1. Life & Culture

Fall TV: The must-watch (Gervais on Netflix), and less so (Kal Penn on CBS)

Collage above, clockwise starting from center: Jonathan Rhys Meyers,  Kal Penn, Adelaide Kane, Blair Underwood, James Cromwell,  Wendi McLendon-Covey, Bradley Whitford and Sarah Michelle Gellar.
Collage above, clockwise starting from center: Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Kal Penn, Adelaide Kane, Blair Underwood, James Cromwell, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Bradley Whitford and Sarah Michelle Gellar.
Published Sep. 11, 2013


1 Brooklyn Nine-Nine Fox 8:30 p.m. Debuts Tuesday

Starring: Andre Braugher, Andy Samberg, Terry Crews

What it's about: Braugher is Ray Holt, a tough, by-the-book police captain taking over a dysfunctional detective unit; Saturday Night Live alum Samberg is wise-cracking rebel Jake Peralta, too used to solving crimes his own way.

Why we love it: No one is who they seem. The dour Holt is self-aware and smart enough to stay one step ahead of Samberg's childish Peralta; turns out, Braugher's legendary gravitas works best when bouncing off Samberg's wiseguy energy (the cameo where fellow SNL alum Fred Armisen plays a neighbor to a murder is priceless). Holt's revelation that he's an openly gay officer trying to make good in his first command offers a little touch of drama that suits Braugher well. Plus there's Terry Crews and his dancing pecs, which leaves less time for shameless mugging from the D--- in a Box guy. Comedy heaven.

2 The Blacklist NBC • 10 p.m.

Debuts Monday, Sept. 23

Starring: James Spader, Harry Lennix, Megan Boone

What it's about: Super spy Raymond "Red" Reddington (Spader) turns himself in to the FBI after years as a turncoat fugitive "concierge of crime." He insists he'll only speak to newbie profiler Elizabeth Keen (Boone), whom he enlists to pursue a "blacklist" of the world's top criminals he once aided.

Why we love it: Yeah, the first scene with Spader and Boone is a complete Silence of the Lambs ripoff, with a little spy drama twist. But Spader is always compelling as the Weird Guy with All the Answers, giving Boone lots of space to shine as the promising newbie who is secretly more special than she knows.

3 Marvel's Agents of SHIELD

ABC 8 p.m.

Debuts Tuesday, Sept. 24

Starring: Clark Gregg, Ming-Na Wen, Cobie Smulders, Ron Glass

What it's about: He got killed in the Avengers movie, but Gregg's Agent Phil Coulson somehow returns to lead a spy agency charged with keeping tabs on all the super people who can't fit into Marvel's films.

Why we love it: It's superheroes, people! Well, sort of. The pilot's "supers" are a little lame, cribbed from the villains in another big Marvel movie of the summer. But the snappy patter from the film is here, just waiting for fuller characters and better bad guys to give fanboys (and girls!) the superhero TV series they deserve.

4 Super Fun Night ABC 9:30 p.m.

Debuts Wednesday, Oct. 2

Starring: Rebel Wilson, Lauren Ash, Liza Lapira

What it's about: Wilson loses her native Australian accent to play Kimmie Boubier, an American geek who spent 13 years of Friday nights with her equally geeky gal pals until a promotion at work leads her to meet a lovable, urbane guy.

Why we love it: Besides allowing a super-talented comic actor to play the kind of earnest, American character she has not tackled, this is a comedy aimed at the heart of millennial women. Done right, it could be a Sex and the City for its generation — with less sex and more jokes about dressing like Smurfs on a Friday night.

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5 Masters of Sex Showtime • 10 p.m.

Debuts Sunday, Sept. 29

Starring: Michael Sheen, Lizzy Caplan, Allison Janney, Beau Bridges

What it's about: The story of how William Masters and Virginia Johnson assembled groundbreaking studies on sexuality in the 1950s.

Why we love it: Turns out, the researchers whose work told women it was okay to enjoy sex had a few hangups of their own. Masters (Sheen) was a control freak unable to admit his fertility problems, and Johnson (Caplan) was a single mom who wanted sex without marriage. This is the complex, sometimes explicit story of how America shed its worst misconceptions about sex. Like Mad Men meets Emmanuelle, complete with light-up sex toys.

