My favorite new TV show of last year was The Last Man on Earth. It wasn't exactly the funniest, smartest or most moving show on TV (though it occasionally hit all three marks). But it was definitely the most original. The show's postapocalyptic surreality, crazy-committed performances and singular plot made it feel like nothing I'd ever seen on television. In today's bloated TV landscape, that's kind of the ultimate compliment — and it's one that far too few shows earn. As you can tell from the rest of our fall TV preview, originality is in short supply these days. Amid all the reboots and revivals and repackaging, will any new shows this fall actually feel, y'know, new? Here are some contenders.
The Bastard Executioner
10 p.m. Tuesdays , FX (two-hour premiere this Tuesday)
Call it the Game of Thrones effect: Historical fiction is everywhere. (Yes, we just called Game of Thrones "historical"; deal with it.) Look at The Bastard Executioner, a 14th century drama about a war-weary Welshman who trades the battlefield for the executioner's sword. Previews promise grim, gory tableaus and plenty of suffering by (and at the hands of) Lee Jones, who stars as the bastard in question. True, the broadswords, chain mail and gruff quasi-British accents may feel a little familiar, especially with BBC America's The Last Kingdom following Oct. 10. But you wouldn't want to bet against this show's innovative brain trust, including Sons of Anarchy creator Kurt Sutter and producer Brian Grazer (24, Empire, Friday Night Lights), plus a supporting cast that includes Katey Sagal (Sons of Anarchy), Stephen Moyer (True Blood), Matthew Rhys (The Americans) and even Ed Sheeran (every song everywhere). Protect your neck, Game of Thrones. The Bastard Executioner is coming, and he has a blade with your name on it.
10 p.m. Mondays, NBC (Sept. 21)
NBC has a lousy track record for letting ambitious high-concept dramas evolve gracefully and naturally. One recent, notable exception is Hannibal. And that's why we're intrigued by Blindspot, a thriller about a memory-wiped woman (Thor's Jaimie Alexander) found naked and covered in tattoos in Times Square. Is she a spy? A weapon? A down-on-her-luck performance artist? Probably not that last one, but every other option seems fair game! Early looks at Blindspot suggest hints of Hannibal's artful cinematography and storytelling, plus elements of Prison Break, 24, Memento and The Bourne Identity. If the Peacock can resist its most meddlesome urges and let co-creator Greg Berlanti (Arrow, The Flash) do his thing, Blindspot might become a hit. Write it in ink.
8 p.m. Fridays, NBC (Oct. 9)
Wait a second — Undateable is entering its third season. How can it qualify as new? Because after successfully staging a live episode in May, the multicam sitcom has decided to go all live this fall, the first scripted series to do so in more than 20 years. With its roster of winning standups-turned-actors — Chris D'Elia, Ron Funches, Brent Morin — the show about a ladykiller and his loveless pals has become a modest hit (although for comedy-starved NBC, even a modest hit is reason to pop the Champagne). Given NBC's success with The Sound of Music Live! and Peter Pan Live!, the experiment might pay off with boosted buzz. Let the live-tweetery commence!
Into the Badlands
10 p.m. Sundays, AMC (Nov. 15)
If nothing else, Into the Badlands wins the prize for the year's most gonzo TV trailer. A lone samurai warrior (Daniel Wu) wandering through fields of roses? A young prodigy (Aramis Knight) locked in an antique trunk? A baddie (Marton Csokas) with a neckbeard and Colonel Sanders accent? Is this the past, the future or some hallucinogenic fantasy state? Still, a martial arts drama could be a good idea for AMC, which desperately needs a hit that doesn't star zombies. The tone of the trailer suggests a strong Tarantino-Wachowski influence, which sounds cool on paper, but boy is that a fine line to walk. Still, never bet against a Walking Dead lead-in, especially considering Michonne has bared a samurai sword or two in her day, too.
The Art of More
Crackle, all episodes available Nov. 19
Sex! Violence! Betrayal! More sex! Fast cars! Expensive toys! Sexy sex sex sex! All set in the glamorous, fast-paced world of ... auctioneering? Huh? Yep, New York's priciest auction houses are the setting for Crackle.com's first foray into original dramas. The trailer suggests a slightly racier, more testosterone-filled spin on USA-style procedurals, but when's the last time any network developed any good show about fine art? (And before you bring up Bravo's Work of Art: Please do not bring up Bravo's Work of Art.) Crackle has attracted some surprisingly big names to this 10-episode series, including Dennis Quaid, Cary Elwes and Kate Bosworth. Then again, this is the site that helped Jerry Seinfeld create his second-best show of all time, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. How about a crossover episode involving a pricey Porsche auction?
The Man in the High Castle
Amazon, all episodes available Nov. 20
"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the Axis Powers of America." And there, cleanly stated in the trailer, is your premise for this Philip K. Dick novel adaptation, in which the Axis won World War II and America is controlled by the Germans and Japanese. Thanks to Amazon's Web-first pilot strategy, Prime members can already check out the first episode, which plunges viewers straight into the show's grim, shadowy, unstable world. Mysterious underground newsreels depicting an Allied victory spark thoughts of revolution among a small group of Americans. Produced by Ridley Scott (who knows a thing or two about Philip K. Dick adaptations), it could be a darker, alternate-reality cousin of The Americans.
Also airing: Casual, starring Tommy Dewey and Michaela Watkins (Hulu); SuperMansion, starring the voice of Bryan Cranston (Crackle); sitcom Red Oaks, starring Craig Roberts, Paul Reiser and Jennifer Grey (Amazon); and historical drama The Last Kingdom, starring Alexander Dreymon, Matthew Macfadyen and Rutger Hauer (BBC America).
Coming up: The Expanse, starring Thomas Jane and Steven Strait on SyFy on Dec. 14; Colony, starring Josh Holloway, co-created by Carlton Cuse (Lost), Jan. 14 on USA.