This fall, you might have to settle for falling in like.
Not that you won’t find some shows worth adding to your DVR’s weekly record list: Every season produces at least a few of those. But what you won’t find is an out-of-the-gate, near-universally embraced, must-see show along the lines of Lost orModern Family – which is what viewers desire and the networks, who are currently on the losing side of the buzz battle with cable, could use.
Looking on the bright side, it is always possible that love will come as the season progresses. Few viewers, after all, were particularly passionate aboutThe Big Bang Theory or Scandal when they debuted, and look what happened to them. If we’re lucky, one or two of this year’s more promising series will prove to deserve that kind of devotion.
For now, the best we can do is point you to the broadcast networks’ 10 Best, in order, as chosen by USA TODAY TV Critic Robert Bianco. Lower your attachment expectations, and fall in line.
NBC, Mondays, 10 ET/PT (debuts Sept. 23)
Best New Drama
It’s amazing what one man can do.
For Blacklist, that man is Raymond “Red” Reddington, a criminal mastermind whose ability to outsmart the FBI borders on the mystical. For viewers, however, that man is James Spader – whose knowing, dryly witty star turn as Red transforms what could have been a routine procedural into the new season’s best pilot.
To do so, he has to pull you past a set-up that is far too obviously inspired by Silence of the Lambs, with Red agreeing to help the FBI on the condition that he only deal with a rookie profiler (Megan Boone). On the other hand, there are also substantial differences: like, for example, Red not being a cannibal. Still, that’s just the premise. If you’re willing to accept it – and the show’s close-to-cable level of violence — you’ll find the plot should give the series plenty of room to grow.
And Spader, plenty of room to play.
MORE: Fall TV — night by night
Fox, Tuesdays, 8:30 ET/PT (Sept. 17)
Best New Comedy
There are two kinds of TV fans in the world: Those who find Andy Samberg funny, and those who don’t.
If you do, then you’re already primed for his return to TV, and any words of praise will just be a bonus. If you don’t, then be aware that his performance in this cop-comedy from Parks and Recreation producers Dan Goor and Michael Schur may just change your mind.
And if it doesn’t, well, there’s always Andre Braugher – who shines, as always, as a by-the-books captain who clashes with Samberg’s smart-mouthed detective. Throw in a strong supporting cast, and you could have the year’s best new comedy.
Assuming you’re willing to have Samberg at all.
ABC, Tuesdays, 8 ET/PT (Sept. 24)
SHIELD may not be the season’s best pilot, but it could end up being the best – and best loved – new series.
ABC is counting on just that transformation, betting that this spinoff from The Avengers will draw in the same young, devoted audience that flocked to the movie and reads the comic books. To improve its odds, the show has gone so far as to revive a character the movie left for dead: Clark Gregg’s Agent Phil Coulson. And to seal the deal, SHIELD is produced by the genius behind the movie, Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon, who teams here with his brother Jed and Maurissa Tancharoen.
As with most such shows, the pilot for SHIELD leans heavily on exposition: We watch as Coulson gathers a team of special – but not super-powered – agents who are tasked with protecting the public from the strange enemies and events they learned about in The Avengers. That doesn’t leave much time for character development, and the individual members of the team don’t really register – but the same can be said for the “Scooby Gang” in the Buffy pilot. And Whedon fixed that problem almost immediately.
Assuming he does the same here – and assuming he’s actually working here, rather than just lending his name to the project – SHIELD could turn into the hit broadcast has been searching for.
Which would be super.
CBS, Mondays, 9:30 ET/PT (Sept. 23)
If there’s one thing TV history has taught us, it’s never bet against Chuck Lorre.
Having already placed three hits on the air with Two and a Half Men, Mike and Mollyand The Big Bang Theory, Lorre now attempts to circle the bases with Mom. To bolster his chances, he’s gathered another strong cast, led by Anna Faris as a newly sober single mother who clashes with her own newly sober mother, played by the redoubtable Allison Janney.
The pilot has its rough patches, but if there’s one thing Lorre has demonstrated over the years, it’s an ability to tweak shows on the run – jettisoning the things that don’t work and strengthening those that do.
Which is why you don’t bet against him.
NBC, Thursdays, 9:30 ET/PT (Sept. 26)
It never hurts to have viewers on your side.
