulgar miscalculation is the worst thing about "Chuck," but there's not much else going on either -- the scenes at Chuck's Best Buy-like job plagiarize 40-Year-Old Virgin with no apparent shame and the special effects are lazy and uncentered. Take the images shown when Chuck views the video Larkin sends him that apparently instills him with all the intelligence agencies in the world's collected information. They're so amateurishly selected and edited that it's clearly being played for laughs, only here's the thing -- comedy is just as hard work as action to get right. "Chuck" doesn't get either right and you shouldn't waste your time with it. And as a further insult, it gives the fine Adam Baldwin a stock heavy role with less dimension than the alien supersoldier he played in the waning days of "The X-Files."