Are You Sitting Down?

A morbid scene from Pushing Daisies.Photo: Scott Garfield/Courtesy of ABC

As the new television season starts, so does the flight from reality—which this season seems flightier than ever. For those of you no longer thrilled by gravity, entropy, photosynthesis, or the usual space-time continuum, here are half a dozen rookie woo-woos that choose to participate instead in what Kurt Vonnegut called the chrono-synclastic infundibulum.

In Journeyman, Kevin McKidd (Rome) plays a San Francisco newspaper reporter whose efforts to save his troubled marriage to Gretchen Egolf (Martial Law) are subverted by his bad habit of disappearing for a day or two. Whither? Against his will, he travels in time, usually only back far enough, ten or twenty years, to be outside his cell-phone service area, but always in the Bay Area, always called upon to save somebody’s bacon from a rash act, always finding his long-lost fiancée, Livia (Moon Bloodgood), who was thought to have perished in a 1997 plane crash. Complicating family matters is his resentful brother the cop (Homicide’s Reed Diamond). San Francisco shifts shapes nicely, and there’s sufficient tension in the pilot to keep our nerves strung out, and since executive producers Kevin Falls and Alex Graves are West Wing veterans, it’s no surprise that the characters pass for adults.

Pushing Daisies will drive you crazy or make you smile. A co-production of Bryan Fuller (Heroes) and Barry Sonnenfeld (Men in Black), it is at once satire, mystery, fairy tale, romance, lollipop, whimsy, and kazoo. Lee Pace (Wonderfalls) plays Ned, who learns in boyhood that he can bring back the dead (dogs, flies, mothers) with a touch—but only for a minute or someone else drops dead instead. And if he lets them live, he must stay clear of them. He grows up to make pies from dead fruit and to conspire with a private eye (Chi McBride) to solve murders by asking victims “who done it?” Then his childhood sweetheart (Anna Friel) is murdered, and once he wakes her up, he can neither put her back to sleep nor ever even touch her again. Have I mentioned set designs that suggest Julie Taymor? Or the presence of Swoosie Kurtz and Ellen Greene, as mermaid aunts? Or the monkeys and honeybees? Anna Friel alone is enough to make most of us smile.

Bionic Woman, the unnecessary reimagining from executive producer David Eick (Battlestar Galactica), is a lot darker than the 1976 original, in which Lindsay Wagner had some Barbarella fun, as if the brand-new cutie-pie/cyborg (EastEnder’s Michelle Ryan) would rather be La Femme Nikita. … Reaper, in which Bret Harrison (Grounded for Life) discovers on his 21st birthday that his parents sold his soul to the Devil (Ray Wise) and that he’ll be doing custodial work at such portals of hell as the Department of Motor Vehicles, is strictly for fans of movies like Superbad. … We know that in Moonlight Alex O’Loughlin is a vampire detective. But production turmoil behind the scenes has left us with only a three-minute preview to go on, plus this one wisecrack: “Being a vampire sucks.”

As for Fox’s New Amsterdam, the fantastical New York–set show about an immortal policeman that you may (or may not) have been anticipating, you’ll have to wait a little bit longer. Not as long as the show’s hero, of course. John Amsterdam (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is a soldier who, in 1642 in the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam, saved an Indian girl from ethnic cleansing, for which he was blessed with immortality lasting till he meets his one true love. So he’s been around to see it all, which comes in handy for a 21st-century homicide detective. Having seen the pilot, I can report that there is some good stuff about an artist with Alzheimer’s, some horrific stuff about Dutch colonialism, and altogether too much self-pity. It also left me wondering, How on Earth did Lasse Hallström get roped in as director and executive producer? Can this possibly be the show he felt he was born to make? Well, probably not—the show, originally scheduled for the fall, has been pushed back to a spring premiere. Perhaps John Amsterdam won’t live forever after all.

NBC’s Journeyman, about a man who travels in time to fix problems, falls into a familiar subgenre: namely, the man-travels-in-time-to-fix-problems show. But these projects rarely fare well. NBC’s Quantum Leap never finished a season in the top 30, and other shows flopped outright, such as 1996’s Early Edition (man receives newspaper a day early, thwarts disasters) and 1998’s Seven Days (government sends agents a week into the past, thwarts bad guys). When these shows tank, critics take a predictable tack. As one wrote of Seven Days, “Frank’s first trip in his time machine should be back to the UPN offices to tell them not to bother with this show.”

NBC. Premieres September 24, 10 p.m.

Pushing Daisies
ABC. Premieres October 3, 8 p.m.

Bionic Woman
NBC. Premieres September 26, 9 p.m.

The CW. Premieres September 25, 9 p.m.

CBS. Premieres September 29, 9 p.m.

Are You Sitting Down?