Five worth watching
Atlanta (September 6, FX) Donald Glover created and stars in this warm, funny and off-kilter series about an aimless young man who decides to manage his cousin’s burgeoning rap career (whether his cousin likes it or not). Glover combines his talents for oddball comedy with his serious hip-hop credentials for a show that feels deeply personal but is also full of clever jokes. Set in Atlanta’s working-class black neighborhoods, it also explores a community that is underrepresented on TV right now, without coming off as pandering. It’s the latest and possibly strongest expression of Glover’s boundless creativity.
One Mississippi (September 9, Amazon) Stand-up comedian Tig Notaro has called her semi-autobiographical series a “traumedy,” and it effectively mixes humor with some heavy situations, including the death of Notaro’s mother, her struggle with cancer and her breakup with her longtime girlfriend. With Louis C.K., Diablo Cody and Nicole Holofcener among the producers, Notaro has a capable team to deliver an affecting and funny story about her journey from LA back to her Mississippi hometown, where she deals with the aforementioned tragedies and reconnects with her friendly brother and distant stepfather.
The Good Place (September 19, NBC) Creator Michael Schur of Parks and Recreation and Brooklyn Nine-Nine brings the same good-natured, goofy sensibility to this comedy set in a perky, candy-colored version of heaven, where underachiever Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) has ended up by accident. Bell brings a great mix of sarcasm and optimism to her performance as Eleanor, who is torn between mocking the annoying do-gooders surrounding her and hoping to emulate them in order to become a better person. Densely packed with jokes, The Good Place is the kind of show that will inspire dedicated rewatchers, as long as it doesn’t get lost on NBC.
Pitch (September 22, Fox) The best new drama of the fall, Pitch takes a smart, detail-oriented approach to a topical premise, the debut of the first female player in Major League Baseball. Star Kylie Bunbury makes pitcher Ginny Baker into a fascinating mix of bravado and insecurity, and creators Dan Fogelman and Rick Singer never reduce her to a stereotype (even as other characters do). The strong supporting cast includes Ali Larter, Mark-Paul Gosselaar and Bob Balaban, all of whom flesh out a believable world of athletes and corporate types. A twist at the end of the pilot could derail the ongoing story, but there are enough strengths to trust the creators going forward.
Search Party (November 21, TBS) Indie filmmakers Charles Rogers and Sarah-Violet Bliss re-create the hilariously deadpan tone of their cult 2015 comedy Fort Tilden in this surprisingly poignant send-up of Brooklyn hipsters starring Alia Shawkat (Arrested Development). Shawkat’s Dory is an overeducated and underemployed slacker who fixates on the disappearance of her former college friend, as much out of self-pity as out of genuine concern. Both darkly satirical and knowingly sympathetic, the show finds humor in deeply uncomfortable situations and has a striking sense of the absurd.
A few more to keep an eye on
Better Things (September 8, FX) Fans of FX’s Louie are familiar with Pamela Adlon, but the actress also has decades of experience as a voice performer on shows like King of the Hill and Rugrats, and she incorporates all of her real-life showbiz experience into this semi-autobiographical comedy. It has a similarly melancholy, sometimes surreal tone as Louie (Louis C.K. is the show’s co-creator and executive producer), but is a bit more grounded and realistic, with an ongoing focus on Adlon’s relationship with her three daughters. Louie got far too metaphysical and self-serious in its later seasons, but if Adlon can keep the series rooted in her real-life experience (and not forget the humor), Better Things could fulfill the promise she showed on Louie.
Speechless (September 21, ABC) / American Housewife (October 11, ABC) Both of these shows fit well into ABC’s current family-sitcom model: a little bit subversive, a little bit progressive, mostly wholesome. American Housewife, about a middle-class family living in a rich suburb, has a little more edge to it, with Katy Mixon as the irreverent, slightly devious matriarch of a family that struggles to fit in among its one-percenter neighbors. Speechless features Minnie Driver as another fierce matriarch, but it’s a little gentler, focused on the family’s efforts to support a disabled son. Both shows are mildly funny and well-intentioned, and would be worth a look for fans of ABC comedies like Modern Family, Black-ish and The Middle.
Timeless (October 3, NBC) Time-travel shows are a hot trend this season, but Timeless is coming out ahead of its competition, and it starts out as a fun sci-fi adventure with a bit of conspiracy back story. Co-creator Eric Kripke let convoluted mythology overwhelm the strong basic concept on his last NBC sci-fi series, Revolution, and the same thing might happen here. But the pilot, with the team of a scientist, a historian and a soldier tracking a terrorist through American history, has solid momentum and an intriguing setup, and previews promise more clever tweaks to historical periods going forward. If Kripke and co-creator Shawn Ryan (The Shield) can focus on the likable characters and creative period details over the murky back story, Timeless should be worth a watch for sci-fi fans.
No Tomorrow (October 4, the CW) Jane the Virgin and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend set the bar for quirky, female-driven comedy-dramas on the CW, and No Tomorrow is not quite as engaging or confident right away. But it still has a goofy, odd premise that could go in all sorts of interesting directions, and appealing leads in Tori Anderson and Joshua Sasse of the criminally underrated Galavant. Anderson plays Evie, a frustrated office worker whose life is transformed when she meets Sasse’s free-spirited, impulsive (and hot) Xavier, who helps her live in the moment and embrace life. The catch is that he’s so carefree because he believes the world will end in eight months. The limited premise could give the show license to go endearingly over-the-top, or it could just turn into a cloying rom-com. Jane and Crazy fans might want to sample a few episodes to find out.
