the future

Five Shows to Geek Out About in 2011

In 2010, we mourned the loss of Lost, saw Flight of the Conchords grounded for good, and watched the clock finally run out for 24. Three very different shows, but with one thing in common: All very much fit the definition of Geek TV — series that were super-addictive and obsessed over far longer than the 30 or 60 minutes they were on each week. Can anything fill the void? Here are five projects coming your way in 2011 that seem likely to inspire freakish devotion.

Origin Story: George R.R. Martin’s nineties A Song of Ice and Fire novels brought to life via HBO. Debuts in April. Geek Species: The fantasy addict who played Dungeons and Dragons as a kid and saw each of the Lord of the Rings movies at least twice. Geek Cred: The epic drama has been described by producer David Benioff as “The Sopranos in Middle Earth,” and we all know how passionate those LotR fans are. Benioff himself also adds substantial geek appeal, having written the screenplays for Troy and Wolverine. Mainstream Potential: One sure sign of Game’s possible appeal has been how relentless even non-sci-fi bloggers have been in chasing down scoops related to the show. HBO’s marketing department has done its part, too: The network that turned True Blood into a wide-appeal hit has been masterfully doling out footage from Game as if each fifteen-second clip was a Major Media Event. With Harry Potter about to wrap, the Narnia franchise in shambles, and The Hobbit still at least a year off (if it actually happens), Game seems perfectly positioned to fill the fantasy void.
Origin Story: Based on Joe Hill’s acclaimed comic-book series of the same name born in 2008; revolves around kids who gain special powers via keys hidden in the mysterious New England lighthouse they’ve just moved into. There was talk of a feature version until DreamWorks scooped up the TV rights and set up the project at Fox. Geek Species: The graphic-novel snob who was convinced the Watchmen movie would suck and still can’t believe how well The Walking Dead turned out. Geek Cred: Hill is Stephen King’s son and has also carved out his own base in the land of Comic Book Guys. Show-runners Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (Transformers, Fringe) are graduates of the J.J. Abrams school of storytelling, giving them massive nerd bona fides. Oh, and Steven Spielberg is an executive producer, too. Mainstream Potential: Fox hasn’t officially green-lit this project to series yet, but barring a disastrous pilot shoot, a pickup may only be a formality. We hear the network even briefly considered launching the show this summer, a sign it believe the series could be a popcorn-ready thrill ride. The whole kids-doing-super-cool things also has a Narnia- and Harry Potter–like vibe that could prove perfect for cross-generational geek bonding among nerd families.
Origin Story: British pay TV network E4 launched this mash-up of My So-Called Life and Kids for Generation Sext back in 2007. Massive “controversy” resulted in the U.K., but the world didn’t end when BBC America ran edited versions of the show in the States a year later. It comes to MTV next month. Geek Species: For the viewer who watches every episode of Gossip Girl twice or gets sucked into all-day marathons of 16 and Pregnant. Geek Cred: Its overseas roots and edgy content make it nerd-worthy. But the fact that the cast is made up almost entirely of unknown teens (and is also helping write the show) gives Skins a DIY feel that should appeal to audiences already used to discovering talent on YouTube. Crowdsourcing the show’s theme song also adds to the indie vibe. Finally, the Parents Television Council has preemptively condemned the show, attacking MTV for “exposing millions of youngsters to images and content that cannot help but warp their perceptions of life, and encourage negative behavior that youngsters may one day regret.” Consider our DVRs programmed! Mainstream Appeal: As the Gossip and Glee faithful prove, sci-fi geeks and reality junkies aren’t the only group of fans partial to slightly irrational preoccupation with TV shows. This bodes well for Skins. Add in enough sex and drugs to make McKinley High seem like a monastery, and there’s certain to be lots of mainstream media buzz about the show, which could very well boost sampling. If MTV tries to give The Situation a guest-star role, however, all bets are off.
Origin Story: You probably know that American Idol is a remake of the U.K.’s Pop Idol. Well, when Simon Cowell got tired of Pop, he left and created the very similar The X Factor. It was such a big hit that within a few years, it replaced Pop. Now Cowell is following the same playbook here in the States: He’s off Idol and X debuts here in September. Geek Species: Reality obsessives who find “real” people more interesting than fictional ones, particularly when they’re competing for a life-changing prize. Geek Cred: Simon remains the gold standard for reality-show judges, especially if music’s involved. If somebody’s going to find the next big music star, we trust him a lot more than J.Lo. Also, you know there are millions of young snobs who can’t wait to casually inform their friends that “only old people watch Idol and that everybody knows X Factor is so much cooler.” Mainstream Appeal: Tons. Even at half the audience of Idol, X Factor would be considered a hit, and more likely, Simon fans missing him after the first Idol season without him will want to see how old grumpypants is doing in a new venue. The show will also get tons of media buzz in the nine months leading up to its debut, be it for whomever Cowell selects to serve alongside him as mentors or what figures to be a steady stream of rumors hinting at tension between the producers of Idol and X.
Origin Story: Based on a hit Danish series that appears to be a blend of Prime Suspect, The Wire, and Homicide: Life on the Street. It follows the investigation into the death of a young woman through the eyes of a homicide detective, the victim’s family, and the suspects. Debuting this spring on AMC. Geek Species: Viewers who’ve decided that anything AMC does is worth checking out for at least one season (even Rubicon). Geek Cred: In addition to having the AMC halo, the show does boast a cast who’ve appeared in many geek-friendly shows: Big Love (Mireille Enos), Once and Again (Billy Campbell), and True Blood (Michelle Forbes). Mainstream Potential: Crime dramas are one of TV’s most enduring, broadly popular formats. If AMC can manage to tweak the formula enough to get snooty audiences interested, the millions who’ve made USA shows like Burn Notice a hit might be willing to invest their time in a well-told whodunit. That said, the world really doesn’t need another crime drama — and when FX tried to invade USA’s territory with Terriers, it got shellacked in the ratings.
Five Shows to Geek Out About in 2011