Fall TV Review Guide 2016 Final Round: ‘The Crown,’ ‘Dirk Gently,’ & More
Welcome to the 2016 Fall TV Season, your gateway to Peak TV for the year. At this year’s Summer TCA Press Tour, FX CEO John Landgraf put up some frightening numbers about how many series are premiering or returning this year (over 450) and how many are projected to premiere in the next year (over 500), thanks particularly to expanding online content from Amazon, Netflix, Crackle, and many, many more.
We’re here to help. Each week during this premiere season, we’ve updated this guide with another round of reviews for series premiering or returning soon, from pilots to full seasons. The list includes broadcast, cable, premium networks, and streaming. Admittedly, we’re not going to get to everything, but with 65 shows reviewed below, this should certainly get you started.
The final round is below along with our star ratings and reviews from earlier rounds including Atlanta, Better Things, Fleabag, Gotham, Quarry, Luke Cage, The Exorcist, Son of Zorn, This Is Us, The Good Place, Westworld, Transparent, MacGyver, Pitch, Black Mirror, Poldark, Blunt Talk, Conviction, Ash vs Evil Dead, Divorce, Frequency, Rectify, Good Girls Revolt, Chance, & and many, many others. (Note: you may need to scroll slowly to ensure each review loads).
For even more, check out the cancelled and renewed status of over 150 scripted shows with our TV Lifeline, and for an expanded list of what is premiering when, head over to our TV Premiere Dates calendar.
Premiere: Friday, November 4th on Netflix
Cast: Claire Foy, Matt Smith, Jared Harris, John Lithgow
For a certain kind of Anglophile, there may not be a more anticipated series this year than The Crown, which examines the early reign of England’s Queen Elizabeth II. From the looks of the first two episodes (out of the first season’s 10), it won’t let its supporters down. The Crown is beautifully directed in sumptuous yet staid tones, as young Elizabeth (Foy) — newly married to Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh (Smith) — first lives as a privileged princess before having to transition into the position of Queen. From there, as her grandmother cautions her, there will be two Elizabeths at odds with one another: one who is a young woman with her own hopes and dreams, and one who is a royal, whose life will be full of duty and sacrifice. “But the crown must always win.”
Foy is again exceptional, as she always is (we last saw her as Anne Boleyn in Wolf Hall, a far cry from the kind of monarch she plays in The Crown). Her huge blue eyes and placid, doll-like features can easily go from a questioning innocence to a stern acceptance of duty in a moment, and she imbues Queen Elizabeth’s story with striking warmth and humanity (something that can be forgotten when regarding someone who has been a monarch for over half a century). The excellent casting extends to every role, from Smith’s take on the handsome but irreverent Philip to Harris’ anxious, measured King George VI. Perhaps most inspired of all is Lithgow as an aged Winston Churchill, whose story is reaching its twilight as Elizabeth begins her rise.
The Crown is a fascinating and easily engrossing portrait of a young monarch in a fairly modern age, and benefits from having one writer (creator Peter Morgan) to lend it narrative continuity. The story, which offers a glimpse of many familiar faces associated with government at the time, glides through history and crosses the globe, yet is most effective when its examining the nuances of Elizabeth’s life and the lives of those around her who must change the way the regard her (from a wife, sister, and daughter, to a monarch they must defer to at all times). The trappings of power, such as they are, are shown here as being claustrophobic and wearisome, even though the lavish lifestyle it seems to offer is also seductive. And that is why, once you enter into the regal world of The Crown, you will not want to leave. It always wins. — Allison Keene
Premieres:Tuesday, November 15th on TNT
Cast: Michelle Dockery, Juan Diego Botto, Terry Kinney, and Joey Kern
Considering her character in the immortal Downton Abbey, it makes sense that Michelle Dockery’s first major role following that show’s end would be, well, different. Where Lady Mary Crawley took a bit to warm up and was proper to say the absolute least, Dockery’s Letty Dobesh, the central character of TNT’s Good Behavior, is exactly the opposite of prim and mannered. An ex-con who makes her change by robbing hotel rooms, Dobesh is the main protagonist of Blake Crouch’s series of novels and she’s the sort of character that could carry a movie franchise under the right direction. And though Dockery doesn’t evoke the character’s intelligence and skill as often as one might hope, the talented actress nails her sense of humor, her regret, and her ability to perform at will.
