1. Give it a chance: American Housewife
ABC, Tuesdays at 8:30 p.m. (starting Oct. 11)
With its wild tonal swings, American Housewife confused me more than any other upcoming comedy. On the downside, there are approximately 4 billion fat jokes in the pilot, which befits a show that was once called The Second Fattest Housewife in Westport. The show has shaken that title, but not its trappings — and this humor is simply beneath the talent of its lead, Katy Mixon. She plays Katie Otto, a middle-class mother in ultra-rich Westport, Connecticut, where her peers are all thin and aspire to look like teen girls. Katie lives there because her youngest daughter, Anna Kat, appears to have obsessive-compulsive disorder (though the show has not yet labeled it), and the excellent public school will help her. Julia Butters plays Anna Kat, and she is very good in the role — not saccharine, and not over the top.
When the show concentrates on character building and steers away from its basest leanings — including a bathroom scene I would like scrubbed from my memory — I found myself rooting for it. Even just letting Mixon loose on a topic other than weight seems to work (Stalin, for instance, is the pilot’s funniest joke). The ABC comedy brand is now strong enough that this show will likely be given an opportunity to find itself. Here’s hoping it does. —Kate Aurthur
2. Be excited: Atlanta
FX, Tuesdays at 10 p.m. (in progress)
Since its premiere on Sept. 6, Atlanta’s creator and star Donald Glover has used his visually striking dramedy about cousins trying to break into the titular city’s rap scene to explore fatherhood, intimacy, police brutality, sexuality, and the pursuit of a new American dream. And it’s clear he’s just getting started. When television is good, it entertains; but when it’s great, it offers the viewer an unprecedented window into another’s experiences. It’s clear Glover has set his sights on enlightenment. —Jarett Wieselman
3. Be excited: Better Things
FX, Thursdays at 10 p.m. (in progress)
Louie alum Pamela Adlon has teamed with her former co-star and boss Louis C.K. for this semiautobiographical half-hour examination of modern-day motherhood. Adlon — who stars as Sam, a mother to three daughters — is writing much of Better Things with C.K., so each episode is brimming with the wry humor that made his Emmy-winning series so lauded. And judging from the Sept. 8 premiere episode, Better Things should follow in Louie’s footsteps in more ways than one. —J.W.
4. Avoid: Bull
CBS, Tuesdays at 9 p.m. (starting Sept. 20)
This entry will be brief, because Bull is exactly what it appears to be: the CBS-iest legal procedural of all time. Michael Weatherly barely took a minute between leaving NCIS and starting this job — in an hourlong crime drama that airs on CBS after NCIS! He plays Dr. Jason Bull, a high-tech trial consultant hired, seemingly, by the super-rich to increase their odds of success — and he is surrounded by a team of experts who each have a different specialty. Dr. Phil is involved in this show, and it’s apparently based on his experiences that we’ve never heard a word about. (Since I don’t want to know anything more about Dr. Phil than I already do, I’m good, please don’t explain it to me.) —K.A.
5. Give it a chance: Conviction
ABC, Mondays at 10 p.m. (starting Oct. 3)
The beloved Hayley Atwell (of Agent Carter fame, both on film and in television) plays Hayes Morrison, a partying, rebellious former first daughter of a president who I assume will be a character on the show should it last. Hayes, under duress (a cocaine bust), is tasked with running a newly formed Conviction Integrity Unit, which will prod old cases to see whether the convictions were justly attained. (And if they were not, vacate them.) Hayes is positioned opposite her boss, Conner Wallis (Eddie Cahill), with whom she’s supposed to have a will-they-or-won’t-they dynamic, which — well, I just don’t care about those relationships anymore!
Everything about this legal drama is already familiar, and that’s not a bad thing, necessarily: I like a scrappy team of people with conflicting motivations coming together to solve something. (Of the team, the standouts are Manny Montana as an ex-con turned forensics expert, and Merrin Dungey — Francie from Alias! And Evil Francie from Alias! — as a former cop.) Atwell lifts Conviction up, with her charisma and her hints of what might be depths in Hayes: In particular, there is a scene between Hayes and her Senate-seeking mother (Bess Armstrong) that is both too expository and satisfying, with her mother simultaneously challenging and belittling her. Conviction takes over Castle’s time slot, and I would be surprised if it doesn’t work there. —K.A.
6. Give it a chance: Designated Survivor
ABC, Wednesdays at 10 p.m. (starting Sept. 21)
This idea is so fully realized it almost seems like we’ve seen it before, whether it’s in real life or on 24, Kiefer Sutherland’s former home. He plays Tom Kirkman, the secretary of housing and urban development, and during the president’s State of the Union, the Capitol is bombed, killing everyone in the line of succession to the presidency before him. Tom is immediately sworn in as his family is moved into the White House, and he tries to make sense of what is happening (while fending off a war-crazed general who wants to bomb Iran — the show’s one utterly ridiculous character so far). The premise is both utterly ludicrous and yes, that could happen in a way that is disturbing in itself. But certainly, there will be no shortage of stories here; Designated Survivor isn’t the sort of show where you wonder what Episode 2 will be.
