Look out: A fall harvest of new broadcast TV shows
There's something antiquated about the fall TV season. It was born of a bygone era when fall signaled all things important in America: the much-anticipated return to school, the resumption of football and the grand unveiling of next year's car models.
It was an era of the Big Three. And not just General Motors, Ford and Chrysler, but also ABC, CBS and NBC, which each autumn launched their new shows with the stated intention of airing them through much of the season to come. "Midseason" wasn't part of the lingo back then. Nor, of course, were terms like "cable networks," HBO, Hulu or Netflix.
A half-century later, the Fall Season persists - a festival of premieres by the five self-designated broadcast "majors" (which somehow includes the little-watched CW), with, some years, no discernible dividing line between the fall crop and the winter harvest.
Many of more than two dozen new series may already be familiar, at least by name, to viewers, since the networks have been flogging them all summer.
They are familiar to TV critics, too, who got early copies of many of the new shows as long ago as June (with the proviso that some of these episodes were "non-reviewable," since they were subject to be altered in small or large ways before their premiere date).
At some point before each show's premiere date, a version designated "reviewable" will be furnished to critics.
This doesn't necessarily help. For a critic to make a sweeping assessment of any TV series' potential on the basis of a lone episode, or even two or three, is as reasonable as writing a tell-all biography of someone after meeting at a speed-dating event.
So there's a possibility that CBS' "The Crazy Ones" will ultimately reveal itself to be hilarious, and not one of the lamest new comedies on the schedule (as an initial viewing might suggest). A comedy set at an advertising agency, it brings back Robin Williams to TV sitcoms after "Mork & Mindy" 40 years ago (which TV's most-sought-after viewers, as well as many present-day network execs, aren't old enough to remember).
"The Crazy Ones" isn't really a comedy. It's a mystery: Who thought it, and bringing back Williams as its star, was a good idea?
NBC has brought back another sitcom veteran with what seems like happier results: Michael J. Fox in a self-named comedy. Addressing the real-life health problems (and triumphs) of this breakout star of "Family Ties" in the 1980s, "The Michael J. Fox Show" strikes a fresh, funny tone amid the flood of new comedies.
NBC has further relied on its once-stellar past by reviving the successful cop show "Ironside," this time with Blair Underwood, not Raymond Burr, as the intrepid detective in the wheelchair.
Fantasy is fueling many new shows, too. NBC's "Dracula" stars Jonathan Rhys Meyers in a reimagining of the vampire as a proto-environmentalist. In his guise as a 19th-century American industrialist, Dracula wants to develop cheap, alternative energy in defiance of Big Oil.
There's also Fox's set-in-modern-day "Sleepy Hollow" (complete with a headless horseman), ABC's very cool, comic-driven "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.," and ABC's storybook spinoff, "Once Upon a Time in Wonderland," which explores the psyche of tumbled-down-the-rabbit-hole Alice, complete with CGI rabbit voiced by John Lithgow.
CW's "The Originals" is a spinoff of "The Vampire Diaries," while the same network's "The Tomorrow People" is a sci-fi series about a genetically advanced race that also happens to be young and sexy, and the paramilitary group of scientists who see this band as a threat to the status quo. And Fox's "Almost Human" is a police drama set 35 years in the future, when human officers work alongside humanlike androids.
From HBO's "Game of Thrones" to PBS' "Downton Abbey," historical costume drama is big on TV. Youth-skewing CW is jumping on that trend with "Reign," which focuses on Mary Stuart, who, better known as Mary, Queen of Scots, had been queen of Scotland since she was six days old, but, as the series begins, is a verrrry attractive teen.
Another costume drama, of a sort, ABC's very funny comedy "The Goldbergs," revisits the childhood of creator Adam Goldberg in the distant, "simpler" time of the 1980s.
Rare on the lineup is a straight-ahead, humanist comedy-drama. This fall there's only one: ABC's "Lucky 7," a potentially charming and engaging series about a group of New Yorkers who share a winning lottery ticket, and the effects of that windfall on their lives.
ABC's promisingly titled "Betrayal" is a soap that involves a murder, a marital affair, and a powerful family at war with itself.
CBS' "Hostages" puts Toni Collette in the middle of a political conspiracy: She plays a surgeon ordered to assassinate her patient, the ailing President of the United States, to save her family held captive.
Possibly the season's most surefire hit is NBC's "The Blacklist," which stars James Spader as one of the FBI's most wanted fugitives who surrenders with a mysterious offer: to help them catch the terrorists he used to enable.
On CBS' "The Millers," Will Arnett stars as a recently divorced local TV news reporter whose outspoken mother moves in with him while his dad moves in with his sister. ad moves in with his sister.
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