What are the best new shows of the fall 2013-14 season?
Let's rephrase that for this Must-See/Must Avoid list: What look to be the most intriguing, most noteworthy, most watchable new shows of the fall season, on Fox, NBC, The CW, ABC and CBS?
Ah, that's easier, right? Let's get some basics in order before we proceed here. Foremost, what you are about to read is based entirely on fleeting first impressions largely gleaned from trailers. It may be outrageously wrong — what seems at first glance good could be awful, and what seems awful at first glance could be just fine.
That's the peril with first impressions, except that come this fall, viewers — you — will be asked to make a whole bunch of viewing decisions based on nothing more than a network song and a prayer — and trailer. And with an increasingly crowded landscape — nearly 40 new broadcast network fall and midseason shows alone — the value of first impressions is greater than ever.
So here's the plan. I will rank these newcomers based on nothing more than a hunch, born of years — a lifetime, in fact — of tube-watching. You too can feel free to make your own hunches, too, though space and time here limit me from posting all of the trailers. Here's a final thought: I reserve the "right" — there is such a "right," right? — to change my opinion when I see the full episode later this summer, for review in Newsday.
Hey, there may be a whole bunch of pleasant surprises this fall, rendering my "first impression" list wrong and irrelevant. I hope so: TV surprises are nice. Predictable TV is a waste. So, networks, prove me wrong (or in those instances where the show looks good) right.
What does the fall season look like? You've heard it's buzz-free and you've heard correctly.
Here are two general impressions I've come away with:
* There are actually some decent dramas this fall/midseason — some exciting ones, too — but network TV refuses to make television for adults — that is, people who want something thoughtful, with a compelling narrative not dependent on the usual hooks (sex, violence). It clutches vainly to old models, old ideas, old styles. There are some genuinely interesting shows coming up, but they're mostly comic books or bodice rippers. Nothing wrong with a comic book, but where's the smart provocative novel here?
* The comedy crop is grim. Is it too soon to say Comedy is Dead? Sure. There's some intriguing newbies here but for now, go elsewhere for the new, the original, the interesting, the funny. The networks need to rethink the form and rethink it fast.
Meanwhile, Here's how to read my scores:
75-100: Must-watch for lots of reasons, including — "this looks pretty good."
51-75: Sure, go head, what have you got to lose, except 44 minutes of your life, or 22 minutes, if it's a sitcom? But there could be some gold here.
50: The fencesitter score. Either we don't have enough info, or this could conceivably go either way — to the good or dark side.
30-49: Egads, not looking good. But some of this could end up being the biggest draw of the season ("Mom").
20-30: Don't waste your valuable time. This is probably toxic.
0-20: What the hell were/are they thinking?
To the list!
"Almost Human" (Fox, midseason)
Premise: Set in 2048 — which is not at all like 2013 — a cop with a $6 million leg and a few other assorted high tech partners, is partnered with a cyborg named Dorian (Michael Ealy).
Like: Everything. The cast — especially Karl Urban, the action; the premise; the excellent trailer .?.?. Now, if only the show is this good .?.?.
Dis: Nothing. Darn it, I'm excited about this show.
"Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." (ABC, Tuesdays, 8).
Premise: Agent Phil Coulson — Clark Gregg — is/are back, this time on the small screen, as he assembles some superskilled agents as they fight some strange extraordinary stuff going on around the globe.
Like: Pretty much everything here screams out "you must watch me, even if I am on Tuesdays at 8, and failing that, at least on iTunes or Hulu .?.?." It's just one of those big brawny comic book concepts designed to bring some excitement back to network TV, and almost certainly will.
Dis: More money was spilled into the trailer than networks normally spend on a whole hour drama. Is ABC perhaps over-promising and overhyping here?
"Resurrection" (ABC, mid.)
Premise: People of Arcadia, Mo. come back from the dead! In some instances, they have died years earlier, and "reborn" overseas (China) and find their way back "home." They have secrets. With Omar Epps.
Like: I'm actually pretty excited about this show. Some really good actors here — Kurtwood Smith, Frances Fisher, and of course Omar! He's back. But the idea is what's most intriguing — of love, and loss, and improbably of return. If this is done well, and the trailer indicates that it will be, this could be a terrifically engaging new series.
