The five major broadcast television networks arranged in a list in order of how appealing the previews for their new fall shows are, overall…
NBC has historically been my favorite of the broadcast networks. Not only were they the home of The West Wing, E.R., Cheers, Friends, Frasier, 30 Rock, Parks and Rec, etc, but they were the first network to present shows in 16:9, and always seemed just a little smarter and classier than the rest. Therefore it’s difficult for me to place the good people at the National Broadcasting Company dead last on my list. Difficult, but obviously not impossible, because I’ve done it.
And they’ve earned it, by releasing the fewest previews of the five networks, and of those few only two are actual previews; the Will & Grace (C+) video is less a preview than it is a slapdash late night sketch that shoots for vintage but lands decidedly on dated. The Brave (C+) looks like a dozen other “Team America, but serious” shows that have come and gone since 2001, and Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Brothers (C-) is clearly out of its depth, hilariously playing the “look, a tough lady lawyer with a perm!” angle in an attempt to woo fans of The People v O.J., the primary selling point of which was, as we all remember, perms.
Mostly, though, I’m just mad that NBC has yet to release any footage from Jason Katims’ Rise, the high school theater-set dramedy that is easily my most anticipated show of the fall season. C’mon NBC, you’ve somehow managed to concoct literally the most “Clay” show of all time, the least you can do is give it to me right now.
As you will find, while I have strong opinions about most of the fall previews, I reserve all of my strong opinions about networks for NBC. Sorry, NBC. I’m not angry, just disappointed.
SECOND LEAST: THE CW
Life Sentence (B)
Fresh off of Pretty Little Liars, Lucy Hale finds herself going from a show in which she was haunted by the spectre of death, to one in which she is haunted by the spectre of life. This is an interesting enough jumping off point (if a little familiar-feeling) but what actually interests me is how much focus the preview puts on how Hale’s surprisingly cured cancer affects her friends and family. That angle seems like unusual narrative territory, and I am curious to see how they explore it.
Black Lightning (B-)
This looks like a totally solid addition to the popular collection of DC superhero shows on The CW. Perhaps a little bit different, since it’s playing with an Incredibles-ish family dynamic, but not different enough to break the mold. Since I don’t watch any of those other DC shows, I probably will not watch Black Lightning either, but if that’s your bag, I bet this will fit in that bag snugly.
Things I’m digging: Exploration of gender relations in the military. The strain that secrets put on military spouses. The Homeland season one-y conspiracy that goes all the way to the top. Things I’m not digging: Terrible special effects. Unproven acting talent. Iffy dialogue. This doesn’t look like a sure thing, but it sure is the most intriguing of the three “American spec-ops team sporting nightvision goggles” shows debuting in the fall.
Gotta love The CW. They know exactly what their audience wants, and they deliver it, without feigning importance or putting on airs. The style is ostentatious, the drama is dripping with soap, and the acting is campy in direct proportion with the premise and the legacy it continues. Plus, catfights! I’m not going to watch this, but I’m glad it exists.
The Mayor (B)
A wildly unqualified person runs for office as a publicity stunt, and wins, but is WELL-INTENTIONED?! Good news, everyone waiting for a West Wing revival, I think I’ve found a delicious little liberal-fantasy snack to hold us over. In addition to the (badly needed?) optimistic premise, The Mayor boasts a pleasing look, some solid jokes, and a likeable, fresh-faced, cast. Plus, I’m enjoying David Spade’s quiet re-entry into the realm of good material, he was really fun on Love.
I’m not sure that I have ever seen a full episode of Roseanne, but this nostalgia reel effectively convinced me that it was not only a classic show, but an important one, and that the American people should count their lucky stars that the original cast of history’s Most Important Show will be gracing our humble television sets once more. So, I guess it’s pretty effective. And I really should seek out the original Roseanne, if only for John Goodman, who is a treasure.