In the series, she’s paired with Juan Diego Botto’s handsome, good-humored hitman for much of the story but the pull of TNT’s latest comedic drama remains largely with Dockery and Dobesh. The problem is that, even when Dockery’s performance holds the line, the series pivots almost exclusively on plot points and details that will inevitably be called back later. Dobesh is a messy but lovable character, someone with lots of charm and talent but short on focus, goals, and self-confidence, even as her job is in the confidence game. As such, the long-form storytelling feels weirdly antithetical to the perspective and very persona of the character as she was originally conceived. Of course, Crouch and the rest of the creative team on the series are under no realistic obligation to replicate the material in its adaptation, but the issue doesn’t touch merely on the narrative. The visual temp of the series
Of course, Crouch and the rest of the creative team on the series are under no realistic obligation to replicate the material in its adaptation, but the issue doesn’t touch merely on the narrative. The visual tempo of the series plays like a movie, meaning that the opening 50 minutes feels as if they’re setting up a story and character that will end within 200 minutes. Because of this, the pacing comes off as egregiously safe and familiar in how it times out each plot twist or turn to arrive exactly when you expect it to happen. The show ultimately feels like a kind of meager mechanism, fine-tuned to deliver jolts, laughs, and maybe even tears, which is the exact opposite of who Dobesh is in the pages of Crouch’s books. – Chris Cabin
Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency
Premiere: Saturday, October 22nd, BBC America, 9 p.m.
Cast: Samuel Barnett, Elijah Wood, Hannah Marks, Fiona Dourif, Jade Eshete, Miguel Sandoval, Richard Schiff, Neil Brown Jr., Dustin Milligan, Michael Eklud, Mpho Koaho, Aaron Douglas, and Christian Bako
Max Landis certainly doesn’t make it easy for you to like him. At a time when most of the world was celebrating that sitting through Star Wars: The Force Awakens was a joy rather than a chore, Landis was nitpicking storytelling elements that he found unbelievable in a movie about another galaxy where laser swords are a common weapon and aquatic creatures the size of Texas roam the alien oceans. He’s opinionated to a fault and even when he can’t explain his perspective totally, he assumes he’s right and you’re wrong.
What’s most annoying about all of this, however, is that Landis is a talented screenwriter as well as being a pompous, under-watched enfant terrible. Chronicle is a minor miracle, while less satisfying works like American Ultra and Mr. Right still have ample wit and simple, involving stories, as well as exquisite performances from the likes of Jesse Eisenberg, Anna Kendrick, and Kristen Stewart. There’s a similar feeling at the center of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, Landis’ adaptation of the Douglas Adams novel of the same name for BBC, which is top-lined by the immediately ingratiating Elijah Wood. Wood plays Todd, the depressed, hesitant right-hand man to the titular, bizarre investigator, played by Samuel Barnett, who you probably remember best as Renfield in Penny Dreadful. As Dirk suggests when they first meet, amidst a number of deeply odd occurrences, they were meant to work together on at least one case, one that involves a missing teenager and her wealthy and apparently quite dead father.
The story proper isn’t really of much interest early on in the series, though that changes to increasingly pestering effect. The show’s “charm” is in Wood and Barnett’s playfulness with one another, the well-oiled engines of their comedic diptych when their characters are faced with a cadre of violent heathens, a homicidal landlord, several governmental agencies, and a cute, stray corgi. And to be fair, that alone does make the series enjoyable for most of the premiere, but soon enough, the weirdness and enigmatic nature of the world feels more entertaining for Landis than it is for the audience. The problem here is the writing, which consistently feels belabored and overtly complicated while the show itself remains largely just about Dirk and Todd and their adventures. A procedural show with Wood and Barnett solving supernatural crimes may have done well, but the closer we get to an explanation for all this nonsense being required, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency grows more and more innocuous in its effects. — Chris Cabin
People of Earth
Premiere: Monday, October 31st on TBS
Cast: Wyatt Cenac, Ana Gasteyer, Michael Cassidy, Alice Westerlund, Brian Huskey
Though TBS has long been known as being a place to catch classic comedy reruns, it hasn’t had much success with its original series lately (aside from its cutting edge late-night series Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, that is). With People of Earth, that has a chance to change. The comedy, created by David Jenkins with Conan O’Brien and Greg Daniels serving as EPs, focuses on a small-town alien abduction support group. The conceit is one that could easily dismiss its characters as cranks and yahoos, but People of Earth instead delivers a story that is sincere, layered, and funny.