6 The Michael J. Fox Show NBC 9:30 p.m.

Debuts Thursday, Sept. 26

Starring: Michael J. Fox, Wendell Pierce, Betsy Brandt

What it's about: Fox is Mike Henry, a TV anchor, husband and father with Parkinson's disease who quit his job when muscle tremors began, only to find too much time at home made everyone want him to go back.

Why we love it: It insistently lampoons all the weird behaviors people exhibit toward folks with disabilities, from random people telling Fox's character about others they know with Parkinson's to obliviousness about his challenges. And Henry's own jokes ("If I could wink on command, I'd wink at you right now," he slyly tells his wife) are the most priceless.

7 Hostages CBS 10 p.m.

Debuts Monday, Sept. 23

Starring: Toni Collette, Dylan McDermott, Tate Donovan

What it's about: An ace surgeon (Collette), tapped to operate on the president, sees her family home occupied by a dashing kidnapper (McDermott) who demands she secretly kill the POTUS.

Why we love it: Everyone in this family is screwed up, from the dad (Donovan) having an affair to the drug-dealing son, the daughter with a secret boyfriend and the kidnapper who happens to be a federal agent. But the biggest mystery may be whether such an intriguing pilot can become a consistently compelling series.

8 Derek Netflix

Debuted Thursday

Starring: Ricky Gervais, Karl Pilkington

What it's about: Gervais is Derek Noakes, a 40-something man of limited intelligence, explaining his nursing home job to a documentary crew, in the style of his first hit, The Office.

Why we love it: Supremely dysfunctional and a bit antisocial, the workers bond with the residents; all are social outcasts living simple lives in an often-dreary setting. Gervais' Derek seems as if he might be mentally challenged, though the star denies this, and his pal Pilkington (An Idiot Abroad) is spot-on as a follically challenged loser co-worker.

9 Sleepy Hollow Fox • 9 p.m.

Debuts Monday

Starring: Tom Mison, Nicole Beharie, Orlando Jones

What it's about: Ichabod Crane (Mison) beheads a man during a fight in the Revolutionary War, passes out and awakes in modern times to learn the Headless Horseman has survived the ages with him.

Why we love it: Dumb as the concept looks on paper, Mison and Beharie (as the modern cop who befriends Crane) make a pretty good team. And the core idea — that the Horseman is part of a grand supernatural conspiracy that goes beyond scaring little kids at Halloween — makes for an unexpectedly intriguing overall story. Really.


Welcome To The Family NBC 8:30 p.m. Debuts Thursday, Oct. 3

Starring: Mike O'Malley, Mary McCormack, Ricardo Chavira

Too many TV shows on culture clashes reduce every character to easy stereotypes. This tart family comedy avoids that pitfall, despite a risky story: Latino guy impregnates white girlfriend as both graduate high school, forcing their irritated families to work together. The white family gets all the jokes about being lazy and trashy, while Desperate Housewives alum Chavira fears his valedictorian son is marrying down. Hola, anglo U.S. viewers; welcome to the new America, where you're the butt of the joke.

Almost Human Fox 8 p.m. Debuts Monday, Nov. 4

Starring: Karl Urban, Michael Ealy, Lili Taylor

Urban's trademark scowl — there's a reason he played dour Judge Dredd on film — gets a serious workout as John Kennex, a cop who loses a leg during a raid. Set in a Blade Runner/RoboCop-style dystopian future where human officers partner with androids, the show features Ealy as a robot with "synthetic soul" responses; Urban's Kennex has a mechanical leg he's struggling to master, hence the title. With a load of effects too expensive for the regular series, the pilot turns on a pretty predictable "crusty cop learns to value his cool robotic partner" story line.

Once Upon A Time In Wonderland ABC 8 p.m. Debuts Thursday, Oct. 10

Starring: Naveen Andrews, Barbara Hershey, the voice of John Lithgow

Once Upon a Time spinoff Wonderland focuses on Alice — a waify girl in Victorian England stuck in a sanitarium after dishing on adventures in a land with a talking rabbit. She escapes, of course, to find a dreamy genie who looks like the older brother of somebody in One Direction. The sketchy pilot spends way too much time in dreary ol' England, but Lithgow is cool as the voice of the White Rabbit.