The Crown (November 4, Netflix) Too many of this season’s new cable and streaming dramas are slow, dark, unfocused chores to watch, and this drama from screenwriter Peter Morgan (The Queen) also starts slowly. But Morgan has a great sense of history and a talent for bringing out the humanity in historical figures, so the promise of a far-reaching series from him, focused on the life and reign of Queen Elizabeth II (Claire Foy), is intriguing. With the largest budget of any Netflix series to date, The Crown looks gorgeous, and its impressive cast includes Jared Harris, Eileen Atkins, Matt Smith and John Lithgow. History buffs will be eager to binge-watch.
And some shows to avoid
Kevin Can Wait (September 19, CBS) / Man With a Plan (October 24, CBS) These truly dire sitcoms are both variations on the “clueless guy with hot, nagging wife” scenario, starring Kevin James and Matt LeBlanc, respectively. Both also feature the main character struggling to deal with spending more time raising his kids, as if these guys never even met their offspring until the first episodes of their shows. Kevin Can Wait is a little more measured in its regressive family dynamics, with James playing his standard well-intentioned bumbler. Man With a Plan is consistently annoying and unpleasant, but it’s also set to undergo some retooling (including recasting the wife, initially played by Jenna Fischer), so it could end up slightly more tolerable by the time it premieres.
Bull (September 20, CBS) Bull is the proper title for this preposterous procedural, very loosely based on the early career of Dr. Phil McGraw (who co-created the show with writer Paul Attanasio). NCIS alum Michael Weatherly stars as jury consultant Dr. Jason Bull, one of those only-on-TV experts who is always right about everything and thus allowed to act like a total jerk about it. He has an absurd array of high-tech resources and a team of fellow geniuses to tell him how brilliant he is. And yet it’s all in service of generic legal cases, no different from anything on any other legal procedural, just with more unnecessary bells and whistles and an insufferable protagonist.
This Is Us (September 20, NBC) The most heavily hyped new network show of the fall is not nearly the worst, but it might be the most infuriating, withholding a crucial part of its premise for the sake of a monumentally idiotic twist at the end of the pilot. Even before then, it’s far too taken with its own supposed profundity, full of grand, melodramatic moments as it tells the stories of four people who all (apparently) share the same birthday. Their mundane dramas are blown up into pseudo-meaningful meditations on life, in a cheap TV version of everything-is-connected movies like Crash and 21 Grams. The twist explains just how everything is connected, but instead of hitting the audience with its deep meaning, it reveals the show to be even less interesting than it first appeared.
Notorious (September 22, ABC) Piper Perabo and Daniel Sunjata make quite the smug, overbearing duo as a cable-news producer and a high-powered lawyer, respectively, in ABC’s latest effort to capture some more Shonda Rhimes-style magic (Rhimes herself is not involved). There’s plenty of theoretically sexy intrigue in this drama about the mutually beneficial relationship between the two main characters, but it’s all belabored and forced, and it has to share time with a bunch of dead-end subplots about supporting characters. The end of the pilot sets up what looks like a season-long arc about a dull mystery that any procedural could have easily resolved within a single episode.
Pure Genius (October 27, CBS) Like CBS’ Bull, this grating medical procedural dresses up its basic premise with a bunch of high-tech doodads to distract from its fundamentally generic writing. Set at a mega-advanced private hospital funded by a tech billionaire, it shows doctors treating the same kinds of conditions as on any other medical show, only with way more transparent touchscreens. Augustus Prew is irritating as the hyperactive rich kid bankrolling all of it, and the doctors are a collection of medical-drama types, led by Dermot Mulroney as the skeptical veteran mounting a comeback after losing a patient.
High-profile shows that weren’t available to preview in advance
Son of Zorn (September 11, Fox) This comedy mixes animation and live action to tell the story of the He-Man-like title character (voiced by Jason Sudeikis) as he returns from his fantasy-realm home to help raise his teenage son in the Orange County suburbs.
Macgyver (September 23, CBS) CBS scrapped the entire original pilot for this reboot of the action series about an incredibly resourceful secret agent (played by Lucas Till in the new version). Can a revamped cast, a new script and a new director make this update on the cheesy ’80s series work?
Crisis in Six Scenes (September 30, Amazon) Woody Allen’s first-ever TV series is set in the New York City suburbs in the 1960s and stars Allen himself alongside Elaine May and Miley Cyrus, in the story of a middle-class family dealing with an unexpected visitor who disturbs their stable existence.
Luke Cage (September 30, Netflix) Netflix’s latest Marvel superhero series stars Mike Colter as invulnerable vigilante Luke Cage, protector of Harlem, who had a prominent supporting role in previous Marvel Netflix series Jessica Jones.
Westworld (October 2, HBO) HBO’s high-concept sci-fi series has been in the works for years, with Jonathan Nolan adapting Michael Crichton’s 1973 movie about an amusement park populated by androids. The dark, adult reimagining stars Evan Rachel Wood, Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, Thandie Newton and more, and is executive-produced by J.J. Abrams.