People of Earth stars The Daily Show’s Wyatt Cenac as a sardonic journalist, Ozzie, who is assigned to cover the support group as a fluff piece, but ends up bonding with them as he begins to recover his own memories of an abduction. The series smartly builds its foundation on stereotypical alien conspiracy touchstones, including the look and behavior of the aliens, but subverts expectations by making it all real. And yet, it doesn’t allow all of its characters’ paranoias and theories to be true — many are just the projections of lonely, broken people looking for a sense of community.
People of Earth is a very, very strange series, and not all of it works (including a recurring talking deer). But it has a surprising amount of character development, a great cast, and a low-key, almost indy approach to humor (“There is dickery happening in Beacon”) that makes Ozzie’s transformation from skeptic to believer one that is both silly and sincere, and worth watching. — Allison Keene
Premiere: Wednesday, October 19th on Hulu
Cast: Hugh Laurie, Gretchen Moll, Ethan Suplee, and Clarke Peters
Hugh Laurie owes his fame outside of England to his work on television in the addictive medical-drama procedural House M.D. on Fox. His attempts to break out in movies over the years has not been particularly fruitful, though his presence in Tomorrowland and the Flight of the Phoenix remake was crucial to those movies not being complete wastes of time. Regardless, his return to TV was not inevitable but likely and following a great guest-starring run on HBO’s Veep, he’s back in front in Chance, Hulu’s latest attempt at a genuine hit with a big leading man and a major director behind the camera to set the table.
In this case, that director is Lenny Abrahamson of Room and Frank, and he evinces a distinct vision of San Francisco, the city where Laurie’s Elden Chance works as a psychiatrist and a detective of sorts. It’s here that he not only begins a kind of partnership with a local antique furniture store run by a formidable, suave dealer, played with menace and gravitas by the indispensable Clarke Peters, and his right hand man, D (Ethan Suplee), but also begins investigating Gretchen Moll’s Jaclyn, a complicated patient. These two elements are what lead our melancholic, sardonic hero down the primrose path toward possible oblivion and inevitable physical pain.
Abrahamson’s stylish lensing, framing, and overall aesthetic gets the shadowy, overcast visual timbre to match the angry, enigmatic, and somber undertones of the characters in the scripts, but he never gets too ambitious. The result is a classic, handsomely shot mini-series, in the vein of those 3-4 episode series that the BBC specializes in, such as Wallander or Broadchurch.The show teases a fascination with psychological behavior and violence but about halfway through the series, nothing particularly insightful comes of this thematic interest. So, though the series remains entertaining, attractively moody, and sensationally well-acted, there’s a lack of urgency and personal import that can be felt throughout that keeps this inarguably good show from being a great one. – Chris Cabin
Rectify Season 4
Premiere: Wednesday, October 26th on SundanceTV
Cast: Aden Young, Abigail Spencer, Clayne Crawford, Adelaide Clemens, J. Smith-Cameron, Luke Kirby, Bruce McKinnon, Jake Austin Walker
For fans of Ray McKinnon’s devastatingly good drama series Rectify, there is good and bad news. On the positive side, the series returns as beautifully nuanced and casually devastating as ever; the bad news is these are the last episodes we’ll get to spend with the Holdens and Talbots. As Rectify makes the turn into its final run of episodes, the family is fractured. Daniel (Young) is in Nashville in a halfway house, alone even while he is among people. In the raw and emotional premiere, Daniel is challenged to answer the question of whether or not he believes he deserves to have a life, regardless of his past. It points towards a hopeful ending for the series where we see Daniel embracing a life among others after completely losing his sense of self while in solitary confinement for 19 years.
In the second hour, things return to Pauly, and catch up with the rest of the family, and how they are moving on without him. For most, it’s back to a Daniel-less normalcy, but for his mother (Smith-Cameron) — who mirrors her son in so many ways — it’s a daily struggle to understand life with him out of jail but also not with the family.
