Despite the drastic changes in TV-viewing habits in recent years, the major broadcast networks (ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, the CW) still insist on rolling out dozens of new shows in early fall. With so many shows debuting in such a short amount of time, it’s tough to figure out which ones are worth watching. I sat through 20 pilots to separate the hype from the genuine promise.
Life in Pieces (Mondays, 8:30 p.m., CBS; premieres September 21) This single-camera sitcom about a multigenerational family is basically CBS’ version of Modern Family, but it boasts a stellar cast (including Dianne Wiest, James Brolin, Zoe Lister-Jones and Colin Hanks) and a refreshingly down-to-earth tone that infuses its goofy situations with some genuine heart.
The Muppets (Tuesdays, 8 p.m., ABC; premieres September 22) We only had a 10-minute presentation available to preview for this new take on Jim Henson’s classic puppet characters, but it promises a strong mix of self-aware, pop-culture-heavy humor and classic Muppet antics, with a format that mixes the variety-show style of the 1970s Muppet Show and the mockumentary style of The Office.
The Grinder (Tuesdays, 8:30 p.m., Fox; premieres September 29) Rob Lowe is charming as the title character in this goofy but endearing sitcom. It has a one-joke premise—an actor who played a lawyer on TV decides he’s qualified to be a real lawyer—but Lowe’s exuberant presence and chemistry with Fred Savage as his put-upon brother (who’s an actual lawyer) provide signs of hope.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (Mondays, 8 p.m., the CW; premieres October 12) By far the most promising new show of the fall is this one-of-a-kind comedy about a successful, neurotic New York lawyer (co-creator Rachel Bloom) who impulsively ditches her job and moves to a dingy Southern California suburb to be close to her childhood boyfriend. Oh, and it’s a musical, with a winning mix of sarcasm and emotion, wrapped up in catchy, clever original songs.
Supergirl (Mondays, 8 p.m., CBS; premieres October 26) The producers of Arrow and The Flash bring another DC Comics superhero to TV, with a bright, upbeat style and a charismatic lead performance from Melissa Benoist. TV and movies might be reaching superhero overload, but for fans of comic book-style storytelling, Supergirl gets things right.
Blindspot (Mondays, 10 p.m., NBC; premieres September 21) This heavily promoted action series draws from the same high-concept idiocy as NBC’s hit The Blacklist. Featuring Jaimie Alexander as an amnesiac badass with clues to finding terrorists tattooed all over her body, it’s both ridiculous and grim, but not fun enough or smart enough to succeed at either one.
Limitless (Tuesdays, 10 p.m., CBS; premieres September 22) Based on the 2011 surprise hit movie starring Bradley Cooper, this drama turns a dumb sci-fi thriller into a dumber procedural, making its drug-enhanced supergenius protagonist (played by Jake McDorman) into an FBI consultant. At least Cooper has a cameo.
Scream Queens (Tuesdays, 9 p.m., Fox; premieres September 22) The creators of American Horror Story launch another horror anthology, this one infused with alleged comedy. But the jokes are unfunny and mean-spirited, the characterizations are stereotypical and misogynistic, and the story (set in a sorority) is a muddled pastiche of various slasher movies.
The Player (Thursdays, 10 p.m., NBC; premieres September 24) Las Vegas gets another poor TV representation in this ludicrous drama about a secret organization that both predicts crimes and then bets on the ability of a trained operative to stop them. Even Wesley Snipes as the organization’s shady mastermind can’t quite pull off this nonsense.
Quantico (Sundays, 10 p.m., ABC; premieres September 27) This drama about FBI trainees packs about five plot twists into its first episode, none of them remotely believable. Within minutes, it’s descended into overheated soap opera, combined with self-serious intensity in flash-forwards to a terrorist attack supposedly masterminded by one of the main characters.
Five developments to watch for
Both Stephen Colbert and Trevor Noah will begin high-profile late-night talk-show gigs, Colbert as the new host of CBS’ The Late Show (taking over for David Letterman) on September 8 and Noah as the new host of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show (taking over for Jon Stewart) on September 28.
Long-running Las Vegas-set crime procedural CSI ends its CBS run with a two-hour finale on September 27, featuring original cast members William Petersen and Marg Helgenberger alongside some of the show’s current stars.
Variety shows are poised to make a return with NBC’s Best Time Ever With Neil Patrick Harris, airing live on Tuesday nights starting September 15. Harris will be the ringleader for a mix of sketches, musical numbers, guest appearances and more, all in the mode of TV’s early days.
After successfully airing a live episode last season, the NBC sitcom Undateable airs its entire third season live, starting with the season premiere on October 9.
The trend of resurrecting fan-favorite TV continues with the return of Heroes (titled Heroes Reborn) on NBC starting September 24. Original cast members Jack Coleman, Masi Oka, Greg Grunberg and more will join new stars including Chuck’s Zachary Levi.