One challenge for both the show and Sutherland will be to transcend the actor’s Jack Bauer past and escape the invincibility, violence, and growling that made up that performance. So far, so good: In the pilot, Sutherland acts like a goofy dad before the attack, and like an insecure, lame-duck cabinet member (he’s about to be fired from HUD). After the bombing, he’s so scared that he vomits. And I do hope that fear continues to be a large part of the performance, because it should be. (If I could make one suggestion, though, Sutherland should do less eyeglasses-acting: All actors are doing when they keep taking their glasses on and off during emotional scenes is announcing to the world: “I DO NOT WEAR GLASSES IN REAL LIFE.”) —K.A.
7. Give it a chance: Divorce
HBO, Sundays at 10 p.m. (starting Oct. 9)
Sarah Jessica Parker returns to the network she called home for six iconic Sex and the City seasons. While that seminal series explored the highs and lows of finding love, her newest vehicle is all about the consequences that come from losing it. Parker stars as Frances, a mother of two who is unhappily married to Robert (Thomas Haden Church) and having an affair. It’s a perfect role for Parker, whose particular brand of performance has always veered a little more toward pathos than Carrie Bradshaw typically allowed.
But she isn’t the only one returning to television with Divorce: Saturday Night Live’s unsmotable Molly Shannon steals every single scene she’s in as Diane, Frances’s slightly unhinged best friend whose vocabulary is as deadly as the gun she keeps in her bedroom. The series was created by Sharon Horgan, the co-creator and co-star of Amazon’s Emmy-nominated Catastrophe, a show that is so absolutely incredible, she’s earned my full faith in her abilities as a storyteller and I will follow her to whatever show she creates. —J.W.
8. Give it a chance: Eyewitness
USA, Sundays at 10 p.m. (starting Oct. 16)
With its redhead lead detective, seaside town, and bleak cinematic style, Eyewitness is clearly USA’s attempt to go after The Killing’s audience. But unlike that beloved (then reviled) crime drama, this Julianne Nicholson–fronted endeavor isn’t interested in playing out a whodunit all season long: The premiere episode tells you who dun it.
Instead, viewers follow Nicholson’s Sheriff Helen Torrance, who, unbeknownst to her, is investigating a double murder that her stepson (Tyler Young) witnessed while making out with his crush (James Paxton). Young gay love in a small town is just one of (what feels like)100 storylines that fight for screen time on Eyewitness, making the whole thing feel like it’s overflowing with characters and distractions. Here’s hoping the writers can streamline and narrow their focus as the series carries on. —J.W.
9. Avoid: The Exorcist
Fox, Fridays at 9 p.m. (starting Sept. 23)
There’s nothing here we haven’t seen before, mostly in movies, made-for-TV movies, and, to a lesser extent, on television. The reason for that scarcity on TV, I think, is that exorcisms are not made to be serialized, nor are the lives of exorcists something viewers would want to watch every week. I’m always rooting for Geena Davis, who stars here as a mother who knows something very bad is happening in her house. And Alfonso Herrera, who plays a reluctant priest, does fine work in the pilot. But the problem with The Exorcist is that it created an entire genre, and 43 years later, a television adaptation has no new frightening imagery — or demons! — to show us. —K.A.
10. Be excited: Fleabag
Amazon, all six Season 1 episodes are now streaming
When Sex and the City began, Carrie Bradshaw often spoke directly to the camera, offering the viewer an immediate vantage point inside her brain. As the show wore on, the fourth-wall-breaking stopped in favor of more traditional narration. But as Kevin Spacey proved on House of Cards, it can still be quite a compelling storytelling choice, and it’s expertly used in Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s uproarious Fleabag.
In addition to creating the show, which is based on her award-winning play of the same name, Waller-Bridge also stars as the unnamed sexually adventurous but wholly misguided protagonist. (For example, her boyfriend catches her masturbating to a video of President Obama while he’s lying right next to her in bed.) The show is brimming with astute observations about modern life outside the bedroom as well: One of the pilot’s funniest moments comes as the character accidentally — and violently — rebuffs a hug from her sister. It’s a shame Fleabag clocks in at a scant six episodes, because you will be desperate for more. —J.W.