No show understands the South or portrays it with such a beautiful intimacy as Rectify, which continues to be an extended reverie and a meditation on the richness of our inner lives. What ties it so perfectly to the South is how the characters struggle to be open and honest and “real,” and to not just sweep things under the rug, smiles pulled tight across their faces, faking it to one day make it true that things are ok.
Rectify has never answered the question of whether Daniel committed the crime he was convicted of and told to confess to, even though at times (particularly in Season 3) it seemed determined to focus on wanting us to know the truth without ever revealing it. In Season 4, viewers should (at least initially) feel at peace with the uncertainty regarding Daniel’s story — even if we do want to see Trey brought to justice. But that’s exactly what makes Rectify such a rich series, and so rewarding as a viewing experience. It allows us to know and care for these characters even when they try to hold us at arm’s length, by embracing their truths in quiet moments that connect us to their loneliness, uncertainty, and ultimately their hope. — Allison Keene
Good Girls Revolt!
Premiere: Friday, October 28th on Amazon
Cast: Genevieve Angelson, Anna Camp, Erin Darke, Chris Diamantopoulos, Hunter Parrish, Jim Belushi
Picking up more or less where Mad Men left off for characters like Joan and Peggy, Good Girls Revolt takes place at a time where women are accepted into the newsroom, but only as researchers. Heaven forbid a woman write! That is what led to the first class action lawsuit by female journalists against an employer, a real-life event that took place among Newsweek employees in the late 60s and early 70s. Good Girls Revolt fictionalizes a lot of the details (here it’s called “News of the Week” and the leads are all new characters, save for Mamie Gummer as Nora Ephron and Joy Bryant’s ACLU lawyer Eleanor Holmes Norton), but the themes remain intact, and sometimes uncomfortably relevant.
Though the 60s have become a wearily overused setting for movies and TV series (you can guess the soundtrack before it even begins), Good Girls Revolt is bolstered by a strong cast and a unique take on newsroom culture, one which includes some of the vile “locker room talk” that’s been in heavy media rotation lately, but also in more nuanced ways as well. At News of the Week, women are often paired with men and given a facade of power and influence, but they must ultimately be deferential to those male counterparts. The culture is sexist and patronizing, but the strong women at the center of the series — Angelson is a pushy, counterculture broad, Camp is sly with a bouffant style, and Darke is a repressed wife who longs for options — have very different responses to it.
Good Girls Revolt is careful to not demonize anybody; both the men and women have copious flaws. And though the cultural touchstones may feel a little tired at this point given its setting, what the show does do well is create a workplace atmosphere that feels both contemporary and retro, a sometimes startling commentary on how far we’ve come, yet how far we still have to go. As Mad Men’s Joan said, “no dull times or dull men tolerated.” — Allison Keene
The Great Indoors
Premiere: Thursday, October 27th on CBS
Cast: Joel McHale, Stephen Fry, Christopher Minz-Plasse, Christine Ko, Shaun Brown, Susannah Fielding, Chris Williams
The most offensive thing about The Great Indoors, which prides itself on making light of Millennials, is that Stephen Fry is so wasted in a show like this. And yet, Fry is of course utterly charming and makes the best of the time and material he has, something the star Joel McHale attempts to do as well. The problem is that the show and its humor are relics of an increasingly unsuccessful formula for TV comedy.
The Great Indoors is based on one stale joke: McHale’s character Jack Gordon has been pulled from the wilds to run his adventure magazine’s publishing department, which is now solely online and populated by 20-somethings. There’s not much more to the series than that, as Jack dismisses things like dating apps and balks at the over sensitivity of his young co-workers. In typical CBS form, it’s a show about a grumpy middle-aged man who is confounded by the changing world around him (See Also: Man with a Plan).