Dis: The only fear that this will drift into some new agey nonsense that'll strip it of any emotional power, and propel into the silly soup.
"Intelligence" (Mondays, CBS, mid.)
Premise: It's "Chuck!" Just not quite as funny. With Josh Holloway as dude who has a chip planted in his brain that pretty much has all the information of the entire intelligence community planted in his brain which allows him to create "virtual information walls." I believe this is a short order that'll move into Mondays when "Hostages" takes a breather.
Like: Well, of course, cast! Marg Helgenberger. Josh Holloway. And this sort of "Chuck"-like idea taken to a logical, or semi-logical extreme, with a straight face. Plus, nice graphics. Plus, interesting/smart new Monday drama strategy for CBS. (See: "Hostages.") Certainly CBS's most intriguing newcomer, drama or comedy.
Dis: Nothing particularly. But I'm worried this might not be a CBS show, and the older audiences, which would after all sustain it, not watch at all.
"Once upon a Time In Wonderland" (ABC, Thursdays, 8).
Premise: Bad doctors try to expunge the memories of one Alice, who recounts her trip down a rabbit hole where she sees odd stuff and falls in love with mysterious/handsome Cyrus .?.?.
Like: Looks to be 'nother beautifully executed/realized drama from the guys who brought you "Once Upon a Time" (Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz) and who are not particularly wedded to the source material. They go places Lewis Carroll probably never dreamed of or had cause to .?.?.
Dislike: It all feels a bit woolly-headed, and quite possibly not enough interested enough in the original source material — which, you know, had its strengths.
"Hostages" (CBS, Monday, 10)
Premise: Family of surgeon who's about to operate on prez is taken hostage, and she's told to off the old boy; Dylan McDermott plays the bad guy — who is also — twist! — the good guy who breaks up hostage situations.
Like: Upon first hearing of this, first instinct was along the "uh-oh, here we go again" line. But the trailer does many things well, especially promising a more central role here for McDermott. There appears to be promise on many levels. Also, this is part of a new CBS short-season strategy, lifted from cable, in which a show runs for only about 13-or-so episodes before it cedes the time period over to another short-order series (see below). For viewers, this is appealing because is suggests there's a narrative that'll be wrapped or will at least progress to a climactic endpoint, and it sets them/us up to become more invested in the next — also short — season.
Dis: Wouldn't TEAMS of surgeons operate on the president? Unless he's having an abscessed molar removed? Just wondering.
"The Michael J. Fox Show (NBC, Thursday, 9:30)
Premise: Beloved New York anchor Mike Henry returns to work. The complicating factor: He has Parkinson's.
Like: Easy one. MJF, of course, and the rest of the cast supports him well, if the trailer is representative.
Dis: Unfortunately, the trailer is unfunny — a little too reliant on the easy "I have a disability" jokes-that-aren't-jokes — and the whole idea of "America's favorite newsman returning" to his place of employ — NBC! — which sounds like the biggest product placement score of the year (except for a CBS show). But must-watch for one reason anyway.
"Us & Them" (Fox, mid.)
Premise: Two young lovers find each other — and try to keep it real despite the oddballs and difficult parents (and parental expectations) that/who surround them .?.?.
Like: Plenty of things to like, especially Jason Ritter and Alexis Bleidel who look like they have some chemistry here — not easily achieved in the confines of a trailer — and the cast looks very good too: Jane Kaczmarek, Kurt Fuller, Dustin Ybarra, and especially Kerri Kenney. This show belies my theory that Comedy is Dead, so let's hope it's a winner.
Dis: Could be a bit too similar — tone-wise — to "New Girl."
"The Originals" (CW, Tuesdays, 8)
Premise: the Original Vamp family gets its close up in this "Vampire Diaries" set in New Orleans.
Like: The idea that Klaus Mikaelson — Joseph Morgan — is back with his own series. This looks darker and creepier and altogether more interesting that "TVD."
Dislike: Trailer indicates the unholy spawn of Klaus is forthcoming? Soap alert!
"Crossbones" (NBC, mid.)
Premise: John Malkovich as Blackbeard.
Like: John Malkovich as Blackbeard? Where do I sign up for that?
