Only one of ABC's new genre TV shows is truly worth your time

Illustration for article titled Only one of ABCs new genre TV shows is truly worth your time

Next week, ABC is launching three new genre shows: 666 Park Avenue, The Neighbors, and Last Resort. All three of them feature bold premises and cool visuals — but which one of them is going to be your brand new obsession?

We've seen all three pilots — and even though all three of them have some cool ideas, there's really only one that we're still excited about. Minor spoilers ahead... And by "minor spoilers," I mean that we'll be describing the basic premise of each of these shows, but we won't be going into any plot twists or things that happen after the first 10-15 minutes of each pilot.

So I'm just going to rip the band-aid off now and say it: Last Resort is the fall ABC show that appears to have the most promise. This "five minutes into the future" story about a next-generation nuclear submarine facing a no-win situation is one of the best pilots of the year, and you'll probably be left on the edge of your seat wondering where the show can possibly go next week. The other two pilots, 666 Park Ave. and The Neighbors, basically left me cold. More details below.


Last Resort

When it's on: Thursdays at 8, starting Sept. 27.

Basic synopsis: In this show, a super-elite nuclear submarine is faced with an impossible choice. To quote from ABC's short summary: "Over a communications channel designed only to be used if the U.S. homeland has been wiped out, they're told to fire nuclear weapons at a foreign country." Has the U.S. really been wiped out? Or is there something weirder and more insidious going on? And what do you do when you've been given an order to commit mass murder in what appears to be peacetime? The crew of the U.S.S. Colorado will grapple with these questions.

Verdict: With Andre Braugher playing the captain of the Colorado, this was bound to be something special — Braugher brings just as much intensity and intelligence to the part as you'd expect, and you can see him wrestling with the impossible situation he's been placed in. Thanks to sharp writing by Shawn Ryan (The Shield, The Unit), the tension is kept high from the beginning, and you get the sense there's lots of interesting geopolitical stuff going on just outside our field of vision. Also, this is the closest we've come to a really good Battlestar Galactica-style military drama in years, with tons of great little moments and a sense of intense realism. This show looks like it's going to ask some really important questions about the nature of power and leadership, and just where the chain of command comes from — if that chain is broken, do all the other links fall apart instantly? And how do people choose between their consciences and their loyalties? Highly recommended.

666 Park Avenue

When it's on: Sundays at 10, starting Sept. 30.

Basic synopsis: Based (very very loosely) on a book by Gabriella Pierce, this series is about an eeeevil apartment building in the most expensive part of New York. Everybody who lives there wants to be somebody — and the person who can make it happen for them is the building's owner, Gavin (Terry O'Quinn from Lost). The only trouble? Gavin asks for rather a lot in return for success: In the show's opening moments, we see a violinist pay the price for his ten years of virtuoso fame. A young couple Henry and Jane (Dave Annable and Rachael Taylor) move in to this swanky pad and become the new managers — but are they ready for the fact that their apartment porn could be of the "snuff" variety?

Verdict: The fact that this supernatural soap opera is on after Once Upon a Time and Revenge will probably help its fate considerably — but even though I love shows like The Vampire Diaries, this show bored me out of my mind. I shared my thoughts about it during Comic Con, and watching the pilot a second time didn't make me like this show any better. The characters are still not that engaging, and watching people be drawn into a supernatural web of evil is just not as much fun as you'd think. It's always bad when an entire show is based on a premise that could have been better served as a single episode of Supernatural. For a show like this to work, you really have to invest in the characters, something that happens early on with the pilot of Once Upon a Time — and never quite seems to happen here. Unless you really enjoy watching Terry O'Quinn (and Vanessa Williams, as his wife) being sinister, this probably isn't going to be your jam. This show seems to want to say some really interesting things about fame and wealth and power, and what it takes to make it in New York. But none of those ideas seem to be served by its supernatural premise, at all.


The Neighbors

When it's on: 9:30 PM Wednesdays, starting Sept. 26.

Basic synopsis: An average American family moves into a suburban community with its own golf course — and discovers that all of the other residents are totally weird. Because it's given away in literally the first 30 seconds, I feel okay with telling you that all of the neighbors are green scaly aliens, who have been stranded on Earth for a decade or so, and somehow still haven't come to grips with any aspects of human society. All of the aliens have given themselves the names of professional athletes, so the main alien dad is named Larry Bird and his kids are Reggie Jackson and Dick Butkus. (They pronounce it "Butt-kiss.") It's basically Third Rock from the Sun, in suburbia, with a "normal" family in the mix.


Verdict: Unlike 666 Park Avenue, I don't feel lukewarm about this one at all. This is a hideously unfunny sitcom, in which the aliens basically act more or less like Coneheads, with a mostly British accent. (They even say "parental units" at one point.) The humor is almost entirely of the "fish out of water" variety, as the aliens fail to understand our human ways, mixed in with the occasional "hilarious misunderstanding" scenario. There are one or two genuinely funny moments out of the first two episodes, among many, many bland sitcom jokes. And Neighbors feels like a throwback to an earlier era of sitcoms — with shows like New Girl on the air, this is a strangely early-90s feeling show, in terms of the style of humor and the way it sets up its characters. Actually, there is one genuinely great thing about this show — Doug Jones (aka Abe Sapien) turns up in the second episode playing one of the aliens, and during his few minutes of screen time he elevates the proceedings immensely. It's great to see Doug Jones doing some acting out of makeup for once, and let's hope he gets a bigger role in later episodes. All in all, though, this is a really unfunny sitcom, that squanders a decent premise. Maybe it'll improve, though.

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The premise of Last Resort does sound intriguing, I just don't see how they can draw it out into a series. A two hour movie... even a mini-series... absolutely. Something that could run 5 to 7 years (or more)? Seems like it would require a fair amount of padding and wheel spinning to keep it going.