The Good Doctor (C+)
This one’s tricky. Freddie Highmore is a very good young actor, and building a show around a character with a disability is important and noble, but… The Good Doctor looks like it could easily go off the rails. Making him not just autistic, but, like, A Beautiful Mind super-human autistic, might give the impression that people suffering from this disability are only useful to society if they can also intubate on the fly and eyeball arrhythmia. That isn’t to say that The Good Doctor will necessarily fall into this trap, but the preview does nothing to dispel the worry.
It seems like the “due to extreme and/or supernatural circumstances, a bad person must become good” premise comes back around every few years, and this most recent iteration stars Parenthood alum Jason Ritter as (guardian angel?) Cristela Alonzo’s human fixer-upper project. Ritter, though a great actor, is an odd choice for this; he practically oozes niceness and likeability. If he can effectively convince us that he’s a bad dude, and if the show leans into the humor and away from the overly sentimental, then this has a chance. At the very least, I will check out the pilot, because I once met Ritter, and he was really nice. I will try not to hold this against him.
Well, this looks like trash. That seems pretty clear. What isn’t clear is whether or not it knows that it is trash, and embraces all of the opportunities afforded knowing trash. A fun, trashy, 90s-esque thriller is exactly what network TV needs right now. What it doesn’t need is something with the bones of a cheesy thriller that takes itself too seriously. Regardless, I will watch at least a few episodes, because I am powerless to resist anything that takes place within the dark and sordid world of my beloved Hollywood.
Alex, Inc. (D+)
The. Hardest. Of. Passes.
That’s all I got on this one.
The Crossing (B-)
This one’s very mysterious. Is it sci-fi? Is it a socially conscious parable? Is it the beginning of the Zahn-aissance?! Whatever it is, don’t get too invested, because these hyper-specific serialized sci-fi shows never last.
Nothing about this works for me. The premise, “parents break up then take turns living in the garage,” strains credulity even further than “magician joins the FBI” (up next on the list), none of the jokes land, and the cast is truly bizarre. Oliver Hudson? The smarmy music executive from Nashville? As a loving dad? Who wants to see that? Not me, apparently.
I think we might have found the heir-apparent to Castle; a patently ridiculous set-up, intended solely to pair a charming cad with a serious Fed, but this time… with fuckin’ MAGIC. Magic, people. He’s a goddamn magician. This has a palpable “go big or go home” vibe that I am super into, and I hope that it runs for seven years.
SECOND MOST: FOX
The Orville (C+)
I don’t know what I was expecting. Aside from a friendly blob voiced by Norm MacDonald, this does nothing for me. Which is too bad, because I love almost anything set in space, and Star Trek is such a rich vein for satire. There is definitely a spot on TV for a space comedy, but clearly this is not the thing to fill it, especially since it is an HOUR-LONG DRAMEDY (yes, you read that correctly). When will Hollywood wise up and just make a Galaxy Quest show? That’s what we all want, anyway.
Surprisingly high production value, great stars, and a seemingly sure-fire premise (Men in Black, but called something different) don’t mean much if the writing isn’t there. But pilots, especially comedy pilots, are really difficult to nail, and if Ghosted can boost the joke writing a little bit then it could be something special.
LA to Vegas (B+)
Basically the inverse of the Ghosted preview; the premise sounds limiting, the look is kinda shitty, and the cast (
Dermot Mulroney Dylan McDermott? Peter Stormare?) is not known for it’s comedy prowess. That said, there are a handful of solid laughs in here, so I will be checking it out. Good on ya, Dermot Mulroney Dylan McDermott!
The Gifted (B)
One of the recurring themes within the X-MEN universe, at least in film (I’m not a comic guy), has been one of needing to create makeshift families after being ostracized from your natural one. The Gifted looks like it’s flipping the paradigm, using the discovery of mutant powers as a device to drive a family closer together, rather than tear them apart. If nothing else, this new approach is novel, and Running on Empty + superpowers is for sure something that I will give a shot.
The Resident (B-)
“Matt Czurchy IS Young House, this fall on FOX!”
The likelihood that I watch this is entirely Bruce Greenwood-based. I hope he pins one of his murders of negligence on Young House and becomes the main character.