Dis: On paper, nothing seems amiss. Malkovich is a smart guy and no hack — surely he's not getting himself into standard network drivel, right? This could be an interesting NBC show. Of course, I could be wrong. Badly. But it does have the pedigree.
"Super Fun Night" (ABC, Wednesdays, 9:30).
Premise: Three ladies go out, get drunk, try to do this every Friday.
Like: The most promising new sitcom of the new season? Maybe. Rebel Wilson is no slouch of a funny lady after all.
Dis: Noisy trailer seemed to think some of the gags are funnier than they are.
"We Are Men" (CBS, Monday, 8:30)
Premise: Guys — rephrase that, multiple-times divorced guys — putting lives back together, and trying to help new friend who got alter-dumped.
Like: I may sound like a moron for saying this — but that's OK; I'm comfortable with my moron-ness — but this actually feels like it might be a funny show. The cast is at least funny — Tony Shalhoub, Chris Smith — and the trailer had some zip.
Dis: These testosterone-dripping guycoms can be dangerous to your mental health.
"The Blacklist "(Mondays, NBC, 9)
Premise: Super-criminal-on-the-lam surrenders to FBI and offers help to capture terrorist, but only if he can speak to cute new FBI recruit .?.?. There are 20 other baddies on his "blacklist" he promises to help catch.
Like: Well, certainly James Spader in the lead; he's channeling some Hannibal Lecter, some Robert California, and even some Alan Shore here. As always, riveting.
Dis: This really does seem like one of those sttrrrrrettttched out concepts that don't withstand the scrutiny of logic. I mean, why only speak to her? Why come out of the cold? Why help catch other baddies? Whywhywhy? Of course, these questions — one assumes — will be answered.
"The Crazy Ones" (CBS, Thursday, 9),
Premise: Robin Williams and Sarah Michelle Gellar, as father/daughter ad team. In the pilot, they try to con Kelly Clarkson to sing a commercial jingle .?.?. Also stars James Wolk who now goes by "Jimmy" for some reason.
Like: An energetic trailer that actually elicited a laugh/two from a golden-years Robin Williams.
Dislike: Not so much a dislike as "why is Sarah Michelle Gellar cast in this?" Is she funny? Really? Also, the trailer looks like an extended plug for McDonald's — another indication that advertisers are breaking down the walls to get bigger bangs for their big bucks.
"Rake: (Fox, mid.)
Premise: Greg Kinnear in net TV debut as dissolute and brilliant lawyer with a crazy love life who takes up cases of those similarly ill-disposed.
Like: Well certainly Kinnear, who seems like he's found a good match in this dramedy for his style and strengths.
Dis: Tonally, it seems like its all over the place; a mishmash that hints at a show that doesn't completely know what it is or where it's going.
"Sleepy Hollow" (Fox, Monday, 9)
Premise: Ichabod Crane (Tim Mison) bursts forth from the grave 250 years hence to help the local cops chase down the Headless Horseguy; and nab one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
Like: The fact that Tarrytown finally has a network drama set there; I mean — come on! What took so long? Plus, the tone is kind of playful, indicating the creators have a sense of humor.
Dis: Honestly, seems kind of dopey, I'm afraid.
"Surviving Jack" (Fox, mid.)
Premise: Yes, this is the pilot based on Justin Halpern "I Suck at Girls' autobio; experiences as a youth under the watchful eye of dad, who is Christopher Meloni.
Like: Christopher Meloni as a Father-Knows-Best comic figure? That's gonna take some getting used to. But he seems good here, in a dry, wry sort of way, and the show - officially a "period comedy," though set in 1991 - looks good too.
Dis: Nothing particularly egregious pops out. But gimme a minute..
"Betrayal" (ABC, Sundays, 10):
Premise: Hot lady photog meets hot guy attorney, both married to someone else, presumably not as hot, at rooftop party in Chicago; one thing leads to next thing — AKA, the sack. More backstory: their illicit love yokes them to a complex plot involving city politics and murder .?.?.
Like: Seems to promise an above-average soap with enough intrigue to keep the ol' pot boiling away week after week.
Dis: Waaaay too complicated premise that requires a flow chart to understand what it's all about.
"Brooklyn Nine-Nine" (Fox, Tuesdays, 8:30)
Premise: Smart-aleck cop bugs the by-the-book precinct bosses. Andy Samberg; Andre Braugher.