11. Give it a chance: Frequency
The CW, Wednesdays at 9 p.m. (starting Oct. 5)
Frequency — an adaptation of the movie from 2000 that starred Dennis Quaid and Jim Caviezel — is an odd project for The CW, especially since it’s not only using the film’s plot device of a ham radio that can cross through time, but the crime story (which comes to an end) within the movie. In other words, Frequency’s existence confuses me. The plot, with its multiple twists, does become awfully complicated — and isn’t that so often the problem with time travel stories? I can get a headache on my own, thank you.
But there are some good things here, like a strong lead performance from Peyton List (Roger Sterling’s second wife, Mad Men fans) as a cop who suddenly discovers that she can speak with her dead father (Riley Smith) through a radio back when he was still alive in 1996. Saving him from his imminent death, though, will have repercussions in her one timeline and life that, presumably, will be a big part of the story of Frequency. (Undoing those things? Adapting to them?) Another thing I liked: the general creepy atmosphere of the pilot. A thing I didn’t like: wasting Mekhi Phifer, who so far has nothing to do as fellow detective and is acting like he is asleep. Do not waste Mekhi Phifer! —K.A.
12. Give it a chance: Good Behavior
TNT, Tuesdays at 9 p.m. (starting Nov. 15)
Good Behavior, from creators Chad Hodge and Blake Crouch (who wrote the novels this show is based on), centers on Letty Dobesh, a down-on-her-luck criminal on parole who’s pulling small cons to help her score some quick cash. While ransacking a high-end hotel, she overhears a hitman (Juan Diego Botto) detailing his next assassination and decides to thwart his plan. From there, the two become embroiled in a complicated sexual and professional relationship that pushes Letty to extremes.
But let’s be real: You’re coming to watch Downton Abbey’s impossibly posh Lady Mary do some very bad things — and, oh boy, does she. The two-hour premiere features a broken-down Letty smoking crack, drunkenly singing, and having lots of sex. But the thing that shouldn’t get lost in the lurid details is the incredible performance Michelle Dockery delivers amid all of that insanity. In fact, it’s the No. 1 reason why you should tune in. —J.W.
13. Be excited: The Good Place
NBC, Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. (starting Sept. 19; it will move into its regular time period on Sept. 22)
The Good Place, created by Michael Schur (Parks and Recreation), is an oddity on network television — the pilot is filled with layered, small-scale, intelligent jokes. Its written subtleties stand in contrast with its high-concept premise, which is that Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) has been mistakenly sent to a heaven-ish sort of afterlife even though she was kind of an asshole: The powers that be (embodied by Ted Danson as Michael, the guide to and architect of Eleanor’s well-manicured, frozen-yogurt-filled Good Place neighborhood) have mistaken her for a lawyer who freed innocent people from death row. (In fact, she sold fake vitamins to gullible old people.)
The larger plot will follow Eleanor trying to turn into a better person under the tutelage of the truly upstanding Chidi (William Jackson Harper), who knows her secret. (It’s made clear that the Bad Place is very bad, and to be avoided.) To typify the comedy’s finespun humor, you will want to pause during the Good Place’s instructional video as the heaven v. hell calculus is explained: “Use Facebook as a verb” and “tell a woman to smile” are negatives, while “remain loyal to Cleveland Browns” is positive. I laughed! And wanted more. —K.A.
14. Give it a chance: The Great Indoors
CBS, Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. (starting Oct. 27)
Saying that The Great Indoors seems to be the most promising of the CBS comedies is not saying much, considering that the other two (Kevin Can Wait and Man With a Plan) are appalling. But I did laugh several times during this pilot, which is a step up from rocking back and forth and yelling, “Why!”
On The Great Indoors, Jack (Joel McHale), a famous adventure writer for a magazine, is called back to his employer’s Chicago office to work with a bunch of digital (millennial) journalists because the magazine’s print edition is about to fold and the boss (the crusty Stephen Fry as Roland) wants Jack to — well, this is the part of the setup that is utterly ridiculous. He wants Jack to teach the millennials? And therefore save the magazine? Who knows. It’s just so the Youngs can mock the Old, and the Old can mock the Youngs — and that dynamic is funny enough, given McHale’s sharp humor, and given that Christopher Mintz-Plasse and the rest of the younger folk are holding up their end.
I was less sure of a romantic subplot between Jack and Brooke (Susannah Fielding), the magazine’s editor and Roland’s daughter, who got together at a company retreat and still have feelings for each other. It felt unnecessary, and also yielded one too many trust fall jokes. (Believe it or not, you can have too many.) Yet, of the sitcoms that the network has tried to pair with The Big Bang Theory in recent years, The Great Indoors seems like a better companion than most. It’s also maybe even primed to find its own consistently funny voice. —K.A.
15. Be excited: Insecure
HBO, Sundays at 10:30 p.m. (starting Oct. 9)
Simply put, Insecure is the year’s best new comedy.
