These five series premiering this week freely borrow from previous shows and movies, with varying results.
“The Muppets” show doesn’t “sock”
7 p.m. Tuesdays on ABC
Kermit is getting a paunch, the puppets in the band are stoned, Pepe the King Prawn has to marry his girlfriend before she gives birth to hundreds of thousands of shrimpettes, Fozzie Bear is dating outside his species and Miss Piggy is planning a butt lift and teat implants.
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“The Muppets” are back in prime time. Their physical material may be yards of felt, foam and feathers, but their spoken material isn’t suitable for 5-year-olds.
Taking a mockumentary approach — or should that be, “sockumentary?” — cameras follow all the chaos as Miss Piggy readies for her her own late-night talk show with Kermit as her producer.
Unfortunately, they are no longer dating and that makes for a lot of tension on the set in the days leading up to the show’s premiere, especially since Kermit has moved on to a porcine brunette named Denise.
“What can I say? I date pigs,” he shrugs, or whatever represents a shrug when your cloth arms are mobilized by a pair of sticks.
Miss Piggy, being Miss Piggy, has a lot of demands and one of them is that she doesn’t want Elizabeth Banks as a guest on her show. Kermit is at a loss. He doesn’t want to fire Banks and besides, who can he get at this late hour to replace her? How about “Dancing With the Stars” host Tom Bergeron?
The obvious concept for the show is that creators Bill Prady and Bob Kushnell have taken a stock comedy situation and made us laugh because the dialogue is mostly spoken by puppets. That’s part of the joke, but the writing is also key. If the dialogue weren’t funny, it wouldn’t matter if the lines were delivered by people, puppets or puppies.
The dialogue is funny, but the longer-range question is whether it’s funny enough to keep viewers coming back week after week. Even the most wooden of Hollywood actors can be acceptable in different shows because they are playing characters.
This isn’t the first time the Muppets have tried for a grown-up audience. “Muppets Tonight” aired for two seasons in the late ’90s, with many of the same elements Prady and Kushnell have woven into the new show
The Muppets are always going to be the Muppets. They’re cute and sassy, but they never really change, and that’s going to be a challenge for the show’s creators going forward. Miss Piggy, after all, is always going to be Miss Piggy, for better or “wurst.”
“Scream Queens” an under-the-top stumble for “Glee” creator
7 p.m. Tuesdays on Fox
Ryan Murphy and his “Glee” colleagues are adept at satirizing B movie cliches of the past for contemporary TV audiences. So you’d naturally expect sorority house slasher films to be over-ripe for the picking as Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan sat down to craft another over-the-top show for Fox.
Unfortunately, for much of its two-episode, two-hour premiere, “Scream Queens” isn’t even near the top, much less over it. It sort of comes alive in the last half-hour with a faint hope that it might be more gripping in the future, but I can’t help wondering if the audience will still be watching by then. I also can’t help wondering whether Murphy is either running out of material or spreading himself too thin between new shows, the FX anthology series “American Horror Story” and side projects like “The Normal Heart” for HBO.
“Scream Queens” is set at the Kappa sorority house at Wallace University, and begins a couple of decades in the past when one of the sisters is surprised to discover she’s pregnant and gives birth in an upstairs bathtub. Her sisters are loathe to interrupt the party for too long to care for her, but while they’re downstairs, the new mom dies.
Back in the present day, a doting widower named Wes Gardner (Oliver Hudson) drops his young daughter Grace (Skyler Samuels) off to begin classes at Wallace, where she hopes to pledge Kappa because her late mother had been a member of the sorority.
Grace is a typical “nice girl,” who seems as though she’d never fit in at Kappa, where a house full of entitled mean girls is ruled by Chanel Oberlin (Emma Roberts) and her two sidekicks, Chanel #2 (Ariana Grande), Chanel #3 (Billie Lourd) and Chanel #5 (Abigail Breslin).
In fact, Grace would never be allowed to pledge Kappa if it weren’t for orders from the imperious, sexually voracious, sorority-hating dean Cathy Munsch (Jamie Lee Curtis) that the house has to accept anyone and everyone who wants to join, including Hester Ulrich (Lea Michele) who has scoliosis, and Zayday Williams (Keke Palmer) who has a genius IQ.