Like: Certainly Samberg who has a couple funny lines and looks good in trailer; always Braugher.
Dislike: Has there been a single funny copcom since "Barney Miller?" Plus, how much will Samberg succumb — or submit — to the relentless soul and show deadening practice of networks thinking their jokes, ideas, and executions are funnier or more effective than the creators?
"Crisis" (NBC, mid.)
Premise: High school bus carrying spawn of DC VIP's hijacked. With Gillian Anderson, Dermot Mulroney
Like: That Gillian is finally back on TV.
Dis: Another one of those preposterous TV ideas; at least on paper anyway. But very little out there to make any sort of judgment on this just yet.
"The 100" (CW, midseason)
Premise: One hundred or so years after nuke Armageddon, 100 survivors — naturally all young and attractive — are sent from a web of space stations circling above the earth where the rest of the survivors have lived for generations. They want to see if earth is habitable.
Like: In principal, lots of things. If CW springs for special effects, we could meet some bizarre creatures — certainly some bizarre humans — who were genetically modified by the nuclear fission. This could be "The Hills Have Eyes," CW-style!
Dis: My suspicion is that the 100 will meet other teens on earth — also very cute — who escaped the nuclear catastrophe. Love will ensue.
"About a Boy" (NBC, midseason)
Premise: One-hit-wonder musician Will — David Walton — retires, moves next door to a lady (Minnie Driver) who's his exact opposite; plus, she has a kid. From Nick Hornby book.
Like: No trailer, but like fact that Jason Katims is writing/producing; and Walton starring.
Dis: Never read Hornby book but doesn't this sound all kind of like a typical sitcom set up? Say, a little too cutsey .?.?.?
"Lucky 7" (ABC, Tuesdays, 10).
Premise: Seven gas station employees in Astoria chip in for Lotto and .?.?. win. But winning adds some complications.
Like: Well, Queens for starters; and originality. The idea of how money can change everything, or at least offer a rich vein of storytelling here.
Dis: Seems all over the place; plus a lot of stories to service, making this — or at least the trailer — confusing.
"Believe" (NBC, mid.)
Premise: Tate, girl with amazing powers, like levitation, ability to control nature — you know, the usual stuff — hooks up with ex-con who comes to believe in her powers.
Like: Well, there could be some nice special effects, and some interesting story line .?.?. Help me — I'm reaching here.
Dis: Sounds little too much like "Touch," and we've been there/done that.
"Ironside" (Wednesdays NBC, 9)
Premise: Ironside, in NYC
Like: Blair Underwood, who's getting on his smokysultrybadass thing here. It has a "Luther"-ish feel to it, too.
Dis: Another cop with take-justice-into-his-own-hands style. 'Scuse me while I stifle a yawn.
"Dads" (Fox, Tuesday, 8)
Premise; Eli (Seth Green) and Warner (Giovanni Ribisi, "Ted") are vid-game founders; then, their dads Crawford (Martin Mull) and David (Peter Rigert) move in and they've got other games to worry about.
Like: This is Seth MacFarlane's live-action multi-camera, and surely Seth has a few ideas to shake up the moribund multicam world. Plus, the cast.
Dis; The trailer was kinda wooden and by-the-book. It actually surprised me - I thought there'd be some sparks here, but...nothing remotely sparky. Too bad because the cast is quite good. Grade: 55
"The Tomorrow People" (CW , Wednesday, 9.)
Premise: New generation of people - OK, teens - with "paranormal abilities."
Like: Some cool, albeit retro, special effects in the trailer.
Dislke: Isn't this "Heroes" 2.0 for everyone who just now has succeeded in forgetting about "Heroes" 1.0?
"The Night Shift" (NBC, Mid.)
Premise: Nightshift at a hospital in San Antonio...
Like: That San Antonio is finally getting its closeup.
Dis: That this is being set-up as a TV hospital soap cliche, with the stubbled doc, the beautiful intern, the tough boss... But there's nothing to see, so not fair to judge this yet.
grade: 50 (or incomplete - we have nothing to see here, so...)
"Mixology" (ABC, mid.)
