NBC's 2011-12 dramas, first impressions: Ambition won't be a problem

playboy-club-320.jpgNBC has had several good dramas on its air in the past few years -- "Parenthood," "Friday Night Lights" and "Law & Order: SVU" come to mind. What it hasn't had in a while, though, is a new drama that started off big and then stayed that way.

The network is taking several swings in the 2011-12 season with a remake of a great British show, a musical drama and a period piece, among others. Whether any of them become hits is obviously an open question right now, but if they don't it won't be for lack of ambition.

Here are our first thoughts on the Peacock's drama stable for the new season ( go here for our first impressions of the network's new comedies).

The fall dramas:

"Grimm" (watch a clip)

Melding a crime show with the fairy-tale world doesn't seem like the most natural thing to do, but darn it if "Grimm" doesn't seem to pull it off. David Giuntoli is a Portland detective who starts seeing things -- except he's not hallucinating. He discovers that A) Grimm's fairy tales are actually true stories, and B) he's one of the last of the Grimm line who can see the scary things that move through the world for what they really are.

Partly because it was co-created by David Greenwalt, the show reminds us a little of the early days of "Angel," when it was basically a private-eye show with monsters. "Angel" eventually became a lot more than that, and it feels like "Grimm" has some potential to grow too.

"The Playboy Club" (watch a clip)

NBC is venturing into "Mad Men" territory a little with this 1963-set show. Like the multiple Emmy winner from AMC, "The Playboy Club" looks as though it will have style to spare in telling the story of several bunnies who work at the Chicago club, a lawyer/fixer ( Eddie Cibrian) who's a club regular and the other men who frequent it. As the senior Bunny, Laura Benanti looks fiercely watchable; we're less certain at the moment about Cibrian and Amber Heard, whose character has the heaviest story among the women. But the show certainly won't lack for attention.

"Prime Suspect" (watch clips)

The original "Prime Suspect" is one of the best crime dramas ever to air on television, and this New York-set remake will have to do just about everything right to live up to it. But it's off to a very good start with the casting of Maria Bello as Jane Timoney, who when we meet her is the only female detective on a homicide squad and is never short on reminders of that fact from her male colleagues. She's also tough, resourceful and very smart. It's a great part for an actress, and Bello dives into it with gusto.

We're still curious to see how the show as a whole is structured -- and whether the male characters are a little deeper than what was shown in the trailer -- but we know we're tuning in.

The midseason dramas (NBC has also ordered a show based on John Grisham's "The Firm" for midseason, but it hasn't started filming, which is why it's not listed below):

"Awake" (watch a clip)

After a car accident, a detective ( Jason Isaacs) finds himself living in two distinct realities -- one where his wife ( Laura Allen) survived the crash and one where his son ( David Henrie) did. There are other differences in each world (his partner on the job, the cases he works, the shrink he sees) -- but most important, he's not sure which one is real and which one isn't. Isaacs is riveting in the footage we saw, and the premise (dreamed up by "Lone Star" creator Kyle Killen) is mind-bending without really treading in sci-fi territory. We're not sure yet how "Awake" sustains itself as a series, but we can't wait to see it try.

"Smash" (watch a clip)

Expect NBC to put a ton of marketing muscle behind this show, about the backstage drama that goes into making a Broadway musical. It's a handsome production, with big musical numbers (including, as the series moves along, original songs) and a fine cast that includes Debra Messing, Jack Davenport, Anjelica Huston and former "American Idol" runner-up Katharine McPhee. It also feels like a rather old-fashioned story -- which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but also not something audiences won't have seen before. "Glee" comparisons are inevitable, but this is a more grown-up world.

Which new NBC drama looks good to you?
Photo/Video credit: NBC