Fall TV 2011 Preview: The Boys Are Back

Ted Danson, James Spader, Ashton Kutcher (Photo: CBS/NBC)

Ted Danson, James Spader, Ashton Kutcher (Photo: CBS/NBC)

Let’s face it. Nobody enjoys a break-up, especially when you’re the one being left and the person departing is someone you’ve really grown close to over the course of several years. It can be totally devastating, which is why for a while there, it looked like the new fall TV season was going to be filled with heartache and despair. We were getting dumped by three stars – Charlie Sheen from “Two And A Half Men,” Steve Carell from “The Office” and Laurence Fishburne from “CSI.”

Their reasons for departing their shows may have been vastly different, but the fact that they were leaving still stung. However, like coming across that high school boyfriend/girlfriend you never really got over while combing through Facebook, the good news is that familiar TV faces are coming to fill this void. Ashton Kutcher is joining “Men,” James Spader is moving into “The Office” and Ted Danson has been added to the “CSI” team. The news couldn’t be better for fans of these three veteran series, and here’s why.


Kutcher’s first regular sitcom role since his days as dopey Kelso on “That ‘70s Show” finds him playing what CBS execs describe as “an Internet billionaire with a broken heart.” Not much else is known about how he’ll settle into the lives of the other one and a half men, Jon Cryer and Angus T. Jones, but odds are he’s going to provide a smooth transition from the rocky Sheen years. (Although it’s worth noting that had Hugh Grant taken the gig, as was rumored for a while, that would have been perhaps the greatest casting coup of all time.)

First and foremost, Kutcher is bringing a likability to the series that surpasses Sheen’s. Not that we didn’t care for the Man Who Would Be Charlie Harper, but he and his character were popular largely because they were perceived as bad boys you laugh at more than you laugh with. Kutcher, meanwhile, has perfected a slightly goofy, bring-him-home-to-mom charm that can take the show’s comedy in totally new directions from the slightly off-color sex jokes Charlie provided.

If the rumor is true that this new season begins with a funeral for Sheen’s character, it’s an ideal way for “Men” to show it has laid its’ past to rest and wants to chart a new course. And it’s easy to understand why even before one of his episodes has aired, Kutcher is reportedly the highest-paid actor in television. His celebrity status is as great as Sheen’s was (pre-Goddess period, anyway), so that will keep a spotlight on the series. And his undeniable charisma may bring a new audience that never wanted to indulge in the Sheen routine.


The only surprising thing about Carell’s departure from this series is that it took this long. First, his movie career took off years ago, so he didn’t need to stick around. And second, for a show that tries to keep its comedy grounded in reality, it makes sense in these economic times to have shake-ups in the workplace.

Watch the “Search Committee” Episode of “The Office” Now:

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It also makes perfect sense to replace Carell’s Michael Scott with Spader’s Robert California. The latter was introduced at the end of last season, as one of the applicant’s for Scott’s job, and he stood out largely because the character was so much different from any the show had had before. He’s equally quirky, but in a much less obvious way. Spader’s comedy style is much more laidback, to the point where you’re not even sure if he knows he’s being funny. That unpredictability is what should make him entertaining. And California will be joining the “Office” team in a unique way that should provide plenty of comedy.

“He’ll have been hired over the summer as the new manager, but within hours, got himself promoted. Within days, he took over the company,” series star and co-executive producer Paul Lieberstein has said. “James has an energy that is completely his own, and ‘The Office’ has no tools for dealing with this guy. We’re thrilled he’s joining our cast.”

There are plenty of other changes to the show this season as well. Jim (John Krasinski) and Pam (Jenna Fischer) will be expecting their second baby, courtesy of Fischer’s real-life pregnancy. Singer Josh Groban will guest star as Andy’s (Ed Helms) brother, joining Stephen Collins and Dee Wallace, who will show up as Andy’s parents. Plus, since California has grander things in mind than just running the office, that competition will continue between Jim, Andy and Dwight (Rainn Wilson). Change may not be great if it happens to your job after seven years, but it’s exactly what a show needs in order to keep you interested.

Watch Part 2 of the Search to Replace Michael Scott:

[iframe http://xfinitytv.comcast.net/tv/The-Office/7370/1939458449/Search-Committee%2C-Part-2/embed 580 476]


It’s not often a show even gets to 12 seasons on the air, like this one has. It’s even more rare for a show that’s been on this long to get such a major chance to reinvent itself. Danson is one of the best, and most charming, television actors ever and his presence seems guaranteed to invigorate a show that critics were starting to think was on its last legs. There is something so inherently inviting about him, even when he plays a corporate creep on “Damages” or a fat cat pothead on “Bored To Death,” that he can’t help but lighten up what has traditionally been one of TV’s darkest hours.

Not only does he personally come across as the sort of guy you want at every dinner party, his CSI character – team supervisor D.B. Russell – seems equally endearing. Says Danson: “I’m a family man and I’m being brought in to make to make the team work as well as possible. And that rings a bell with me.” In the past, every significant CSI team member was so tortured, they made “Breaking Bad’s” Walter White seem like Richard Simmons. Russell, however, seems like a character that has just wandered over from a quirky cable comedy.

Full Episodes of “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” Are Available at xfinityTV.com

“He grew up with sort of counterculture parents in a commune and traveled around with them,” explains executive producer Carol Mendelsohn. “They were folk singers and traveled around in a van. We joke that he wasn’t just home-schooled, he was van-schooled. So it gives him sort of a perspective on life that maybe is a little bit different.”

Don’t expect CSI to suddenly become a sitcom any time soon, but thanks to the lightness and levity Danson brings with him, do look for this show to lure back viewers who bailed out as it grew more dark and depressing, especially after the arrival of Fishburne’s incredibly angst-ridden Ray Langston, who is now gone, off to a new life that will be revealed in the season premiere. His departure, along with Russell’s arrival and quirky cases like one involving death by chocolate, should bring some gallows humor to a show usually just obsessed with the gallows.

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The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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