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From fall's TV crop, 10 newcomers worth sampling

The Associated Press, Monday, August 29, 2011, 2:16am (PDT)

NEW YORK (AP) -- The fall TV season isn't what it once was. Series are rolled out by the networks year-round, as fall premieres blend into midseason arrivals and beyond.

But between Sept. 13 and Nov. 23 (when the Fox straggler "I Hate My Teenage Daughter" premieres), the five major broadcast networks will unveil a couple of dozen new shows.

Two tips about that: Forget you ever heard about "I Hate My Teenage Daughter."

And make a special point to sample these recommended newcomers:

— "Ringer" (CW; premieres Sept. 13). Eight years after "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," Sarah Michelle Gellar is back in a new series, and it's a ring-a-ding-dinger. In one of her multiple roles, she plays Bridget, a stripper and drug addict in Wyoming who has struck a deal to testify against a fearsome villain whose latest heinous act she witnessed. But, fearing for her safety, Bridget flees instead. She reconnects in Manhattan with her rich, long-estranged identical twin, Siobhan. But only after she appropriates her sister's identity does she realize that Sis' secret life makes her own seem idyllic by comparison. The first episode of "Ringer" is full of wicked twists that promise lots of juicy complications to come. And for Gellar fans in particular, this show is a must-see: You get not just one, but two of her.

— "Free Agents" (NBC; premieres Sept. 14). Alex is newly divorced and missing his kids. Helen is battling her loneliness with booze months after her fiance's untimely death. As co-workers in a high-profile public relations agency, they share one ill-advised night of passion, then, post-tryst, must face each other in the office. What to do now? "Free Agents" has sassy, rapid-fire dialogue and, in a welcome change for a TV sitcom, grown-up comic plights. Hank Azaria ("The Simpsons," "Huff") plays Alex, about whom Helen aptly says, "I don't want you to take this the wrong way, but you're an absolute mess." To that, Alex counters that Helen (played by Kathryn Hahn, "Hung") is just fine — at least, "apart from some problem drinking, occasionally mixed in with some impulsive sexual acting out," whereupon he adds, "I just happen to be free right now, if you'd care to have several drinks and just kind of see what happens." What happens, long-term, is likely to be a humorously awkward romance.

— "2 Broke Girls" (CBS; premieres Sept. 19). Thank Bernie Madoff for this delightful comedy. Formerly wealthy Manhattan socialite Caroline is broke and disgraced after her Madoff-like dad is busted for his Wall Street piracy. Caroline seeks refuge in a downtrodden Brooklyn diner where, stylishly clad in her last Chanel suit, she lands a job alongside streetwise, likewise money-strapped Max, for whom waitressing is only one of two daily jobs. Despite their differences, they strike up a tentative friendship — and a business plan: Max bakes great cupcakes and Caroline turns out to have surprising business smarts. Is a sweet culinary empire in their future? Maybe, but not before they earn enough tips to get themselves out of hock. In the meantime, "2 Broke Girls" is blessed by sharp writing and a pair of young actresses who radiate instant comic chemistry.

— "The Playboy Club" (NBC; premieres Sept. 19). This sexy melodrama is set in 1961 at the just-opened Chicago nightspot meant to build on Playboy magazine's seductive appeal, and it boasts romance, crime, period music and the aura of a glamorous, long-gone era. A half-century later, the power of the Playboy brand is such that merely attaching it to a glitzy prime-time soap is enough to scandalize modern-day cultural puritans. But people who actually watch the show will find "The Playboy Club" to be a plush escape, behind the scenes of a legendary watering hole. And note that the Playboy bunnies, lovely as they are, are costumed more demurely than contestants on "Dancing With the Stars." Starring as the bunnies are Amber Heard, Jenna Dewan Tatum, Naturi Naughton, Leah Renee and, as the Bunny Mother, Laura Benanti. Eddie Cibrian plays a mysterious lawyer, power broker (and, of course, playboy) who's a regular at the club. And David Krumholtz plays the general manager, who makes sure the club's pleasure principles are rigorously followed.

— "New Girl" (Fox; premieres Sept. 20). As a wounded survivor of the relationship wars, Jess Day is something of a younger variation on Liz Lemon, the character that Tina Fey plays masterfully on "30 Rock." Jess is goofy, good-natured and unguarded in her dealings with the world — and especially tone-deaf with men. When she catches her boyfriend with another woman in their apartment, she bolts for new living quarters, and ends up sharing a spacious loft with three guys. As played by the adorable Zooey Deschanel ("(500) Days of Summer"), Jess is not without her charms. But the likelihood of hanky-panky with any of her roomies seems slight. Instead, she seems to have drafted them as surrogate big brothers, with her domestic proximity forcing them to learn more about the female psyche than they ever dreamed. Played by Jake Johnson, Max Greenfield and Lamorne Morris, these chaps have plenty of male hang-ups, which Jess' female presence may help remedy. Rounding out this little family is Jess' childhood best friend, Cece (Hannah Simone), who's a gorgeous model and knows the score about womanhood and men. It's an amusing support system for all concerned — including viewers.

