By Oliver Lyttelton | www.oliverlyttelton.com August 24, 2012 at 11:56AM
From what we've seen and heard, it's not exactly a banner year for network comedy. Even with the caveat that sitcom pilots are rarely overwhelmingly successful (look at everything from "Parks & Recreation" to "New Girl" to see how shows can improve with a little time), this year's crop seem pretty weak. One of the exceptions, however, is "The Mindy Project," which sees "The Office" veteran Mindy Kaling graduate to write and star in her own pilot for Fox. The set up is pretty standard. Kaling plays a doctor with a train-wreck of a personal life -- but the writer/performer is enormously winning and charming, and she's assembled a pretty great cast around her, including Chris Messina ("Ruby Sparks"), British comic Ed Weeks and the great Stephen Tobolowsky, plus Bill Hader and Ed Helms in cameo appearances. What we've seen of the pilot looks moderately funny, but this is here more out of the faith that it'll find its footing given half the chance.
When? Airs after "New Girl" on Tuesday nights from September 25th.
The other comedy we're really excited for, albeit one at a very different end of the spectrum from "The Mindy Project," is IFC's vehicle for comedian and podcast host Marc Maron. The network have had some success with comedy of late with "Portlandia" and "Comedy Bang-Bang," and this seems to fall into a similar niche, being the semi-autobiographical tale of veteran stand-up Maron, who went through years of substance abuse problems and broken marriages before finding fame as the host of the popular "WTF" podcast, where he's interviewed everyone from Judd Apatow to Jack White. The series will see Maron play a thinly-veiled version of himself, a comic who records a podcast in his garage, but there are some slight differences, including veteran Ed Asner will play Maron's bipolar father, which should be fun. We're likely to get cameos from various celebrities in each episode too -- Ken Jeong played himself in the pilot.
When? Early 2013, probably paired with "Portlandia."
To be honest, the only reason this one isn't top of the list is because it's not clear if it's going to series yet, but on the basis of the talent assembled for the pilot, this could be the most exciting new shows of the coming year. "Low Winter Sun" is a remake of a 2006 Channel 4 British series involving a pair of Edinburgh cops who murder their partner, only to get drawn into the criminal underworld. The new version, written by "Criminal Minds" scribe Chris Mundy and directed by "The Wire" veteran Ernest Dickerson, is set in Detroit, but it's still keeping some ties with the original, with the great Mark Strong, who starred in the UK version, reprising his role as one of the cops. He's joined by another excellent British character actor, Lennie James, and "The Wire" star James Ransone, so thing are shaping up nicely. AMC, where the project is set up, tend to be very picky when it comes to actually commissioning series from the pilots, and even if it does make it through the process, the last time they remake a foreign crime thriller we got "The Killing," so this could be problematic. But it could also be the next "The Shield." Fingers crossed, then.
When? If it gets the pick up, our guess is that it'll fill the spring slot left vacant by "The Killing."
Speaking of "The Shield," its creator Shawn Ryan's subsequent shows haven't quite connected with audiences. The transcendent "Terriers" was cancelled after one season, and "The Chicago Code" lasted the same length of time. But his new ABC show looks like it could have a better chance at success. Landing somewhere between "Crimson Tide" and "Lost," the plot involves an advanced nuclear submarine that gets orders to attack Pakistan. The boat's commanding officer (Andre Braugher) refuses, and after surviving an attack from their own side, the crew set themselves up on an Indian Ocean island and declare themselves a sovereign nuclear nation. It's a killer set-up (although some critics who've seen the pilot have questioned how well it'll be able to extend the story), and we'd certainly take forty minutes out of our day to watch Braugher play a morally ambiguous, Col. Kurtz-ish submarine captain-turned-despot. Aside from Robert Patrick in what we'd describe as the Sam Neill role, we're not expecially enthused by the supporting cast, which also includes Scott Speedman and Autumn Reeser, but hopefully that means there's some exciting new faces in there.
When? Thursdays at 8 PM starting September 27th.
Again, it's by all accounts a weak year for TV comedy, so we're willing to give shows that display a degree of promise the benefit of the doubt if they're showing enough of it, and "Ben & Kate" seems to be on the upper tier of things. Created by Diablo Cody pal Dana Fox, the show is a sort of sitcom spin on "You Can Count On Me," with a hopeless dreamer ("The Descendants" co-writer Nat Faxon) moving back in with his sister, a young single mom played by Dakota Johnson. What we've seen of the pilot is warm and likeable, if not uproariously funny (with the exception of "Bad Teacher" star Lucy Punch, who's excellent), but former "Community" showrunners Neil Goldman and Garrett Donovan have come on since the series was ordered, so the potential is certainly there for things to improve. The basics are there, particularly with two very likeable leads, so this could turn out to be a pleasant surprise if the pieces fall into place.
When? Showing alongside "New Girl" and "The Mindy Project" on Fox starting September 25th
Honorable Mentions: The show that would certainly top this list if there was an obvious start date on it would be "True Detective," a real-life cop tale that's being directed by Cary Fukunaga, and will star Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey. But as far as we know, there's no indication of when the HBO series will go before cameras. There's a few other network shows that have our interest too: Dennis Quaid and Michael Chiklis in period crime drama "Vegas"; the JJ Abrams-produced apocalyptic sci-fi "Revolution"; Kevin Bacon serial killer tale "The Following"; Radha Mitchell as a reluctant crime matriarch in "Red Widow"; and Jonny Lee Miller as a contemporary Sherlock Holmes, with Lucy Liu as Watson, in "Elementary."