To be slightly more verbose, Issa Rae and Larry Wilmore have created an instantly engrossing, deeply relatable, hugely funny, and painfully real series about Issa Dee (Rae), a 29-year-old who fears the big 3-0 because she doesn’t like her job, her boyfriend, or pretty much anything about her current situation aside from her best friend Molly (Yvonne Orji, an effervescent delight). With Lena Dunham’s Girls set to end in 2017, it looks like HBO has not only found a natural replacement, but perhaps their next great voice of ~a~ generation. —J.W.
16. Avoid: Kevin Can Wait
CBS, Mondays at 8:30 p.m. (starting Sept. 19; on Oct. 24, it moves to 8 p.m.)
I would never underestimate the time-tested charms of Kevin James, nor his ability to bring an audience to a CBS sitcom. King of Queens not only ran for nine seasons, but grew into an expertly executed family comedy. If you want to read some fun stories about King of Queens, by the way, grab ahold of Leah Remini’s memoir, Troublemaker; she loves James, who played her husband for all those years. (But more important: Everyone should read Troublemaker for its crazy Tom Cruise Scientology stories! It is the best book! Anyway…)
This is all to say that Kevin Can Wait — in which James plays a newly retired cop whose sole aspiration is to retreat to boyhood — does not appear to have King of Queens potential. Like, at all. In part, watching white middle-or-working-class men who feel disaffected and who feel like their lives are out of their control is less fun than perhaps it once was. But mostly, Kevin Can Wait feels like it’s checking boxes, with its indistinct three kids and a weird story about the oldest daughter’s effete, creepy fiancé. Meanwhile, Erinn Hayes — hilarious on Childrens Hospital and The Hotwives of Las Vegas — plays Kevin’s eye-rolling wife with no dimension given to the character. Yes, it’s only a pilot. But it’s not too soon to say that Hayes is miscast opposite James. And it’s not too soon to say that this dated throwback will not be Making Sitcoms Great Again unless some miracle happens. —K.A.
17. Give it a chance: Lethal Weapon
Fox, Wednesdays at 8 p.m. (starting Sept. 21)
I was no fan of the movie franchise, which now bears the further taint of featuring the performances of a wild-eyed, crazed-seeming, and yes, mullet-headed Mel Gibson — nothing any human being wants to watch in 2016 — so I was dreading watching Lethal Weapon. And it’s not for me. But to my surprise, there’s no denying the appeal of this setup. If you somehow are hashtag-blessed enough not to know about Lethal Weapon, the premise is simple: Martin Riggs, a cop (Gibson in the movies, Clayne Crawford here), has lost his wife in a car accident and is so bereft that he no longer cares whether he lives or dies. Which makes him, it seems, the worst possible partner for Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover in the movies, and Damon Wayans here), an uptight family man who just wants to make it home alive every day. (In the television show, Roger has had a recent heart attack; in the movies, the first of which came out in 1987, turning 50 was enough to signal “I’m too old for this shit” decrepitude.)
Wayans and Crawford, so wonderful and nuanced on Sundance Channel’s Rectify, have an easy chemistry, and even share a moving scene in the pilot. Like I said, I was surprised! I do wonder whether the show can even come close to matching the pilot — which was directed by McG and is filled with stunts and looks handsomely expensive — on a weekly basis. Also a problem: The high body count in the 8 p.m. slot, caused by cops no less, seems wildly out of step with what people might want to watch these days. Nevertheless, Fox has given Lethal Weapon its only good time period (it will air before Empire, where Rosewood did decently last season), so the network clearly is betting on it. —K.A.
18. Avoid: MacGyver
CBS, Fridays at 8 p.m. (starting Sept. 23)
The original MacGyver series ran for seven seasons (from 1985-1992), turning Richard Dean Anderson into an idol and the character into a godlike pop culture figure. Nearly 25 years later comes CBS’s reboot, with Lucas Till taking over mullet duties from Anderson. Till, an alum of Bryan Singer’s recent X-Men movies, is more than charismatic enough to carry MacGyver’s iconic Swiss army knife; it’s just too bad the show in question is so painfully bad.
It’s hard to decide what’s worse: the annoying narration that turns MacGyver into a Spying for Dummies instruction manual or the fact that all of Mac’s spy tricks were done first, and better, by Tom Cruise in one of the five Mission: Impossible movies.
So I’m left wondering who 2016’s MacGyver was created for. Obviously CBS isn’t terribly concerned with attracting young viewers, so one has to assume this is for fans of the original — an assumption bolstered by the fact that the pilot episode tips its hat to its predecessor nearly a dozen times. But given how uninspired this retread is, existing fans would be better served by hitting play on their VHS tapes of Anderson’s adventures. —J.W.