The campus is not a very safe place as the school year begins because Kappas and the boys of the Dickie Dollar Scholar golf fraternity are being hunted down by a mysterious killer dressed in a red devil’s costume.
Plucky Grace teams up with the cute Carl Bernstein-wannabe Pete Martinez (Diego Boneta), editor of the school paper, to uncover the killer’s real identity and motive. She’s crushing on him big-time and agrees to be his mole inside the house to search for clues.
The performances are enjoyable, for the most part, but the script is surprisingly flat for a Murphy-Falchuk show. It perks up a little when Nick Jonas shows up to play Boone, the closeted best friend of campus romeo Chad Radwell (Glen Powell). And Niecy Nash adds laughs as the worst security guard ever, Denise Hemphill. In both cases, the writers seem to awaken briefly from their lethargy to craft some legitimately funny lines and situations. But these moments are fleeting.
Curtis does well enough, but it’s clear Dean Munsch is meant to be the Sue Sylvester of the piece. At least she has pedigree from those “Halloween” movies. Roberts does what she can with the stock mean girl role, but the character is only a one-dimensional cliche. And since it’s already a self-satire, there isn’t much the writers can do with the role to make it more interesting.
“Scream Queens” may get better, but its first two episodes are far too tame, especially coming from Ryan Murphy’s house of usually hilarious horrors.
“Rosewood,” “Limitless”: Some things borrowed
“Limitless”: 9 p.m. Tuesdays on CBS
“Rosewood”: 7 p.m. Wednesdays on Fox
If it’s not the first rule of broadcast programming, it’s pretty near the top: For lack of anything better, when you need a new show, just repurpose an old concept. No one will notice.
That’s the thinking behind two watchable but undistinguished new shows from CBS and Fox. “Limitless” is based on the film of the same name starring Bradley Cooper, but really, it’s cut from the same cloth as “Person of Interest,” which isn’t returning to CBS til mid-season. Fox’s “Rosewood” stars Morris Chestnut as a private medical examiner who teams up with a Miami cop to solve crimes. Its family tree includes “Body of Proof” and “Quincy, M.E.”
“Limitless” is the more preposterous of the two shows, but despite its shaky premise, ends up being just a skosh more engaging. Brian Finch (Jake McDorman) is getting too old to keep hoping to get the band back together, but he has no career, no aspirations, no direction in life. He does temp work, which is where he reconnects with an old bandmate who is now an investment banker. What Brian needs, his enabling pal tells him, is a little transparent pill called NZT that sends his brain into the IQ stratosphere. Cue “White Rabbit.”
Not only can he finish the filing job he’s been assigned now, but he even figures out what’s been causing his father’s recent health crises. Wow, this is good stuff, he thinks. But now he needs more. He goes to visit his old bud and finds the guy dead on the floor of his apartment and Brian becomes the prime suspect.
At this point, the writers trade preposterous for convenient. With all that brain power, maybe Brian should be like, oh I don’t know, a consultant for the FBI, posits Agent Rebecca Harris (Jennifer Carpenter).
So we get “Elementary” on drugs with “White Collar” and go from there. Brian has to solve crimes but he also has to maintain his stash of NZT or he’s toast.
“Rosewood” has an attractive star in Chestnut, but the script is weak and predictable and there’s zero chemistry between Chestnut’s Dr. Beaumont Rosewood and the Miami cop whose cases he keeps interfering with, Jaina Lee Ortiz as Detective Annalise Villa.
Pilot episodes are often in a hurry to establish themselves, and this one establishes itself all over the place. Hey wait, did you see Dr. Rosewood has a lesbian sister (Gabrielle Dennis)? Trendy, huh? And, oh yeah, the Doc’s tick-tock has a bunch of holes in it so he has to take a lot of blood thinners and has a heightened awareness of mortality. Aw, frowny face, frowny face!
Rosewood gets involved in solving the death of a young woman who was an acquaintance of his mother, played by the stalwart Lorraine Toussaint who must feel a bit of a let-down after “Orange Is the New Black.” Here’s a shocker, Rosewood finds clues the cops miss.
The show has a certain sunny Miami gloss, but that doesn’t blind us to the generally perfunctory script, the flat pacing and the useful but unremarkable dialog. Everyone involved really deserves better, including the audience.