The Tomorrow People CW 9 p.m. Debuts Wednesday, Oct. 9

Starring: Robbie Amell, Mark Pellegrino

Based on a '70s-era British TV show, the CW version feels like a blend of X-Men movies and Hayden Christensen's lame film Jumper. Certain people have evolved the ability to teleport, read minds and move objects mentally; our window into this world is a dweeby high schooler who thinks he's ill until a ragtag band of special people enlighten him (they're ragtag because a super-secret government agency is super-secretly subjugating them, of course). This being the CW, the dweeb is actually 25-year-old actor-model Amell and none of the special people look old enough for an AARP card. Tween wish fulfillment at its finest.

Lucky 7 ABC 10 p.m. Debuts Tuesday, Sept. 24

Starring: Matt Long, Luis Antonio Ramos, Isiah Whitlock Jr.

Based on a British TV show — can't U.S. networks invent their own mediocre ideas anymore? — this series features seven gas station employees who play the same lottery numbers regularly. But when just six of them hit the big jackpot, their luckiest day starts to look more like a curse. Dumb as the idea looks on paper, the pilot's storytelling is compelling and there are precious few TV shows focused on actual working-class characters — even those who become millionaires by the first episode's end.

Mom CBS 9:30 p.m. Debuts Monday, Sept. 23

Starring: Anna Faris, Nate Corddry, Allison Janney, French Stewart

Faris is a single mom and recovering alcoholic, struggling with her own dysfunctional mom (Janney), a married boyfriend (Corddry) and a daughter repeating her mother's mistakes with teen promiscuity and drugs. But the real reason Hollywood loves this show is co-creator Chuck Lorre, whose Big Bang Theory is one of the only comedy hits left on TV. So expect broad jokes like the one where Faris tells her daughter, "Don't lie to the woman who washes your sheets" when the teen insists she's not having sex. Stay classy, CBS.

The Originals CW 8 p.m. Debuts Tuesday, Oct. 8

Starring: Joseph Morgan, Daniel Gillies, Claire Holt

Spun off from the CW's popular Vampire Diaries and set in New Orleans, thishis show features vampire-werewolf hybrid Klaus (Morgan) attempting to retake control of the city after his protege took over. Odds are long here; it's airing far away from the popular mothership series on Tuesdays and its story line falls outside the Twilight-on-TV vibe of Diaries. Mostly, viewers just need a better reason to love a character born a typically ruthless villain on the CW's top program.


The Crazy Ones CBS 9 p.m. Debuts Thursday, Sept. 26

Starring: Robin Williams, Sarah Michelle Gellar, James Wolk

Here's the problem with casting an improvisational genius like Williams in a TV comedy: When the funny sags, it's easy to "let Robin be Robin." That's what ultimately sinks this story of a Chicago ad agency run by a Type A daughter (Gellar) and her impulsive, charismatic father (Williams). The too-predictable script isn't really funny on its own, and forcing Williams to improvise a sexy McDonald's ad with guest star Kelly Clarkson doesn't help. At all.

The Goldbergs ABC 9 p.m. Debuts Tuesday, Sept. 24

Starring: Jeff Garlin, George Segal, Wendi McLendon-Covey

The good news: ABC's show isn't based on the classic, 1930s-era radio program or '40s-era TV series The Goldbergs, which depicted a Jewish family in the Bronx. In fact, this show seems to work hard avoiding cliches about Jewish families, even while depicting a suburban, '80s-era clan with an overprotective mother, overly critical dad and overindulgent grandfather. The bad news: There's precious little else to distinguish this predictable, slight program about a kid who constantly videotapes his family.

Trophy Wife ABC 9:30 p.m. Debuts Tuesday, Sept. 24

Starring: Malin Akerman, Bradley Whitford, Marcia Gay Harden

Hear this show's premise — beautiful, sometimes fumbling young blond woman marries a successful lawyer with three kids and two demanding ex-wives — and you could pretty much write the pilot. But the quality of the cast, including the children, leaves a small bit of hope.

Dracula NBC 10 p.m. Debuts Friday, Oct. 25

Starring: Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Oliver Jackson-Cohen

There are so many vampire stories out there — vampires as geeky coming-of-age tweens, vampires as sexy allegories for gay men, vampires as Matrix-style superheroes — that you really need a good reason to tell a new one. This series, about a late 19th century Dracula (Rhys Meyers) fighting some shadowy organization that killed his wife centuries ago, ain't it.