Believe me, I’m as surprised as you are.
Young Sheldon (B-)
I have never seen more than ten contiguous minutes of The Big Bang Theory. I have literally zero emotional connection to the character of (old?) Sheldon and the world he inhabits. I also teared up during this preview, so, man, who knows. This seems to be taking a totally different approach from The Big Bang Theory, ditching the multi-cam format and canned laughter in favor of a more Goldbergs or Freaks and Geeks feel – a lovable and socially awkward nerd in the 80′s, learning how to fit in not only with his classmates, but family as well. Shameless nostalgia and saccharine moments of easily-won understanding will probably abound, but if anyone can pull it off, it’s Iain Armitage, who is an incredibly talented young performer.
Me, Myself, and I (B+)
Despite barely cracking a smile during this preview, I will still undoubtedly check out at least the first few episodes. I’m a sucker for Bobby Moynihan. I’m a sucker for parallel stories that unfold in multiple timelines. And I live around the corner from the Corky’s restaurant that seems to be a central location, so, that’s neat.
Shawn Ryan is one of the most reliable purveyors of quality television in the last 20 years. His last LAPD-centric series, The Shield, is an underrated classic and unsung predecessor of the “peak TV” era. And unlike most of the new (and existing) CBS slate, Ryan’s new LAPD-centric series, S.W.A.T. (a tv show inspired by a movie that was based on a tv show) seems to be interested in exploring the timely issues facing law enforcement and the communities they protect, and not just uncomplicated ass-kicking. This bodes well for the quality of the show, but probably not its longevity on CBS, whose viewers tend to be uncomfortable with anything too complicated.
Seal Team (D+)
The only thing that is less interesting to me than a show about blandly handsome army dudes doing secret desert missions while the suits calling the shots stand over the shoulders of nerdy techs monitoring night vision displays is that show, but with 100% “hooah!” and 0% introspection. David Boreanaz’s obligatory PTSD hand-twitch aside, the main conflict in Seal Team appears not be the moral quandary associated with playing police all over the world, but rather if the American Heroes ™ can play world police and still make it home for dinner. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ . Valor, over on CBS little-brother network The CW, looks like a very similar thing, but with twice the nuance and half the budget.
Wisdom of the Crowd (C-)
What if literally Black Mirror, but presented as though it were an unambiguously good thing? One has to assume that some nuance and moral questioning will be introduced at some point in the series, but as it stands now this preview gives me the willies. Like, “beginning of the end of society” willies. *shudders* Always glad to see Kristina Braverman, er, Monica Potter, getting paid though. Whatever she needs to do to subsidize her true passion of making bizarre facebook videos I support.
“Down-on-his-luck guy has to move back in with / next to his bothersome family” might literally be the most tired multi-cam premise there is. Good thing, then, that an “original premise” is the last thing a multi-cam needs to succeed. When you’re in front of a live studio audience it’s 25% about the jokes and 75% about the cast, and 9JKL has a pretty good one. Elliot Gould and Linda Lavin are American treasures, David Walton and Liza Lapira (Traffic Light reunion!) are both far too talented for their relative lack of notoriety, and Mark Feuerstein is exactly the kind of vaguely recognizable and generally likable guy that won’t compel CBS viewers to turn off the TV. My love for Walton and Lapira, evidenced by the fact that I remember what Traffic Light is, will be enough to make me give this one a shot.
Star Trek: Discovery (B-)
This one is difficult for me. I grew up on Star Trek, and still watch its series and movies all the time; there are, in fact, few things I hold dearer to my heart than Star Trek. That said, this preview is… not great. Perhaps it’s the surprisingly (cheap) CGI-heavy, Abrams-ness of the visual style, or the clunkiness of the dialogue, or just plain ol’ bad editing, but almost everything about this preview feels off. However, Bryan Fuller, who wrote the pilot, is a true blue genius, and I’m very excited about a Trek series that puts a female POC at its core, so here’s to hoping that the series is better, hell, much better, than the preview suggests. Though in all honesty I’ll watch each and every episode regardless.