Every year, the TV networks roll out their new shows around this time, using the "Nursing Home Menu" model of product development. First, they serve meatloaf. Then they crumble the meatloaf into thickener for spaghetti sauce. Later, they turn the spaghetti into noodle casserole, and the day after that, the noodle casserole gets some cheese on top and is called lasagna. By the weekend, what was once old meatloaf has found its way into the bread pudding, and everybody's wondering why all the food tastes like Grade Z beef smothered in different gravies.
So I've reviewed the new fall lineup, and I'm sorry to say we're looking at another season of leftover Hamburger Helper.
Like wackily mismatched relatives forced to endure each other's company? Check!
Like watching egotistical corporate types get fired by other egotistical corporate types? We got 'em!
Like cops, lawyers, doctors, psychological profilers, forensic investigators and mind-readers all working in dimly lit chrome and glass laboratories to solve the same revoltingly graphic, teenage, gory sex murder in 42 minutes or less? We have that, and enough for seconds!
To prepare for the new fall season, I recently bought myself a new TV set. Nothing fancy -- it was a little box worth less than a hundred bucks. The virtues behind paying $4,000 for flat-panel plasma screens and high-definition are lost on me. HDTVs are supposed to make the programming so sharp it's like it's right there in my living room. But why the hell would I want the sadistic pedophiles on "Law & Order: SVU" in my living room?
Oh, and I don't have cable, either. I don't mind saturating my tender brain-meat with the wickedness of pop culture, but I'll be goddamned if I'll pay Comcast for it.
So when I hooked up the Dinty Moore antenna to the new TV, I put my feet on the coffee table, bit into the vial of poison I keep under my tongue, and bathed myself in commercials for the fall TV lineup.
What's it about: Freddie Prinze Jr., a victim of Tony Danza syndrome, plays a guy named Freddie. His wacky sister, sister-in-law, niece and grandmother move in with him, cramping his swinging lifestyle as a celebrity bachelor chef.
Who'll like it: Both of you out there who (a) know who Freddie Prinze Jr. is and (b) wonder what he'd look like in a toque.
Why it will stink: Stretching the boundaries of the term "inspiration," ABC says it's "inspired by Freddie Prinze Jr.'s real life." The real Freddie Prinze Jr., I should say, is neither a bachelor nor a chef. Also, he's an only child. Wait -- they must've meant that other Freddie Prinze Jr., the famous bachelor chef one with the siblings.
Lesson America will learn by the end of the first episode: After all the whisks and measuring cups are put away, and the chef-groupies sent home with cab fare and a fake phone number, celebrity bachelor chef playboys are people just like you and me.
Show: "Ghost Whisperer"
What's it about: Jennifer Love Hewitt is "a young newlywed endowed with the unique ability to communicate with spirits, who has spent her entire life coping with this extraordinary gift, but who also yearns to lead an ordinary life -- if only the dead would stop talking." Like a big fucking idiot, she uses this ability to solve crimes instead of unraveling the mysteries of existence.
Who'll like it: The living, the dead -- there's something for everyone.
Why it will stink: To improve on the success of the identical NBC show "Medium," this show will be renamed "Large."
Lesson America will learn by the end of the first episode: As evidenced by the number of TV shows involving dead people helping to solve crimes, the afterlife offers exciting careers in criminal justice.
What's it about: People yelling in the Pentagon. Take a dash of "The West Wing," throw in a spritz of "Law & Order," shake, and serve with a side of "JAG."
Who'll like it: People who flip the channels between "The West Wing," "Law & Order" and "JAG" because they can't make up their puny minds.
Why it will stink: After Jimmy Smits' character wins the presidency on "The West Wing," he'll push through budget cuts in the Pentagon, laying off much of the E-Ring crew and transferring the rest to the C-Ring. Thereafter, most of the action involves filing requisition forms with Accounts Payable before the 5 p.m. Friday deadline.
Lesson America will learn by the end of the first episode: An "E-Ring" is not a bizarre but compelling sexual aid.
What's it about: We follow six high school friends during the course of 20 years, one year each episode. One friend is killed, and one of them did it, probably the kid labeled "Most Likely To Butcher His Friends" in his yearbook.
Who'll like it: High schoolers who fantasize about getting their ultimate revenge on their stuck-up so-called friends, even if it takes 20 years of meticulous planning. Expect huge ratings.
Why it will stink: It's unrealistic. Only losers still have high school friends 20 years later.
Lesson America will learn by the end of the first episode: Kids, any one of your school pals today could be the person who, later in life, grimly pulls off his or her gloves while standing over your cold, strangled corpse, deciding whether to dump you in a shallow lime-lined grave by the interstate or toss you off a bridge to be dragged away by the undertow. Just a reminder.