Ironside NBC 10 p.m. Debuts Wednesday, Oct. 2

Starring: Blair Underwood, Brent Sexton, Pablo Schreiber

There is nothing so sad as a remake of an old TV show with no connection to the program that came before (yes, I Spy movie, I mean you). Here, the only thing Underwood's new Robert Ironside has in common with Raymond Burr and his '60s-'70s era cop show is the character's name and the fact that he's a police-connected crime solver who loses use of his legs after getting shot. (Underwood is still on the force; Burr's Ironside was a retired consultant.) Without the brainy charm of the original, it's hard to know why NBC bothered.

Back In The Game ABC 8:30 p.m. Debuts Wednesday, Sept. 25

Starring: James Caan, Maggie Lawson

Imagine Trouble With the Curve as a TV series, with the great James Caan reduced to yelling at a lame Little League team filled with misfits coached by his character's daughter, explaining why he once relieved himself on home plate to protest a loss. It's The Bad News Bears meets Married With Children co-starring a gone-to-seed Sonny Corleone. Too many of ABC's pilots feel like one-sentence pitches stretched into an entire pilot script, and this may be the worst of them all.

Betrayal ABC 10 p.m. Debuts Sunday, Sept. 29

Starring: Hannah Ware, Stuart Townsend, James Cromwell, Henry Thomas

A neglected upper middle-class wife cheats with an earnest, good-looking new flame, only to find he's an enemy of her husband. Except for the great Cromwell as a tough mogul who employs the new flame, this feels sadly like a badly plotted Taster's Choice commercial expanded to an hourlong pilot episode.

Reign CW 9 p.m. Debuts Thursday, Oct. 10

Starring: Adelaide Kane, Toby Regbo

It's about a 16th century Scottish queen who arrives at the royal court in France to marry a French prince. So why does everyone speak with a British accent? That's just one of many questions to torture viewers of this series, which bends the CW's high school drama formula to serve a tween-focused tale of Mary, Queen of Scots.

We Are Men CBS 8:30 p.m. Debuts Monday, Sept. 30

Starring: Tony Shalhoub, Jerry O'Connell, Kal Penn and Chris Smith

The talent-to-entertainment ratio of this show is sadly out of whack, as ace comedic actors Shalhoub, Penn and O'Connell are stuck in a predictable pilot about a guy left at the altar (Smith) who winds up living in an apartment complex with three other divorced losers. When Shalhoub hitting on women half his age is the big running joke, the comedy tank is running near empty, folks.


Dads Fox 8 p.m. Debuts Tuesday

Starring: Seth Green, Giovanni Ribisi, Martin Mull, Peter Riegert

It's a highly dubious distinction: Most racist new network TV show. But this otherwise clunky comedy about two video game company owners and their overbearing fathers wins that distinction for forcing their only Asian cast member to dress in a skimpy schoolgirl outfit to appease a new Chinese client. She also notes her non-American dad "beat her with a math book" until she was 16. Small wonder Seth "I saw your boobs" MacFarlane is in the producer credits.

Sean Saves The World NBC 9 p.m. Debuts Thursday, Oct. 3

Starring: Sean Hayes, Linda Lavin, Megan Hilty

What would happen if Will from Will & Grace got married, then divorced, then tried to raise the kid he had while pretending to be straight? Yeah, I never wondered that, either. But former Will & Grace co-star Hayes has concocted that very hash for his uninspiring return to sitcomland, making Lavin serve as his harpy of a mother and Hilty as his new-school Grace. The only thing missing is the funny.

The Millers CBS 8:30 p.m. Debuts Thursday, Oct. 3

Starring: Will Arnett, Beau Bridges, Margo Martindale, J.B. Smoove

In a fall season filled with new shows centered on impossibly, unrealistically, inexplicably dysfunctional parents, this may be the worst. It's not just because it forces the amazing Martindale to tell a series of fart jokes, but because it dares to strand such an amazing cast in a petty story about overbearing parents who split up after learning of their son's divorce. If there were the showbiz equivalent of an anti-Emmy, I would award it here tomorrow.

Enlisted Fox 9:30 p.m. Debuts Friday, Nov. 8

Starring: Keith David, Geoff Stults

There's a certain charm to this quirky comedy about an ace soldier forced to lead a dysfunctional Rear Deployment Unit washing tanks in Florida. But Heartbreak Ridge and F Troop told these stories much better years ago.