It's that time of year.
The annual review where I get down on bended knee and beg you, the television viewer, to watch a TV show that probably won't survive without your support.
This year I genuflect on behalf of NBC's "Freaks and Geeks" (8 p.m. tomorrow), the best new show of the season.
Set at a Michigan high school in 1980, this one-hour comedy-drama hits close to home for anyone who's been a teen. But it sure helps if you considered yourself a freak or geek in high school.
"Freaks and Geeks" sets itself apart from the deluge of other teen shows in its first scene when a Dawson-like football player and cheerleader discuss relationship turmoil. The camera barely lingers on them before panning beneath the bleachers to where the freaks hang out.
Siblings Lindsay (Linda Cardellini) and Sam Weir (John Daley) take center stage. She's a high school sophomore and budding freak who mourns the loss of her grandmother. He's a high school freshman and geek by default.
Their parents seem pretty traditional, especially dad (Pittsburgh native and "SCTV" alum Joe Flaherty), whose lectures always end with someone he knew dying.
"There was a girl in our school. She had premarital sex," dad says. "Do you know what she did on graduation day? Died!"
His daughter wasn't always a freak in need of lectures. Lindsay used to be a geek, competing in an academic decathlon as the school's best "mathlete."
Poor Sam just wants to go to school without being tortured by an upperclassman who smashes his Twinkies at lunch. He's friends with funny geek Neal (Samm Levine) and tall, glasses-wearing geek Bill (Martin Starr) and dreams about taking cute cheerleader Cindy Sanders (Natasha Melnick) to the homecoming dance.
"She's a cheerleader, you've seen 'Star Wars' 27 times, do the math," Neal says, illustrating Sam's bleak chances of getting a date.
Verisimilitude sets "Freaks and Geeks" apart from other new teen shows. "Freaks and Geeks" gets down to the microscopic level as evidenced in the show's title.
It's frighteningly real, depicting the terror of dodge ball, the one mentally retarded kid in school and the guidance counselor who tries too hard to be hip. The taunting Sam endures -- "What is he, your boyfriend?" and "You are such a woman!" -- sounds 100 percent authentic.
It's less sentimental than "The Wonder Years" and not as concerned with its period setting. Unlike "My So-Called Life," which was real in a gloomy-doesn't-life-stink way, "Freaks and Geeks" finds abundant humor in the absurdity of the situations the characters face.
I fear for the future of "Freaks and Geeks." It airs on the least-watched night of the week and it may be too offbeat for mainstream audiences. It's on just before the cultish series "Pretender," which attracts former high school freaks and geeks as its core audience. But even they may not want to relive the horror of their teen years.
"Now and Again"
(9 tonight, CBS)
It's a creepy thriller!
It's a suburban family drama!
It's a superhero show!
In tonight's one-hour premiere CBS's "Now and Again" bounds from genre to genre like Superman. The show's one consistency makes it the antithesis of the typical superhero show: It's slow, quiet and talky.
John Goodman guest stars in tonight's pilot as Michael Wiseman, a middle-age insurance salesman with a loving wife (Margaret Colin) and typically-sullen teen daughter (Heather Matarazzo).
On his way home from work, Wiseman gets pushed in front of a Manhattan subway and he's killed. Almost. His body is destroyed, but his mind and soul are salvaged by a government doctor (Dennis Haysbert) who puts his brain in the manufactured body of a 26-year-old hunk (series star Eric Close). Now Wiseman is expected to work as a government agent and he's forbidden from having contact with his wife and daughter.
With all the competing genres at play, it's unclear what direction "Now and Again" will take. Tonight's premiere jumps from scenes of an Asian man calmly releasing some sort of killer gas in a subway to Wiseman's doc singing "Close to You" like he's in a Dennis Potter program.
The "Now and Again" pilot ends with a "to be continued" tag and CBS won't provide future episodes for review. Right now it's an interesting show. Maybe someday it will also be entertaining.
