Second in a series on the new pilot season. Previously: Excuse Me, Mr. Scorsese — a Note From the Writer
Pilot season can also be a cruel tease.
Every year, there's at least one project that features one of our favorite actors that has been MIA from the small screen for a while — and who we want to see back. Regardless of what they're in.
This year's crop of pilots features quite a few big names: Kiefer Sutherland on "Touched" (FOX), Amanda Peet on "Bent" (NBC), Gary Cole on "Tagged" (Fox). But we're not talking about them. (Sutherland as someone who isn't Jack Bauer? Peet again?)
No, there's a smaller subset in the Class of 2011 we'd personally show up for even if the resulting series wound up being a trainwreck of Charlie Sheen in Detroit proportions.
Here they are. Let's lead off with Buffy:
SARAH MICHELLE GELLAR
For a certain segment of the population — call it the Joss Whedon Generation — Gellar is one of the biggest TV stars of all time, and always will be. No matter how hard television has tried, the void left by the 2003 cancellation of Whedon's witty geek-fest "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" after seven influential seasons has never been filled.
Gellar's "Fugitive"-style CBS pilot, "Ringer," about a woman on the run from the mob, likely won't appeal to teens today in the way that "Buffy" did for late-'90s adolescents. But the fanbase of the 34-year-old actress, who has had a hit-and-miss career since "Buffy," has aged along with her, and they'll be happy to know that Gellar plays twins here — meaning a potential double dose of their childhood hero.
JAMES VAN DER BEEK
"Apartment 23" (ABC)
OK, so Van Der Beek doesn't have as much resonance as Gellar, his former WB stablemate. That could be because he suffered much the same fate on "Dawson's Creek" that Josh Radnor has on "How I Met Your Mother" — he was upstaged weekly by more appealing co-workers, namely Katie Holmes (now Mrs. Tom Cruise), Joshua Jackson (now on "Fringe") and Michelle Williams (now a multiple Oscar nominee who really needs no parenthetical).
Those three have had notable successes in the years since "Creek" went off the air, so it feels extra wrong that Van Der Beek, the de facto lead character/audience stand-in for six mopey seasons, has had the toughest time landing a permanent gig as an adult. But dare to dream, JVDB fans!
In a supporting role in this sitcom, Van Der Beek knowingly plays himself, in a way not dissimilar to how Jennifer Grey starred as herself on ABC's "It's Like, You Know…" or Matt Le Blanc just did on Showtime's "Episode."
If Le Blanc can do it …
JORGE GARCIA/TERRY O'QUINN/MICHAEL EMERSON
"Alcatraz" (Fox)/"Hallelujah" (ABC)/"Person of Interest" (CBS)
Yes, it's only been a year since "Lost" went off the air. But we're in serious withdrawal and "The Event" just isn't satisfying the craving.
Luckily, three of our favorites from the show — call them the "Lost" boys — are key cogs in pilots, and two of their potential series are even being produced by J.J. Abrams. Garcia's and Emerson's are produced by Abrams; O'Quinn's "Hallelujah" is a Marc Cherry production.
Here's hoping all three get picked up so the first-ever three-series, three-network cross-over remains in play.
"Weekends at Bellevue" (Fox)
The "Six Feet Under" alum has for never quite gone mainstream, and we're perfectly fine with having her as our own. Still, her sarcastic Claire on the dearly departed HBO drama was one of the more realistic portrayals of a young woman TV has ever seen.
We'd love to see if she can break through as a 33-year-old on another series. She'll play a psychiatrist in "Weekend at Bellevue," a drama set in a psych ward.
"How to Be a Gentleman" (CBS)
It is here where we will say, for the 100th time, that "NewsRadio" was the most underrated sitcom of the 1990s. Foley, the low-key star of that quirky NBC ensemble sitcom, had seen even larger success previously with "The Kids in the Hall," the popular Canadian (and then CBS late-night) sketch comedy series that owed much to "Monty Python's Flying Circus" and sparked a renaissance for similar shows such as "The Ben Stiller Show," "The State" and "Mr. Show With Bob and David."
The comedic karma gods demand that "How to Be a Gentleman" get picked up, so he'll never again been tempted to do anther Uwe Boll movie.
"17th Precinct" (NBC)
Ron Moore is producing this supernatural pilot about a police department that just happens to be run by magical beings. So it's no surprise to see a few of his "Battlestar Galactica" actors are involved, including James Callis and Jamie Bamber.
But one-time Cylon Helfer is the real draw for obvious reasons — although it's her acting that will be on full display here, as she plays a sultry magic-using coroner in this proposed sci-fi series that could be best described as "Harry Potter" meets "Law & Order."