This is Associated Press TV writer Frazier Moore Watching Television, loads of television, for KCRW. In fact, over the weekend I watched most of the new Fall pilots, and I've reached this happy conclusion: The new drama shows have resisted outsourcing their evil forces to other nations and other galaxies. TV's new villains now seem mostly home-grown.
I applaud this commitment to America. Why? For starters, it means fewer TV bad guys speaking in overblown Slavic or Arab accents, which not only signal negative stereotyping but are also kind of cliche.
It also means fewer earthlings plagued by slimy fish-like creatures or frothing zombies or other life forms that make you go yeccch. Hey, last year five new dramas did their best to spook you with their whacked-out weirdness. Remember? Surface... Invasion... Night Stalker... Threshold... Supernatural. Of them, only The WB's Supernatural will be back to haunt us this coming season.
The new crop of dramas relies more on suspense and mystery than gross-out and goblins. And as I said before, these shows are choosing not to get all exotic with their enemies.
On NBC's Kidnapped, the teenage son of high-society Manhattanites Timothy Hutton and Dana Delany is snatched en route to school. Who's apparently behind the plot? A greedy domestic mastermind!
On another serial drama, Fox's Vanished, a Senator's wife is spirited away from a gala dinner in her honor at a snazzy hotel. Making things juicier, the lovely young woman turns out to have a mysterious past. Is her disappearance a scam she's helped cook up?
On the new CW Network (which merges UPN with The WB), Runaway finds a big-time lawyer played by Donnie Wahlberg on the lam with his wife and three children, trying to clear himself of a murder he's been framed for. They're being chased not only by the Feds but also, further complicating things, by scoundrels trying to kill them. We don't know why. They don't either.
And on CBS' Jericho, a mysterious explosion spewing a dark cloud on the horizon has isolated a small Kansas town from the rest of the country. And raised doubts how much of the country beyond the town's borders still exists.
Granted, this could be the result of a foreign attack or global terrorism. But I'm betting the cause is something more down-home. In any case, the show seems focused not so much on who or what, as how -- how will this local community cope with disaster and fear of the unknown?
I confess that, as promising as some of these new shows seem, I'm daunted by their over-similar titles. And I didn't even mention one called Traveler, an ABC pilot I haven't seen yet.
But I'm sure I'll get the names sorted out, and so will you.
In the meantime, we can all ponder the implications of this new program trend -- how it can be bracing to face evil without reaching across the globe or across the universe. And how it can also be oddly reassuring. A TV series, any TV series, should be relatable to its audience, which recalls for me a classic line from the comic strip Pogo: "We have met the enemy and he is us." That's really relatable! And it can make for really good drama.
Watching Television for KCRW, this is Associated Press TV writer Frazier Moore.