— "Revenge" (ABC; premieres Sept. 21). Emily Thorne is a wholesome, polished and friendly newcomer to the getaway known as the Hamptons in New York's Long Island. But Emily is an impostor. With her false name and identity, she's going undercover into Hamptons high society to wreak havoc on those who, years before, wronged her and her father terribly. She has a hit list, and "Revenge" seems poised to deliciously track her payback mission. Prime-time soaps set among the privileged class are nothing new, of course — decades ago, "Dallas" and "Dynasty" gloried in that world, pitting rich good guys against rich villains. But "Revenge" seems more of a show for today, where everyone who's rich is suspect. Played by Emily Van Camp ("Brothers & Sisters," "Everwood"), its heroine aims to take the rich folks down, one by one. It should be a blast watching her do it — and measuring the cost it exacts on her in the process.

— "Person of Interest" (CBS; premieres Sept. 22). An obscure software genius and an ex-CIA agent believed to be dead: This is the duo who dedicate themselves to preventing bad things from happening — even without knowing what the bad thing will be. This is an edgy thriller that links the video surveillance that blankets modern life with a computer program that identifies each "person of interest" — someone who, whether as a victim or a perpetrator, is about to be involved in a violent crime. Michael Emerson ("Lost") is the obscure man with the software, and he recruits Jim Caviezel, playing an off-the-grid ex-spy, to do his legwork. The premiere episode is brooding and action-packed, and plants a nice creepy feeling in the viewer. Out in the real world, you'll never look at all those video cameras on buildings or lampposts the same way again.

— "A Gifted Man" (CBS; premieres Sept. 23). Dr. Michael Holt is a brilliant Manhattan-based surgeon-to-the-stars , but often his manner would make Dr. House seem warm and cuddly. Holt has charm he can switch on and off with the precision of his scalpel in the operating room. He is an overachiever in every sense, except as a man, and at odd moments he acknowledges it. "I know that being the best isn't PART of your life," he tells one patient, a 19-year-old tennis star with whom he identifies — "it's INSTEAD of it." But then his ex-wife, a fellow doctor and maybe the one woman he ever loved, re-enters his life. The twist is, she's dead. A radiant redhead with a tender, loving manner, she appears lifelike to him but is seen by no one else. She wants him to help finish her work at the medical clinic she ran for the poor. He wants her help in reclaiming his humanity. But as a man of science, can he handle this irrational arrangement? "Why," she asks him, "can't I be the one thing in life you don't understand?" Patrick Wilson ("Little Children") and Jennifer Ehle ("The King's Speech") co-star in a drama that's more than a romance; it's a bracing exploration into how science co-exists with faith.

— "Pan Am" (ABC; premieres Sept. 25). The viewer's first reaction to watching this show might be to burst into tears. Revisiting the glorious dawn of the jet age in 1963, as compared with air travel today, is like comparing the Orient Express with Amtrak. Today's flat-screen TVs on airline seatbacks don't compensate for everything the passenger has lost since those grand days of Pan Am, and this first-class new drama is an eyepopping reminder. It stars Christina Ricci, Kelli Garner, Margot Robbie and Karine Vanasse as the beautiful stewardesses (one of whom, adding to her awesomeness, is recruited as a government spy). "They don't know that they're a new breed of woman," says one of the dashing pilots (played by Mike Vogel and Michael Mosley) to the other. "They just had the impulse to take flight." On "Pan Am," there's romance, glamour and excitement for a new, ascendant age. And no one has to take off their shoes, until they're back at their hotel, hopping into bed.

— "Once Upon a Time" (ABC; premieres Oct. 23). The whimsical abandon of this comedy-drama recalls "Pushing Daisies" and "Ugly Betty," and comes from co-creators Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, whose credits include "Lost" and "Tron: Legacy." It begins with an enchanted forest and the Seven Dwarfs as Prince Charming's kiss brings the deceased Snow White back to life. But before this loving couple has a chance to live happily ever after, the Evil Queen delivers a curse that traps them in the modern world. More specifically, they — and the rest of the universe of fairy tale characters — are rendered mortal, ordinary and frozen in time in Storybrooke, Maine. They don't remember that they used to be storybook characters. They're denied the happy endings all good storybook characters are guaranteed. Their only hope: intervention by Emma Swain, a 28-year-old Bostonian who just may be the long-missing daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming. It is she who must do battle with the Evil Queen, who, now known as Regina, is the mayor of Storybrooke. Ginnifer Goodwin ("Big Love"), Jennifer Morrison ("House"), Josh Dallas and Lana Parrilla star in a series that's dazzling to watch, kooky in concept, and leaves you after its first hour asking, "What just happened?" But you want to see more.

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ABC is owned by The Walt Disney Co.; CBS is a division of CBS Corp.; Fox is a unit of News Corp.; NBC is controlled by Comcast; CW is a joint venture of Warner Bros. Entertainment and CBS Corp.

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Online:

http://www.abc.com

http://www.cbs.com

http://www.cwtv.com

http://www.fox.com

http://www.nbc.com

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EDITOR'S NOTE — Frazier Moore is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. He can be reached at fmoore(at)ap.org and at http://www.twitter.com/tvfrazier

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