The bottom line is that if you’re interested in a show that deals with a Gen X-er navigating a workplace run by Millennials in a smart and even emotional way, check out Younger on TV Land instead (you can find that review from Kayti Burt below)— Allison Keene
Premiere: Sunday, October 16thon USA
Cast: Gil Bellows, Warren Christie, Julianne Nicholson, James Paxton, Tyler Young, Amanda Brugel, Mercedes Morris, and Rainbow Francks
USA’s latest interwoven crime drama is almost remarkably unremarkable. The series opens with a series of “provocative” acts, ranging from a risqué rendezvous between two young men exploring their sexuality to genuine murder. The characters that are introduced don’t come off as individuals even for a moment, but rather, as simply functioning as elements of a dramatic mechanism, creaking and whirling in repetition. Talented actors like Gil Bellows, Julianne Nicholson, and Warren Christie fit into the central murder investigation, but creator Adi Hasak drains the action of all personality, and of all idiosyncrasies and consuming passions. Each action only seems to push on to keep the multifaceted plot moving on but there’s nothing even remotely intimate or substantive in a way not pointedly aimed toward mustering the bare minimum of familiar action-based drama. Even if one were to exclusively count the procedural thrill of such murder-centric stories, Eyewitness comes up staggeringly short of what it’s going for. — Chris Cabin
Premiere: Sunday, October 16th on Epix
Cast: Richard Armitage, Richard Jenkins, Rhys Ifans, Michelle Forbes, Tamlyn Tomita, Leland Orser
Feeling rather reminiscent to Homeland Season 5, Epix’s first drama series (set to run for 10 episodes) follows a CIA agent (Armitage) who is tasked with an undercover operation in Berlin to find out who is leaking intel to the press, Assange (or Snowden) style. Armitage leads a truly great cast, all of whom are nuanced in their approach to characters with both known and unknown agendas, each one layered in their personal and professional lives which often intertwine.
Filmed in Berlin and Spain’s Canary Islands, Berlin Station has the right look and feel of a great spycraft series, but it lacks the drive or urgency of a show like Homeland, or even The Night Manager. It’s very slow, dense, gray, and measured as it unfolds its tale of state secrets and treachery (much of which is too easily telegraphed). But for fans of spy series in general it may serve as a particular kind of catnip. However, for casual viewers, it has trouble catching fire — even though it’s worth tuning in initially for Armitage’s performance alone. — Allison Keene
Channel Zero: Candle Cove
Premiere: Tuesday, October 11th on Syfy
Cast: Paul Schneider, Fiona Shaw, Natalie Brown, Shaun Benson, Luisa D’Oliveira
In an October surprisingly bereft of scary movies in theaters, SyFy’s Channel Zero appears like a terrifying bat in the night, crashing through your subconscious to creep under your skin. The series promises to be an anthology, switching stories each season similarly to American Horror Story’s modus operandi. This season revolves around “Candle Cove,” a tale that features a twisted children’s puppet show that seeps into the small town that was unfortunate enough to see it. Channel Zero feels like a combination of A Nightmare on Elm Street and Twin Peaks, constantly playing with the reality of the story while offering grotesque visuals (such as a boy made out of teeth) and leaving viewers with a sense of unease, which can seem so difficult for horror to pull off in this day and age. As a huge horror fan myself, I can assure you that Channel Zero creeped me out unlike anything I’ve seen for some time, even causing me to jump at shadows long after I finished watching.
Channel Zero takes its inspiration from the online phenomenon called “Creepy Pasta,” homemade online horror stories that practitioners submit to put a fright into other readers; if “Candle Cove” is any indication, it’s an avenue rife with possibilities for future entries. The series runs like clockwork in that nearly every five minutes, in the episodes we were presented, there is a legitimate unsettling scary moment to whet your whistle for terror. The series is sure to go down as a horror classic, so prepare yourself and enter Candle Cove. You won’t regret it. — Evan Valentine
Man with a Plan
Premiere: Monday, October 24th on CBS
Cast: Matt LeBlanc, Liza Snyder, Kevin Nealon
Occasionally CBS will surprise with a comedy series that is not a smorgasbord of lazy stereotypes, but Man with a Plan is not that series. The multi-cam comedy full of audience laughter focuses on a Pittsburgh contractor, Adam (LeBlanc) who starts to spend more time with his kids (the horror!) after his wife Andi (Snyder) decides to go back to work. The premise is actually not all that different that FX’s Better Things; Adam is an affable dad who doesn’t want to be the warden, but steps into the role to pitch in and support his family. And yet, the execution of these two series could not be more different. In typical form, Adam is a goofy guy with a good heart and a pretty simple mind, while the women around him (his wife, his daughter’s kindergarten teacher, his sister-in-law) are all shrewd, stern buzzkills. Better Things gives the alternative view of strong women with their own uncertainties and insecurities, as do other great family comedies like Fresh Off the Boat.