If there’s any star who comes with a built-in, nationwide rooting section, it’s Michael J. Fox. And now you can root for him once again on NBC, where he returns as a retired news anchor with Parkinson’s disease who decides to go back to work. And if that sounds like Fox’s show is playing off Fox’s life, well, that’s the idea.
As Fox himself has said, the goal of the pilot is to introduce us to what the promos have humorously identified as the elephant in the room: Fox’s disease. While the introduction is effective, the open question is whether the show going forward will be about a man who has Parkinson’s, which can work – or about Parkinson’s itself, which most likely can’t.
We’ll be rooting for Fox to make the right choice.
CBS, Mondays, 10 ET/PT (Sept. 23)
Would you kill the president to save your family?
That’s the dilemma facing Toni Collette’s Dr. Ellen Sanders, whose family is being held hostage by Dylan McDermott’s rogue FBI agent. She’s about to operate on the president, and either he dies, or her loved ones do.
That sounds like a very good idea for a movie, but a tough one to stretch out over a season, even one that’s only scheduled to last 15 weeks. The producers, however, promise they have a viable plan to make that idea work.
Well, yes: We’ve all heard such promises before, and we’ve all seen good ideas go bad. But that leads to another question: What do you have to lose by giving Hostagesthe benefit of the doubt?
Fox, Mondays, 9 ET/PT (Sept. 16)
That’s clearly both the watchword and the sales pitch for this fantasy adventure fromFringe producers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, which re-invents Washington Irving’s Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison) as a Revolutionary War hunk who wakes up 250 years later to battle a satanic Headless Horseman. Now all Ichabod has to do is navigate a new century while convincing the Sleepy Hollow townsfolk (including a tough, smart cop played by Nicole Beharie) that’s he’s their best chance to survive the weirdness to come.
That could be entertaining, and at times in the pilot it is, when the show isn’t getting bogged down in coven conspiracies. If it lightens up a bit, Sleepy Hollow could turn into one of the new season’s more enjoyable new series.
And that would be fun.
8) The Millers
CBS, Thursdays, 8:30 ET/PT (Oct. 3)
Sometimes it helps to remember that a pilot doesn’t just launch a show, it sells it.
So, for example, if you want to sell a comedy to CBS, particularly one you hope will land in the primo post-Big Bang Theory time slot, you have to prove you can get big laughs: The best CBS comedies aren’t stupid, but they’re also not subtle. That’s what the pilot for this comedy — starring the knockout trio of Will Arnett, Margo Martindale and Beau Bridges — was designed to do, and that’s what it does, and more consistently and effectively than any of its rivals.
Does it sometimes stretch too far for a laugh? Yes. Would it be well-advised to leave the fart jokes behind? Undoubtedly. But the show has made its point, and we just have to hope it will now move on.
With a cast like that, we’d be crazy not to follow, at least a few more times.
9) Trophy Wife
ABC, Tuesdays, 9:30 ET/PT (Sept. 24)
If you think you have to suspend disbelief with Sleepy Hollow, wait until you seeTrophy Wife.
That aside, it is worth seeing. Malin Akerman is incredibly appealing as a young, beautiful woman married to an older man (the always great Bradley Whitford) with two difficult ex-wives (Marcia Gay Harden and Michaela Watkins) and multiple children of varying ages.
There’s much to like here in the cast and the script, and since the show is loosely based on the life of creator Sarah Haskins, it should all ring true. And yet it doesn’t, in part because the two ex-wives seem to exist simply to cause contrasting problems.
That’s a problem. And believe me, the writers need to fix it.
10) The Goldbergs
ABC, Tuesdays, 9 ET/PT (Sept. 24)
Clearly, autobiography is in this year.
Based on the real family of creator Adam Goldberg, this ABC sitcom takes us back to the ’80s, where 11-year-old Adam and his siblings are growing up with a smothering mother (Wendi McClendon-Covey), a hot-tempered father (Jeff Garlin) and a cool grandfather (George Segal). They scream and squabble, but eventually they pull together.
Whether you pull with them depends in part on how fond you are of loud-but-loving families (me, very) and ’80s nostalgia (me, not much). Big hair and bad clothes may be amusing, but they do not a series make.
At least not one that wants to make it into another decade.
Courtesy of USA Today