The Fall Network Season Is Upon Us: Some Shows to Watch
There are people who’ll tell you there’s no such thing as a fall TV season anymore, that new television shows can pop up anytime, anywhere, and that the idea of releasing a few dozen of them at once and hoping they’ll catch on is so last century.
They’re right. And wrong.
Yes, broadcast TV — which is what we’re really talking about when we talk about a “season,” since most of cable’s never played the September-May game — is moving closer to a year-round model, and even taking a cue from the competition by cutting some season orders to 13 to 15 episodes from the traditional 22, to reduce the number of reruns.
But networks still sell advertisers on a product that starts to roll out shortly after school starts. While a few fall shows won’t premiere until late October or early November, the onslaught begins Monday, with the debut of Fox’s Sleepy Hollow. On Sept. 22, the Emmys kick off the networks’ official premiere week, and by mid-October, there’ll be nearly two dozen new scripted shows (assuming that some haven’t already been canceled).
So the madness isn’t over yet.
One episode — which in many cases, is all I’ve seen — isn’t always enough to tell if a show deserves a place on the DVR or a quick trip to Hiatusville. But here are five comedies and five dramas that stand out so far:
Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Andy Samberg (Saturday Night Live) stars as a police detective who doesn’t color inside the lines and Andre Braugher (Men of a Certain Age) is the new guy in charge of his crayons in this NYPD-set show from the producers of Parks and Recreation.
What I liked about it: Allusions to Barney Miller probably wouldn’t mean much to Fox’s target audience, so I’ll just say that Samberg’s irresistible force meets Braugher’s immovable object entertainingly, and that a hilarious ensemble seals the deal: Terry Crews (Everybody Hates Chris), Melissa Fumero, Stephanie Beatriz, Chelsea Peretti and Joe Lo Truglio (Reno 911!).
Airing: 8:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Fox, beginning Tuesday.
The Crazy Ones. Robin Williams and Sarah Michelle Gellar play an undisciplined genius of a father and his down-to-earth daughter who run an ad agency in this show from David E. Kelley (Ally McBeal).
What I liked about it: Some of the season’s best (and worst) new shows focus on family ties, but only one co-stars James Wolk (Bob Benson, of Mad Men). Wolk’s ability to keep up with Williams’ antics takes a little pressure off Gellar, who’s still getting up to speed (but wins comedy points for singing in front of guest star Kelly Clarkson in the pilot).
Airing: 9 p.m. Thursdays, CBS, beginning Sept. 26.
The Michael J. Fox Show. Fox’s real life is all over this show about a popular news anchor who took a few years off after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s and who’s now headed back to work.
What I liked about it: No one’s better than Fox at helping to guide people past the elephant in the room — yes, it’s OK to laugh, because he does — but he’s smartly surrounded himself with people like Wendell Pierce (Treme, The Wire), Betsy Brandt (Breaking Bad) and Katie Finneran, guaranteeing that he won’t have to be in every single scene. Also smart: Getting a 22-episode guarantee, because like the character, the show’s still struggling a little with the worklife balance.
Airing: 9:30 p.m. Thursdays, NBC, premiering Sept. 26 with episodes at 9 and 9:30.
Trophy Wife. Malin Akerman stars as Wife No. 3 to Bradley Whitford’s divorced-dad character in a show loosely based on co-creator Sarah Haskins’ experience (as the wife of Julie Andrews’ stepson).
What I liked about it: A surprisingly charming take on the kind of family no one plans for, it gives nearly as much funny face time to the exes (Marcia Gay Harden and Michaela Watkins) as it does to the ridiculously gorgeous Akerman. Still, I’m waiting to see how they’ll keep Whitford’s character from seeming like a guy who trades in wives for younger models.
Airing: 9:30 p.m. Tuesdays, ABC, beginning Sept. 24.
Mom. Anna Faris (The House Bunny) stars as a waitress and single mother whose recent sobriety is tested when her recovering alcoholic mother Allison Janney (The West Wing) reappears in her life in the latest sitcom from Chuck Lorre (Two and a Half Men, The Big Bang Theory).
What I liked about it: It’s funnier than its premise — it would almost have to be — and its stars have chemistry.
Airing: 9:30 p.m. Mondays, CBS, starting Sept. 23.
Hostages. Toni Collette stars as a surgeon whose family’s taken hostage by a rogue FBI agent (Dylan McDermott) on the night before she’s to operate on the president.
What I liked about it: A 15-episode season feels just about right for this thriller, which won’t have to string us along until May. Not the best drama of the fall — that would be Showtime’s Masters of Sex, which premieres Sept. 29 — but, like ABC’s Scandal, Hostages is both cynical and romantic. And I love how a ski mask can’t disguise McDermott (who’s not to be confused, as he so often is, with Dermot Mulroney, who’s taking hostages in NBC’s midseason drama Crisis).
Airing: 10 p.m. Mondays, CBS, beginning Sept. 23.
The Blacklist. James Spader (Boston Legal) plays another of those rogue federal agents, a most-wanted fugitive who cuts a deal to help his former colleagues, but only if he can work with a newly minted FBI profiler (Megan Boone).
What I liked about it: Did I mention James Spader? I’m taking producers at their word that there’s more here than a mash-up of Alias and Silence of the Lambs, but for now, it’s all riding on Spader.
Airing: 10 p.m. Mondays, NBC, starting Sept. 23.
Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD. Created by Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Marvel’s The Avengers), the comics empire’s first television series takes up where The Avengers left off and stars Clark Gregg as Agent Phil Coulson (I know — you thought he was dead).
What I liked about it: Whedon’s humor permeates a pilot that doesn’t actually require viewers to have seen all those Marvel superheroes on the big screen. Fun for geeks of all ages.
Punctuation note: Yes, ABC’s spelling it S.H.I.E.L.D. But we’re going to save a few trees.
Airing: 8 p.m. Tuesdays, ABC, beginning Sept. 24.
Almost Human. Karl Urban and Michael Ealy star in a cop show set in a future in which humans and robots fight crime together.
What I liked about it: Ealy’s fun as the discontinued-model android whose new partner (Urban) is part-synthetic (and maybe part-Neanderthal), the ensemble includes Lili Taylor as their boss and it’s from Fringe producers J.J. Abrams and J.H. Wyman.
Airing: 8 p.m. Mondays, Fox 29, beginning Nov. 4.
Lucky 7. Co-workers at a gas station in Queens strike it rich when their lottery pool buys a winning ticket. Based on a British series and executive produced by Steven Spielberg.
What I liked about it: The cast’s diverse and the stories — rooted in the lives of people who don’t get much attention from TV — aren’t likely to involve government conspiracies, superheroes or robots.
Airing: 10 p.m. Tuesday, ABC, beginning Sept. 24.