But Man with a Plan is very much in the vein of ABC’s Last Man Standing, where Adam — now in the role of stay-at-home-dad — is seemingly alone in a world that for a white, working-class man is rapidly changing. There are opportunities here for something more interesting than what develops, which is laced with needlessly crass jokes (and no real humor), but Man with a Plan clearly has no plans to explore that. — Allison Keene
Premiere: Thursday, October 13th on USA
Cast: Lizzie Brochure, David Ajala, Yun Lee, Zak Orth, Anna Wood
File this one under “The Mr. Robot Effect.” Looking to imitate the visual formula of its breakout hit, USA’s Falling Water features a cast of sullen characters being mysterious. But for those of us who are predisposed to like weird mystery series tinged with murder, Falling Water gives viewers enough in its premiere to want to see where it’s going.
The series is based on the premise that the dream world is a real, alternate reality that some are able to access. In this case, each of the main cast members dream one segment of the collective dream, and it seems that they’ll have to find each other (in the real world or the dream world, or both) in order to uncover larger mysteries that are cryptically presented. That’s really about all that can be gleaned from the first hour, which is full of style and slow-burn storytelling, with an ode to Jungian ideas of subconsciousness, Lynchian interpretations of a dream world full of horror, and the sense that there are larger forces at work that are in control of the flow of good and evil.
Falling Water feels ambitious and maybe even a little pretentious, but we’ll see if it ends up earning a full season of viewer attention. If you’re feeling burned by Mr. Robot’s ambling storytelling in the second season and TV series after TV series that plants a central mystery and then dances around it for too long to sustain interest, proceed here with cautious optimism. — Allison Keene
Premiere: Sunday, October 16th on Epix
Cast: Nick Nolte, Sela War, Skylar Astin, Chris Lowell, Helene Yorke
In Epix’s new half-hour original series, Nick Nolte plays former U.S. President Richard Graves, a kind of Regan-esque Republican who has retired to life on his ranch with his dysfunctional family. Tired of being paraded out to events to cut ribbons and gives speeches for things he doesn’t care about, Graves bashes up his presidential library, and takes a life lesson from a tattooed waitress he smokes pot with: to start living an authentic life. This change initially terrifies his wife (Ward), a polished former First Lady with political ambitions of her own, but the series treats Graves’ change of heart as the starting point for a commentary about political ownership and honesty.
That leaves Graves with a strange tone, one that both wants to embrace cynicism and the backroom dealings of Washington as well as one that wants to celebrate the triumphs and warm moments of a staunchly conservative family who starts turning increasingly to the left (or in a more generous interpretation, to modernize the party). The show doesn’t try and hide those politics at all — it also leans heavily on cameos by Jake Tapper, Wolf Blitzer, Rudy Giuliani and more to create an authenticity to its world — but it’s still a kind of liberal fantasy (what if an iconic Republic president later publicly backtracked on his policies of immigration, preemptive wars, cutting disease research, and more?) that could prove to be polarizing.
Graves is more optimistic than Veep and far more low-key than Scandal, and its aided in its ambitions by a fantastic cast. Nolte goes back and forth from childlike delights to an embittered growl in a way that feels both truthful and endearing, while Ward is a charming but steely presence at his side. Astin, who plays Graves’ put-upon new assistant, is a great comedic foil, but in its first few episodes the series feels a little too boilerplate in its characters and plotting to feel like essential viewing. With a trim 10 episode season, though, it may be worth seeing what kind of legacy Graves — the show and the man — decides to leave, both as a comedy and as one of Epix’s first attempts at original scripted programming. — Allison Keene
Premiere: Friday, October 14th on Amazon
Cast: Billy Bob Thornton, Maria Bello, William Hurt, Olivia Thirlby, Nina Arianda, Molly Parker, Tania Raymonde, Sarah Wynter, Britain Dalton, and Damon Gupton
If modern television was weighed solely on the strength of its cast, Goliath would stride out in front like some benevolent, mighty behemoth. Few character actors have been as reliable as Billy Bob Thornton, even in the most paltry of efforts, and pairing his drunk hero with a scarred, nefarious William Hurt and the great Nina Arianda already gives this legal drama a boost in respectability. Maria Bello, Olivia Thirlby, Sarah Wynter, and House of Cards standout Molly Parker also fill out a supporting cast of lost Angelenos who find themselves swept up in a major criminal case involving an explosion at sea and a corrupt corporation.