"Odd Man Out"
(9:30 tonight, ABC)
Did you see "Ladies Man" Monday night on CBS? If so, you can watch it again from a teen-ager's perspective. Like "Ladies Man," "Odd Man Out" features a guy surrounded by women, but in this case he's a teen-age boy.
Erik von Detten stars as Andrew, a 15-year-old with a mom (Markie Post), aunt (Jessica Capshaw) and three sisters. When he and his friend, Keith (Trevor Fehrman), watch ESPN (gotta love that Disney synergy), the women descend en masse and force a channel change to figure skating.
Though it's a T.G.I.F. show, "Odd Man Out" comes from the co-writers of "There's Something About Mary," so expect plenty of sex talk. In tonight's episode one of Andrew's sisters mentions "seed" and she's not talking about the kind you plant in the ground.
Fehrman -- who made no impression last season on "Encore! Encore!" -- steals scenes from von Detten with his delivery. The kid's got decent comic timing. Too bad the show is nothing more than a "Ladies Man" retread with inappropriate content for kids.
(10 tonight, NBC)
Fans of "Homicide: Life on the Street" shouldn't torture themselves by watching this new relationship comedy-drama. They'll just get angrier at NBC executives for canceling "Homicide," even though it had a longer run than many dramas and was, frankly, declining in quality.
"Cold Feet" is clearly aimed at "Providence" fans and its pilot is a deserving companion even though the two shows are separated by the 1,000th edition of "Dateline NBC."
Set in post-grunge Seattle (but filmed in Vancouver), "Cold Feet" is based on a British series about three couples at different stages in their relationships.
Extremely pregnant Jenny (Dina Spybey) demands sex from her overwhelmed husband, Pete (William Keane). Karen (Alicia Coppola) and David (Anthony Starke) have a toddler, but can't agree on hiring a nanny. Adam (David Sutcliffe) and Shelley (Jean Louisa Kelly) just started dating.
Despite a too-pat ending, the hour has amusing moments with dialogue that sounds funnier than it deserves thanks to a talented but mostly unknown cast.
If you like your TV shows cute, it doesn't get much cuter than this.
If "cute" turns your stomach, your reservations about "Cold Feet" are understandable.
"Jack & Jill"
(9 p.m. Sunday, The WB)
When a woman changes her hair, I'm usually the last to notice.
If others hadn't made a fuss about Calista Flockhart's weight loss last season, I'd never have known. I just don't pick up on that stuff.
So when I say the most interesting part of "Jack & Jill" is watching one character's hair change from curly in scenes shot on a soundstage in California to straight in scenes filmed on location in Manhattan, it's not a good sign.
Jacqueline "Jack" Barrett (Amanda Peet) runs away from her wedding after learning her husband-to-be slept with her maid of dishonor. She winds up in Manhattan, where she stays with her friend Audrey (Jamie Pressly), who lives in the same building as David "Jill" Jillefsky (Ivan Sergei).
Get it? She's Jack and he's Jill. I'm sure the network honchos patted one another on the back over that bit of whimsy.
Jill has a girlfriend (Sarah Paulson as hair-changing Elisa Cronkite), but he's smitten by Jack. Then Jack and Elisa become co-workers and friends, creating the perfect love triangle. Peet, who replaced another actress originally cast in the role, seems ill-suited to the part. Jack is written as an Ally McBeal-like neurotic, but Peet comes across as too grounded.
"Jack & Jill" is watchable, but not spectacular in any sense. The whole show seems cobbled together from bits and pieces of other programs. When Jack runs out on her wedding, you'll flash back to the "Friends" pilot that landed Rachel in Manhattan; the piano music sounds like a Woody Allen film and the voice-over narration is like half the new shows premiering this fall.
The WB actually sent two episodes of "Jack & Jill" for review. I tried to get through the second one but after about 20 minutes I gave up out of boredom. I just don't care whether Jack and Jill make it up the hill.
Rob Owen can be reached at 412-263-2582 or firstname.lastname@example.org.