By: Tim Holland
Smash is midseason’s best new show. The terrific musical drama stars American Idol runner-up Katharine McPhee as a New York waitress who dreams of starring on Broadway, specifically landing the lead in a new musical about Marilyn Monroe. While comparisons to Glee are inevitable, Smash is a grown-up, intelligent drama led by McPhee, in a career-making performance, and a strong ensemble cast that includes Debra Messing and Anjelica Huston. If you love Broadway, great songwriting or just plain ole good soapy drama, then Smash is your ticket. Premieres February 6.
Picking up 10 years after the conclusion of the John Grisham novel and the 1993 Tom Cruise movie, The Firm stars Josh Lucas as Southern-bred lawyer Mitch McDeere who leaves the witness protection program after a decade and becomes involved with a shady Washington, D.C. law firm. Lucas is at his charming best and the courtroom drama, while uneven in the otherwise compelling two-hour pilot, includes a twist ending that promises more intriguing storylines to come. Premieres January 8.
Bent is an inspired romantic comedy starring Amanda Peet as a recently divorced, no-nonsense lawyer who hires a free-spirited contractor, an excellent David Walton, to renovate her Venice, California, house. The single-camera sitcom includes a host of likeable side characters, all of whom are bent, not broken, and just trying to get by. The writing is intelligent, not joke-laden, with the humor coming from each of the show’s richly developed characters. Bent should be a straight-up hit when it premieres later in midseason.
Are You There, Chelsea? is inspired by the best-selling books written by comedian Chelsea Handler and centers on Chelsea, a game Laura Prepon, a cocktail waitress whose two favorite pastimes are heavy drinking and casual sex. Chelsea is pretty much a female version of Two and a Half Men, loaded with lame and endless sex jokes, and an over-eager laugh track. But fans of Handler’s style of crude comedy will undoubtedly drink it up. Premieres January 11.
Fashion Star is Project Runway with a twist. Fourteen designers compete to win a contract to have their collections sold in three major retail stores: H&M, Macy’s and Saks Fifth Avenue. But each week buyers from those three stores bid on the clothes being presented and the highest bidder wins the right to sell the fashions in their stores, beginning the next day after an episode airs. Designers who don’t make a sell face elimination. Elle Macpherson hosts, with Jessica Simpson, Nicole Richie and John Varvatos serving as mentors. It’s worth a trip down the runway. Premieres March 13.
Awake boasts midseason’s most unique premise. Detective Michael Britten, effectively played by Jason Isaacs, awakens in parallel realities following a horrific car crash involving his family. In one, his wife perished in the accident but his son lived. In the other, his son died but his wife lived. Which is true? Or are they both false? In addition, Michael works crimes in both worlds with two different partners and sees separate shrinks who try to make sense of it all. Viewers too may be shaking their heads when this unique drama premieres later in midseason, but with its bold storytelling and top-flight performances, the shaking heads will likely be nodding yes.