19. Avoid: Man With a Plan
CBS, Mondays at 8:30 p.m. (starting Oct. 24)
Is everyone OK over at CBS? Like, are they aware that it’s 2016 and men are often attentive parents and women do work — and it’s not some rarity? Meaning: Man With a Plan, starring Matt LeBlanc, shares a similar premise with Kevin Can Wait, in that Adam (LeBlanc) has to adjust to a new life in which his wife is going back to work, and because he is a contractor with a flexible schedule, he has agreed to be the primary parent. The show treats Adam’s experience as if he has never met his children, which is bizarre enough; that his children (their characters have names, but no, I won’t look them up) have to act horribly bratty for so much of the pilot nearly sinks it. Surely Man With a Plan will evolve from these stranger-in-a-strange-land jokes (the strange land, for Adam, is being at home and participating in school activities and speaking with his own children). But then what? The foundation of Man With a Plan is not only archaic, but rotten. —K.A.
20. Be excited: Marvel’s Luke Cage
Netflix (all 13 episodes of Season 1 will begin streaming on Sept. 30)
While Marvel’s cinematic track record is basically unparalleled, its television endeavors haven’t been as uniformly adored. For every award-winning Jessica Jones, there’s an Agent Carter, which died a from lack of viewership; an Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which only hit its stride toward the end of Season 2; or a Daredevil, which is a visual wonder but leaves a lot to be desired from a storytelling perspective.
But those who worried Luke Cage would fall into the latter category have absolutely nothing to worry about, because executive producer Cheo Hodari Coker seems to have brought forth the best Marvel series to date.
It’s deeply relevant (Cage’s hooded sweatshirt is no coincidence), flawlessly acted (Alfre Woodard’s innate maternal energy is brilliantly exploited for her character’s morally flexible machinations), and incredibly rich (cinematographer Manuel Billeter is a maestro). The Mike Colter–fronted series is both the superhero show we deserve and the superhero show we need right now. —J.W.
21. Give it a chance: No Tomorrow
The CW, Mondays at 9 p.m. (starting Oct. 10)
Part of The CW’s renaissance has been its highly rated comic book adaptations, The Flash and Arrow, both of which are also critically acclaimed. (Legends of Tomorrow, not so much.) But another focus of The CW in recent years is complicated, moving female-led comedies like Jane the Virgin and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. No Tomorrow is meant to add a third of those offerings to the network. And while I’m not writing it off, there is way too much going on here.
Evie (Tori Anderson) plays a slightly lost warehouse manager at an Amazon-like company who meets Xavier (Joshua Sasse), a neighbor and kook who thinks that the world is about to end. Because he’s so good-looking, this belief and some of his subsequent behavior is seen as charming, not terrifying. But wait, there’s more! Evie has a whole slew of co-workers, an evil boss, a sister, and a mother pressuring her to marry and have kids — and she also has a heart condition! The engine of this show is that Evie and Xavier are going to do things they always wanted to do because he thinks the world is ending, and she is on board with that because he is hot. You just don’t need more than that. —K.A.
22. Avoid: Notorious
ABC, Thursdays at 9 p.m. (starting Sept. 22)
Hooboy, this show. Hoooooooooooooooooo. Boy. Where even to start? Daniel Sunjata plays Jake Gregorian, a flashy Los Angeles lawyer to the stars, and Piper Perabo plays Julia George, the producer of a Larry King Live–like primetime cable show. (Instead of an elderly, suspenders-wearing man like Larry King, the star of Notorious’s show-within-the-show is a lusty, middle-aged woman who looks and acts as if she is emulating White Diamonds–era Elizabeth Taylor, rather than a journalist or news host.)
Because Jake has sleazy clients and needs to get their messages out there, and because Julia needs to create an attention-getting show, Notorious postulates that they have a symbiotic relationship — one, apparently, that causes them to be constantly in each other’s presence flirting, despite their busy, separate careers. This show is so dumb! And the characters are so unlikable! ABC has given Notorious the Scandal spot in its TGIT lineup — Scandal has been delayed because of Kerry Washington’s pregnancy — and, frankly, this scheduling is a defilement of what Shonda Rhimes has brought to Thursday nights. Right in the middle, too! It will be interesting to see how Notorious does in the ratings, considering this prime positioning. What I picture is a giant crater flanked by Grey’s Anatomy and How to Get Away With Murder, but who the hell knows. —K.A.
23. Be excited: One Mississippi
Amazon, all six episodes are now streaming
In August 2012, Tig Notaro stepped onto the stage of the Largo comedy club in Los Angeles and embarked on a stand-up set that, unbeknownst to her, would transform the entire trajectory of her career. She spoke about her recent cancer diagnosis with a rawness that touched everyone in the room and beyond. Later, with her permission, Louis C.K. released the show’s audio and it became a smash hit.
