1. The Family Trap (ABC)
I'm really only in this one for Mandy Moore. I've adored her for over a decade, and she's been surprisingly quiet the past couple of years after a string of films and albums. Hopefully this show about a newlywed couple who move back home to run a restaurant puts her back on the map. Moore is joined by Stockard Channing and Kurt Fuller as her parents and Majandra Delfino as her sister. Director Shawn Levy's sense of style is typically a bit juvenile (Night at the Museum, Real Steel), but he did have a decent success with the film Date Night; plus the script is from the writers of the criminally short-lived Fox sitcom Kitchen Confidential, so I suspect the humor will be a bit more risque that I expect.
2. The Smart One (ABC)
Two sisters, both beautiful in their own right, compete for the right to be deemed "the smart one" in the family. Starring as the two ladies are Portia de Rossi (brilliant on Better Off Ted) and Malin Ackerman (Watchmen); they are joined by Jean Smart and David Arquette in supporting roles. The premise is a bit silly (and how many dysfunctional family shows does ABC really need?) but the cast is pleasant, and Ellen Degeneres is producing... so it's a pretty safe bet this one will end up on the fall schedule. The only downside? It's a multi-cam comedy, so the humor will probably be broad and occassionally obnoxious, not subtle like de Rossi was on Ted.
3. Untitled Louis C.K. Project (CBS)
Created by Louis C.K., whose FX series Louie is enjoying some healthy critical praise of late, this sitcom revolves around a group of young people pursuing their dreams in a terrible economy. That's not much to go on, but with the guy behind Louie overseeing it all, you can bet the comedy will be outrageous and subversive. It stars former Disney star Ashley Tisdale (Hellcats, High School Musical), Cougar Town's Dan Byrd, and Broadway actress Patti Murin in her first television role. Veteran director Andy Ackerman is behind the camera, and he's helmed many a successful pilot in the past. Of all the comedy entries, this is the one I'm most curious to see.
4. Partners (CBS)
It's hard for me to believe that it's been six years since my favorite sitcom, Will & Grace, went off the air. It's even harder for me to believe that since then, creators Max Mutchnick and David Kohan have only had one sitcom on the air (and it was the truly, truly awful Bleep My Dad Says last year). So they're returning to a semi-familiar formula with Partners, a comedy about two male architects, one of whom is gay, whose relationship resembles a marriage. So in other words, it's Will and Grace all over again, except this time Grace is a guy. Brandon Routh (Superman Returns), David Krumholtz (Numbers), Michael Urie (Ugly Betty), Sophia Bush (One Tree Hill), and Molly Shannon (yes!) are only some of the ensemble cast. Longtime Ko/Mut collaborator James Burrows directs. The thought of having another Will & Grace on air makes me all kinds of giddy, so I hope this one goes to series.
5. 1600 Penn (NBC)
NBC has a really strong slate of sitcoms to choose from this season, and I'll start with 1600 Penn, which is currently one of the frontrunners. Bill Pullman stars as the President, leader of both the United States and a totally dysfunctional family. His out-of-control son (Josh Gad) returns home and sets everything on fire, but somehow ends up being the glue holding the family together as well. Gad will not only star but serve as EP, creator, and writer for 1600 Penn; he had a great year in 2011, thanks in large part to a star-making turn in The Book of Mormon on Broadway. He's joined on screen by some great talent, including Jenna Elfman (as his mother), Brittany Snow and, of course, Pullman. The pilot will be shot by Jason Winer, who not only directed the mega-smash Modern Family in 2009 but has Don't Trust the B- in Apt 23 debuting in the next few weeks. It all looks like a recipe for success to me.
6. Guys with Kids (NBC)
Jimmy Fallon has had several shows lined up at NBC over the past few years as producer, but none have gone to pilot; that's changed with the promising Guys with Kids. Fallon produces the series about a group of 30-something year old dads who are on the same maturity level as their children. Anthony Anderson, Jesse Bradford and Zach Cregger are the dads in question, while Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Sara Rue, and Tempestt Bledsoe are their other halves. I'm all for a good gender comedy (the key word being "good," as in nothing like last year's Work It or Last Man Standing). I'm hoping Charlie Grandy, a former SNL and The Office writer, will find the humor in the concept without turning it into an unfunny battle of the sexes.
7. The New Normal (NBC)
Ryan Murphy is on fire, with Glee wrapping up its third season and American Horror Story an unquestionable success. He's got this new sitcom coming down the pike, co-created with fellow Glee writer Ali Adler, about a nontraditional family consisting of a gay couple and their child's surrogate. It sounds like a riff on Modern Family, and a smart one at that considering how popular the gay characters are. The cast includes another Book of Mormon star, Andrew Rannells, and Justin Bartha (The Hangover) as the couple and Georgia King as the surrogate. Ellen Barkin also stars, and Real Housewives of Atlanta star NeNe Leakes (currently recurring on Glee) has also landed a role. I love Rannells, Bartha, Barkin, and Leakes, and Murphy is usually great at set-up, so I'm excited to see where this one goes. With Murphy's name attached, it's almost a guarantee go-ahead.
That's about all I've got on the comedy side of things. It's harder to judge comedies based on a pitch line and cast, because so much can (and does) go wrong in translating that pitch into a funny pilot and funny subsequent episodes. At this time last year you never could've convinced me, for example, that Whitney would be my favorite half-hour show by now. So it goes, so we'll wait and see.