Premise: In one bar, Union, on one night an entire season will unfold, as ten singles find true love. Or at least love. Or something.
Like; Interesting idea certainly, though hard to imagine how it could play out over a short-run season.
Dis: Got bad vides from a trailer that struggled to find focus, or a single funny line, or a character - just one - who was likeable. That's a bad sign.
"Star-crossed" (CW, mid.)
Premise: Alien teens (specifically, Atrian alien teens) enroll in a high school for real humans.
Like: Anything to do with aliens, and this has never been done before, right?.
Dislike: The aliens look like human teens except for badder-ass tattoos. It just seems like another CW teen soap.
"Trophy Wife" (ABC, Tuesdays, 9:30)
Premise: Reformed party girl meets guy with two ex-wives. She marries into his extended family. With Malin Ackerman - "27 Dresses," "Watchmen," Bradley Whitford, Marcia Gay Harden , Michaela Watkins...
Like: Akerman, who I don't think of as a comic actress, but I suppose "why not;" and just the general idea of an extension of the idea of "Modern Family.'
Dis: Trailer portends a lot of cloying all-too-cute one-liners mixed with broad comedy. Simply put, looks bad.
"Reign" (CW, Thursday, 9)
Premise: Mary Queen of Scots gets the CW treatment.
Like: The idea that CW is actually doing an historical soap that might teach kids a little bit about English history.
Dis: That this will undoubtedly be bunkum, and poor Mary will be beheaded again, this time by the CW. Looks like a high school, Elizabethan-style.
"Mom" (CBS, 9:30):
Premise: Newly single/sober mom - two kids - and her mom moves in.
Like: Potentially an interesting premise - a reformed daughter trying to help her reformed mother, and not damage the two kids.
Dis: Allison Janney, Anna Faris taking the money-and-running in this what-appears-to-be standard issue Chuck Lorre single camera, with the usual quotient of vulgar one liners that a studio audience for some reason decides is HY-larious. But Lorre knows how to make comedy that people seem to love and this already looks to be a new season success.
"Sean Saves the World (NBC, Thursday, 9)
Premise: Overburdened, single gay dad of teen daughter.
Like: The idea of a Sean Hayes comedy, in principal; and Thomas Lennon, who also stars.
Dis: Almost dislike everything here, though particularly the cloying age-old multicamera habit of making audiences hate multi-cam TV comedies .?.?.
"Back in the Game" (ABC, Wed., 8:30).
Premise: Terry (Maggie Lawson) was all-star softball player until loser husband derailed her; has to move back in with dad (James Caan), a former big leaguer who's a lovable lout.
Like: Appealing leads, especially Lawson.
Dis: Super grating trailer that is like fingernails across the chalkboard; appears to come under heading, "Why People Hate Network TV Comedies."
"Enlisted" (Friday, midseason, Fox, 9:30)
Premise: Three brothers — one of whom happens to be Geoff Stults — enlist and cause a whole lot of craziness.
Like: Energetic trailer that would promise an amusing diversion .?.?.
Dis: .?.?. if it were even remotely amusing. Which it is not.
"Welcome to the Family' (NBC, Thursdays, 8:30.)
Premise: Daughter goes off to college, making parents happy; son of another family goes to college, making his clan happy. But son — who's Latino — gets daughter of family No. 1 pregnant. Oops.
Like: Let me think about this.
Dis: What has happened to the great NBC Thursday comedy tradition? That's a serious question, seriously .?.?. This is just a deeply unfunny uninteresting show concept, if the trailer is at all representative.
"The Millers" (CBS, Thursday, 8:30)
Premise: News guy who's just split with his wife, and mom moves in.
Like: Cast. Margo Martindale. Will Arnett.
Dis: Trailer featured jokes about bodily functions and other similar topics. Who laughs at this stuff? Really, who laughs at this?
"Killer Women" (ABC, mid)
Premise: Badass Molly Parker (Tricia Helfer) is one badass of a Texas Ranger. Or to put this in a more badass kind of way: "She follows the law — but not the rules!" Believe it or nuts, Sofia Vergara produces this.
Like: Oh joy! The timeline continuum of TV has been reversed to 1977; maybe Kate Jackson will make a cameo in this.
Dis: Awful, awful, awful. But the title is marvelous, no?