Four years later, Notaro — who underwent a double mastectomy and opted not to have reconstructive surgery — brings the pain and pathos that made that 2012 set instantly iconic to her Amazon series, One Mississippi, which is loosely based on her life. Notaro plays a character named Tig who returns to her childhood home (in Mississippi) with the sole intention of saying goodbye to her dying mother, but quickly finds the town to be a healing force in a way she can’t quite articulate — and she decides to stay. If the first episode is any indication, Notaro’s ability to elicit laughter through tears (I cried three times) is clearly her gift to us all. —J.W.
24. Be excited: Pitch
Fox, Thursdays at 9 p.m. (starting Sept. 22)
What a great idea Pitch is: A young woman with a killer screwball becomes the first female pitcher in Major League Baseball. Whispers: Maybe it’s more of a movie? But I don’t want to sell Pitch short yet, with its terrific, thoroughly convincing lead (Kylie Bunbury as Ginny) and its thoughtfully chosen supporting cast. Mark-Paul Gosselaar — yes, Mark-Paul Gosselaar! — is a particular standout as the all-star catcher who thinks Ginny is an unworthy publicity stunt to sell tickets, but he isn’t too much of an asshole that he won’t get on board to help her win.
It’s smart that Pitch puts Ginny on the San Diego Padres — a fake team would be distracting. And the pilot, directed by Paris Barclay, is gorgeously shot, especially as it seamlessly flashes back to Ginny’s memories of how she got here. (Mostly having to do with her father, played with equal parts intensity and menace by Michael Beach.) Oh, and Dan Fogelman, who co-created Pitch, is also behind NBC’s This Is Us — thanks, Dan Fogelman! (For now, anyway!) —K.A.
25. Avoid: Pure Genius
CBS, Thursdays at 10 p.m. (starting Oct. 27)
With the premiere of Pure Genius, CBS’s parade of shows with white male leads comes to an end. It’s a bit shocking in the post-Scandal and –Empire universe, right? Six new shows, six white male leads! It’s a brave new world, minus the “brave” and “new.” (And “world,” when you think about it.) Given that Pure Genius was created by Jason Katims of Friday Night Lights and Parenthood — shows I have loved and wept through — it’s a disappointment.
And on its own merits, the show is a muddle. It’s a medical drama about a tech zillionaire named James Bell (Augustus Prew) who has opened a fancy, free medical facility for mysterious, impossible cases. (He has his own selfish reasons, revealed by the end of the pilot.) He enlists Walter Wallace (Dermot Mulroney), a rule-breaking surgeon who is reluctant to join up for literally no good reason. Is the hospital too well-funded? Are the iPad-ish devices too translucent and cool-looking? Are the doctors trying techniques that are too cutting-edge? Come on, dude, you’re going to take the job.
There’s no real tension here, the patients don’t seem to stick around long enough to provide attachments (though that could change), and Prew is a strange leading man as Bell — a British actor with minimal credits on American television, he seems to be suffering from a variation of Tyrion Lannister-itis. Meaning, instead of picking one inexplicable accent that no one else has and sticking with it, Prew slips and slides among a half-dozen. It’s distracting, especially in contrast to Mulroney’s deadpan (emphasis on literally dead). In summary: Pure Genius let me down. —K.A.
26. Be excited: Quarry
Cinemax, Fridays at 9 p.m. (in progress)
Cinemax has quietly been making some of television’s most addictive testosterone-heavy dramas for the last few seasons, from Steven Soderbergh’s buzzy The Knick and Robert Kirkman’s creepy Outcast to a pair of long-running cult favorites, Strike Back and Banshee.
But the network’s latest entry eschews many of the visceral elements (i.e., the blood, scares, and stunts) that helped make that quartet of shows so successful; instead, Quarry focuses solely on the interpersonal drama of one man: Mac Conway, who goes by the name of the title and is played by Logan Marshall-Green with a ferocity that’s a marvel to behold.
The period drama, adapted from a series of books by Max Allan Collins, follows Conway as he returns home from Vietnam to find he’s become a public pariah for his war crimes. Unable to find work, he winds up in the employ of a shady businessman who dubs Conway “Quarry” and wields him like a weapon to eliminate his foes. While the storytelling is methodical and the direction is stunning, the show’s success rests entirely on Marshall-Green’s slender shoulders — which is perfectly fine, because he delivers one of the most nuanced, captivating, and impressive performances in years. —J.W.
27. Be excited: Queen Sugar
OWN, Wednesdays at 10 p.m. (in progress)
I may never stop marveling at how exquisitely composed the shot of a father passing his son a candle-covered birthday cake is in the first episode of Queen Sugar. I would watch those five seconds on an indefinite loop, and the fact that you could say the same for many more moments in this masterful drama, which was ushered to screen by acclaimed Selma filmmaker Ava DuVernay, speaks to the resplendent hour of television every episode promises.
