The new hotness(ish)
After watching 23(!) fall network pilots, I can’t declare any of them a must-see, but here are 10 shows with some amount of promise, depending on what you look for in your TV viewing.
If you still miss The West Wing: Madam Secretary (Sundays, 8 p.m., CBS; premieres September 21) Star Téa Leoni is the biggest liability in this mostly serviceable political drama about the U.S. secretary of state. Leoni is miscast as a pragmatic intellectual, and the hints of an ongoing conspiracy are tiresome, but the nuts-and-bolts political maneuvering is often quite engaging.
If you like origin stories: Gotham (Mondays, 8 p.m., Fox; premieres September 22) Following in the footsteps of prequel dramas Hannibal and Bates Motel, Gotham features a young Bruce Wayne, pre-Batman, along with a lot of budding supervillains. But at heart it’s just a slightly stylized cop show, and with the superhero elements reduced to winking references, what’s left are a pair of familiarly mismatched cops tracking down slightly more colorful than usual criminals.
If you like the NCISes: NCIS: New Orleans (Tuesdays, 9 p.m., CBS; premieres September 23) The NCIS franchise has been one of TV’s most reliable for more than a decade, and the new version offers more of the same old-fashioned, unremarkable crime-solving, with a cast led by the always dependable Scott Bakula.
If you like family comedies: Black-ish (Wednesdays, 9:30 p.m., ABC; premieres September 24) It’s not quite the new Cosby Show, but this comedy about an upper-middle-class African-American family at least offers a slightly different point of view, mixing sharp insights about race and class with typically contrived and dopey sitcom antics.
If you live-tweet Scandal: How to Get Away With Murder (Thursdays, 10 p.m., ABC; premieres September 25) Superproducer Shonda Rhimes (Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal) delivers another breathless melodrama, filled with lurid twists and morally compromised characters. The pilot has so many shocking developments that the core concept (about a group of law students working for a ruthless defense attorney, played by Viola Davis) nearly gets lost in the shuffle.
If you like season-long mysteries: Gracepoint (Thursdays, 9 p.m., Fox; premieres October 2) Practically a shot-for-shot remake of acclaimed U.K. series Broadchurch, Gracepoint is an overly somber and ponderous drama about the murder of a young boy in a small coastal town. The seriousness can be oppressive, but it’s carried off by a strong cast that includes David Tennant, Nick Nolte, Michael Peña and Breaking Bad’s Anna Gunn.
If you still laugh at Seinfeld reruns: Mulaney (Sundays, 9:30 p.m., Fox; premieres October 5) Saturday Night Live veteran John Mulaney’s self-titled sitcom is so similar to Seinfeld that it’s a little off-putting, but in addition to playing his fictionalized comedian self, Mulaney brings in some broader supporting characters (including Martin Short hamming it up as a narcissistic game show host), who give the show a more distinctive (if sometimes awkwardly unfunny) edge.
If you like superheroes: The Flash (Tuesdays, 8 p.m., The CW; premieres October 7) The comic book-iest of this fall’s three DC Comics-based series, The Flash embraces the goofiness of superheroes, both for good (devious schemes, crazy powers) and bad (cheesy dialogue, ham-fisted revelations). Still, it’s a lot more fun than its CW companion DC series, Arrow.
If you’re looking for something unconventional: Jane the Virgin (Mondays, 9 p.m., The CW; premieres October 13) Based on a telenovela, this quirky soap may collapse under the weight of its own absurd premise (the 23-year-old virginal title character is accidentally artificially inseminated with her boss’ sperm) after only a few episodes, but it’s by far the most distinctive new show of the season, nicely balancing humor and sentimentality, along with both traditional and progressive values.
If you were crushed by the cancellation of Happy Endings: Marry Me (Tuesdays, 9 p.m., NBC; premieres October 14) Happy Endings creator David Caspe and co-star Casey Wilson reunite for this uneven but sometimes clever romantic comedy, starring Wilson and Ken Marino as a couple that can’t quite get it together, along with an amusing supporting cast full of misfit characters. –Josh Bell
Two to keep watching
Sons of Anarchy (Tuesdays, 10 p.m., FX; premieres September 9) The Irish Mob. The Mexican Cartel. A mother brutally murdered in her kitchen. Prison torture. And that’s just one episode. The seventh and final season of my favorite guilty TV pleasure won’t end well—and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Sundays, 8:30 p.m., Fox; premieres September 28) One of television’s best ensembles also delivers the best comedy. Whether it’s a detective ranking the city’s best pizzas by “mouth feel” or a captain becoming hopelessly addicted to phone app “Kwazy Cupcakes,” there’s a bit of all of us in this show. –Ken Miller