Familiar faces are back this fall on two of Fox's most hyped shows, "Tru Calling" (7 p.m. Thursdays) and "Arrested Development" (8:30 p.m. Sundays).
Eliza Dushku is welcome to fill my 27-inch Sony whenever she wants, but so far, I've been enjoying the company of Jason Bateman, Portia de Rossi, David Cross and the other wackos on "Arrested Development" a bit more.
Before it even aired its first episode, "Tru Calling" faced resistance from the sci-fi community. About 99 percent of Dushku's fans wanted to see her continue her role as Faith the Vampire Slayer on "Angel" or her own spin-off. However, Dushku signed on with Jon Harmon Feldman's "Tru Calling" last spring, and soon after that, the series finale of "Buffy" expanded the Slayer roster from two to hundreds. Suddenly, Faith wasn't so unique.
In terms of superpowers at least, Tru Davies is one of a kind. She works in a morgue where corpses suddenly spring to life and say, "Help me" in a creepy, tense scene that's exactly the same every week. After that, Tru wakes up (looking good in a tank top every time) and repeats the day. Tru has no idea why this happens to her, but I'm guessing a groundhog is involved.
If and when she is handed a really tough case, we'll probably be treated to scenes of Tru repeatedly smashing her alarm clock in irritation ala Bill Murray, but in the first four episodes, Tru has Nancy Drewed her way to saving the would-be corpse every time. The mystery doesn't heat up until the second half-hour because Fox knows everyone is watching "Friends" before that.
If you watch
Title: "Tru Calling"
Airtime: 7 p.m. Thursdays on Fox
Starring: Eliza Dushku, Shawn Reaves, Zach Galifianakis, A.J. Cook, Jessica Collins
Created by: Jon Harmon Feldman
Title: "Arrested Development"
Airtime: 8:30 p.m. Sundays on Fox
Starring: Jason Bateman, Jeffrey Tambor, Portia de Rossi, David Cross
Created by: Mitchell Hurwitz
Dushku, despite retaining her raspy Boston accent, has managed to distance Tru from Faith. She lost the tattoo on her arm and doesn't wear as much black, but I think the main difference is that Tru has a brother (Shawn Reaves), a sister (Jessica Collins) and a friend (A.J. Cook from "Higher Ground"). Faith didn't have so much as a last name.
While Dushku has no trouble carrying the show (it's the mediocre scripts that let "Tru" down), it would be better if Tru developed a Scooby Gang of sorts (maybe we should continue the homage chain and call 'em the Buffy Gang). Of course, the show won't last long enough to develop its ensemble. It's a Fox sci-fi show, and that means it will be canceled before you can say "Freakylinks."
"Arrested Development" no doubt will be canned as well (before you can say "Andy Richter"), but it will be missed more than "Tru." The Mitchell Hurwitz-created comedy, narrated in deadpan fashion by executive producer Ron Howard, chronicles a family so dysfunctional they make the Simpsons look like the Cleavers.
Michael Bluth (Bateman) is the only normal one, reluctantly letting his siblings stay with him in his display house in the middle of the California desert while they attempt (or don't attempt) to find their first real jobs. Their dad, George (Jeffrey Tambor), had acquired the family fortune through illegal business practices, and he's now having the time of his life in prison.
Michael is saddled with his shopaholic sister Lindsay Funke (de Rossi from "Ally McBeal"); Lindsay's husband Tobias (Cross from "Mr. Show"), who decides on a whim to be an actor; and the Funkes' daughter Maebe (Alia Shawkat), who kisses her cousin George Michael (Michael Cera), which leads the shy lad to develop a crush on her. There's also Michael's failed magician brother George Oscar (Will Arnett) and seriously arrested brother Buster (Tony Hale) -- he spent 11 months in the womb and left claw marks on the way out. Frightening mother Lucille (Jessica Walter) rounds out the family.
Lacking a laugh track, "Arrested" has a dry tone similar to BBC's ultra-realistic work-sucks comedy "The Office." It screams, "We are not like any other comedy on network TV!" But unlike "The Office," "Arrested" isn't interested in being real. It's not even all that interested in jokes. It just wants to be weird, and on that count, it succeeds.
Half of the time, it's funny (George's love of jail is a gem). Half of the time, it's not (Buster destroying a chandelier while swatting at a bird doesn't do much for me). But it's original and intensely watchable. When the fall's other exciting new comedy is that Norm Macdonald dud (the title of which I've already forgotten), watchable is good enough.
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