In addition to visual artistry, the show — about three siblings (played by Rutina Wesley, Dawn-Lyen Gardner, and Kofi Siriboe) who reunite following the death of their father — features bold and nuanced storytelling and an impressive ensemble cast who ensure that every perfectly written syllable and each supremely lit moment are tied together with an undeniable humanity. —J.W.
28. Be excited: Search Party
TBS (starting Nov. 21; the entire first season will air over the course of five nights, with two episodes per night, beginning at 11 p.m.)
New York hipster millennial Dory (a never-better Alia Shawkat) discovers that an acquaintance from college named Chantal Witherbottom has gone missing, and she can’t seem to shake the pain of that disappearance. It consumes her waking life — a profoundly unfulfilling existence — because, as she begins to compulsively wonder, would anyone care if she vanished?
Created by Wet Hot American Summer’s Michael Showalter and Fort Tilden filmmakers Sarah-Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers, Search Party is an inspired examination of the anhedonia that has permeated an entire generation of self-obsessed ne’er-do-well’s. It’s also laugh-out-loud funny in a way that’s equal parts depressing and inspiring. Fans of You’re the Worst, take note: This is your next major obsession. —J.W.
29. Be excited: Speechless
ABC, Wednesdays at 8:30 p.m. (starting Sept. 21)
It wasn’t long ago that ABC did not have a well-defined, successful comedy brand, but all of that changed in fall 2009 when Modern Family premiered. (The Middle, another ABC mainstay, debuted at the same time.) The Goldbergs, Black-ish, Fresh Off the Boat — these family shows, each with a twist, add up to a successful template. And Speechless feels very much in line with those shows, which perhaps sounds easy, but I imagine is quite difficult.
Here, Minnie Driver plays Maya, a fearsome advocate for her son JJ (Micah Fowler), who has cerebral palsy (which Fowler has in real life), and everyone else is going to have to just get out of the way. That includes school officials, the police (who no longer bother pulling her over for speeding), and, unfortunately, sometimes her two other children. In Speechless’s pilot, JJ starts at a new school where he can get his own speech aid, but that doesn’t mean Maya is satisfied. For these 22 minutes, the other characters are standing in Maya’s and JJ’s shadows, but that’s OK: Speechless, created by Scott Silveri (Friends), is taking on a lot, and it seems like it will be well worth the wait. —K.A.
30. Be excited: Shut Eye
Hulu, premieres Dec. 7
Like most organized-crime dramas, Hulu’s exhilarating Shut Eye focuses on two families: the Haverfords (Jeffrey Donovan and KaDee Strickland) and the Bernals (Isabella Rossellini and Angus Sampson) — only they’re not fighting over guns or drugs, but the kinds of divination they can practice. The Bernals manage a slew of fortune-telling shops throughout Los Angeles, and Charlie Haverford (Donovan) is one of the crew’s best scam artists — that is until a blow to the head seemingly opens his third eye, making Charlie legitimately clairvoyant.
It’s a fascinating concept from creator Leslie Bohem, and the pilot sets up a lot of juicy real estate for Shut Eye to move into as the series continues — particularly with its two best characters: Strickland’s duplicitous Linda (shades of Katey Sagal on Sons of Anarchy abound) and Rossellini’s Rita, the exquisite but brutal matriarch of their nefarious operation. —J.W.
31. Avoid: Son of Zorn
Fox, Sundays at 8:30 p.m. (starting Sept. 25)
I am not delusional: I know that this half-animated, half-live-action comedy about a cartoon warrior from a mythological land who tries to win over his 17-year-old Orange County son was not created for me. Nevertheless, I couldn’t believe what a slog it was to get through these 22 minutes of repetitive, sour jokes. (None of which made me laugh a single time.) The characters are unpleasant or one-note at best. Zorn is the sort of project that makes you look at who’s involved and truly wonder what happened. —K.A.
32. Give it a chance: Sweet/Vicious
MTV, Tuesdays at 10 p.m. (starting Nov. 15)
Two college students exact revenge on the men who’ve date-raped women on campus — a fascinating premise that’s executed astonishingly well in this pilot, created by Jennifer Robinson and starring Taylor Dearden and Eliza Bennett. It’s a true feat given that the show is very violent, deeply funny, and painfully dramatic in equal measure.
The real test will be whether Sweet/Vicious can continue to walk that fine line as the first season goes on, but since campus rape is an incredibly pervasive problem in America and an issue that needs to be addressed in as many ways as possible, I’m hoping MTV flawlessly pulls off this high-wire act. —J.W.
33. Be excited: This Is Us
NBC, Tuesdays at 10 p.m. (starting Sept. 20; on Oct. 11, it shifts to 9 p.m.)
There is a twist to the end of This Is Us that makes the show a bit difficult to write about, so instead I will tell you about my tears. I have cried during pilots before — like, it’s not hard to make me cry. So it’s not particularly meaningful that several times while watching This Is Us, I was close to weeping. I even had to hit the pause button at one point.
Yes, this NBC drama will remind you of Parenthood and possibly of the work of Ed Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz (Thirtysomething, My So-Called Life), and those are all good things. It may also remind you of the movie Crazy, Stupid, Love., which This Is Us creator Dan Fogelman wrote.
Whether the drama ends up being cloying or overly sappy or even too hard to pull off for reasons that will be revealed by the twist, we will see in time. And I will be there to see it. What I hope is that This Is Us turns out to be the sort of sprawling emotional ensemble that network television — and markedly not cable or streaming services — can still provide us. That ensemble is worth mentioning by name, because they all turn in superlative work here: Justin Hartley (Kevin) and Chrissy Metz (Kate) as seemingly opposite siblings; Chris Sullivan as Kate’s love interest; Milo Ventimiglia (Jack) and Mandy Moore (Rebecca) as a married couple who are about to have triplets; and Sterling K. Brown (Christopher Darden from The People v. O.J. Simpson, on series television already as he should be!) as Randall, a rich yuppie yearning to find his birth father. Even Gerald McRaney, who has only a guest turn as Rebecca’s doctor, delivers such a moving performance in his brief role that here I am, getting misty again thinking about it. Don’t let me down, This Is Us! —K.A.
34. Give it a chance: Timeless
NBC, Mondays at 10 p.m. (starting Oct. 3)
With its recent dramas, NBC has found more success in Chicago than in anything high-concept: The Player died a quick death last season; Heroes was not meant to be reborn, and its reboot was met with total audience rejection. If I mention Game of Silence, which came and went in the spring, you won’t even know what I’m talking about. (Blindspot is the only real exception.)
And the concept doesn’t get much higher than Timeless’s time travel, so this show may be doomed from the start! Which would be too bad, because there is promise here. The always excellent Abigail Spencer (of Rectify) plays Lucy, a present-day historian who gets roped into a secret time-travel experiment after a terrorist (Goran Visnjic) steals another time-travel machine to go back to the day the Hindenberg crashed to do…something nefarious. Lucy is sent back to stop him, accompanied by Wyatt (Matt Lanter), a military guy, and Rufus (Malcolm Barrett), an engineer who works on the project.
Timeless seems to know from the start that if it were always just about thwarting the villain as he made his way through (presumably American) history, it would be boring indeed, so there are complications here that I was not expecting — including at the end after the team returns. Eric Kripke (Supernatural) and Shawn Ryan (The Shield) are the executive producers here, and to be honest, I don’t know whether I’d have any faith in Timeless otherwise. But for now, I’m curious about this one. —K.A.
35. Give it a chance: Westworld
HBO, Sundays at 9 p.m. (starting Oct. 2)
While HBO has one of the biggest shows on television in Game of Thrones, its drama slate is notably thin outside the walls of Westeros at the moment — Vinyl was a colossal failure, True Detective Season 2 went wildly off the rails, The Leftovers is set to end this year, and The Night Of was acclaimed but designed as a one-and-done. So there’s a lot riding on Westworld, written by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy and based on Michael Crichton’s 1973 film of the same name.
In short, Westworld is a fantastically advanced theme park populated with synthetic lifeforms (Evan Rachel Wood, James Marsden, Thandie Newton) who are so realistically human, even they don’t know they’re machines. They serve as the players in this Choose Your Own Adventure–like vacation for future generations who visit the Wild, Wild West amusement park to murder, rape, and — generally — act out their most id-driven fantasies. The controlled mayhem is overseen by a team of scientists (Anthony Hopkins, Jeffrey Wright, and Shannon Woodward) who slowly begin to realize their artificial creations may be becoming self-actualized.
Yes, it’s as heady as it sounds. Throughout the first three exposition-heavy episodes, Westworld struggles underneath the weight of its massive scope, often trudging from one set piece to another with only the flimsiest tendrils of logic linking them. But there’s also something inherently alluring about Westworld’s big swing, and if the writers can get this train firmly onto the tracks, it has the potential to evolve into an impressive examination of power, consent, gender roles, and the way we commodify human experiences. —J.W.
Note: The premiere episode for Amazon’s Woody Allen series Crisis in Six Scenes was not available to screen, and therefore was not included. And though Netflix has new episodes of Gilmore Girls and Black Mirror coming this fall, as they are continuations of existing shows, they were not included because the shows themselves are not new.