It’s great to see all this talent making the most of the meager material that David E. Kelley and his creative team have given them, but it’s equally frustrating to watch them kept on the leash by a mediocre, by-the-numbers narrative. Thornton’s McBride is a familiar archetype – the drunk genius as master lawyer – and the series makes little effort to expand the characters beyond your initial impressions. McBride is only rude and offensive up to a point, never going into the realm of the truly transgressive. The caricatures are pleasing and occasionally a nice zinger rears its head under the mountains of mundane, repetitive, and expositional talk. There’s no attempt to see these characters outside of their connection to a Grisham-esque legal thriller that comes off as so basic as to be copied from some kind of template. Even great casts have their limits, and in the case of Goliath, they give this shaggy drama just enough electricity to keep interest without offering a genuine reason to care about what’s going on episode to episode. — Chris Cabin
Arrow Season 5
Premiere: Wednesday, October 5th on The CW
Cast: Stephen Amell, Emily Bett Rickards, Willa Holland, David Ramsey, Paul Blackthorne
The main takeaway from the premiere episode of Arrow’s fifth season is that the show is really trying hard to rectify the wrongs of the past. The result isn’t perfect, but it’s a strong start. The premiere, directed by the show’s stunt coordinator James Bamford, is violent and full of great sequences that occasionally even slow down enough to get a real sense of the action (instead of it being a cartoonish blur of fists and bullets). It is also, finally, giving Oliver some cool arrow-tech to play with, allowing him to seem supernatural without actually having to be so.
Also, in the wake of losing Laurel (Cassidy) Oliver (Amell) is no longer hesitant to take a life if he feels it’s justified. But with only Felicity (Rickards) and Curtis (Kellum) on his side after Diggle (Ramsey) has gone overseas and Thea (Holland) is interested only in helping Oliver with politics, the show is setting up a challenge for Oliver to train new recruits, something he’s deeply hesitant about.
The premiere’s greatest strength, though, is how it doesn’t burn through plot. Rather, it sets up its theme of legacy, as well as Oliver’s problem of being a political figure and a shadow operative. How does he reconcile those two disparate things? (Does he ever sleep?) And what are the consequences of these actions? Season 5 also manages to do something positive with its flashbacks, if you can believe it, with a wig for Oliver that doesn’t look like it has its own dark powers. A strong start to what feels like it will be a much more grounded season. — Allison Keene
Premiere: Sunday, October 9th on HBO
Cast: Sarah Jessica Parker, Thomas Haden Church, Molly Shannon, Talia Balsam, Sterling Jerins, Charlie Kilgore, Tracy Letts
In Divorce, two self-absorbed New Yorkers (Parker and Church) decide their relationship is over and so they want to — you guessed it! — get a divorce. That long and drawn-out process is chronicled in HBO’s new half-hour series, which is not really a comedy, but has an acid wit to it that (in the capable hands of Parker and Church) has its moments of charm.
It’s a fine line that characters can walk in a dark comedy series between being unlikeable but still watchable (see: Veep) and too unlikable to bear (see: Girls, at times). Divorce is stacked with a great cast, including some fantastic secret weapons in Letts, Shannon, and Balsam, but the show — which is peppered with ample smarts and low-key humor — lacks the heart of creator Sharon Horgan’s other current series, the excellent Catastrophe, which draws on similar relationship themes.
Like that series, Divorce can be raw, funny, and uncomfortable, but whereas Catastrophe has a warmth to it, Divorce ultimately feels hollow. Still, there’s enough of Horgan’s signature humor there to make Divorce worth wading into, even if ultimately you might want to settle on something else. — Allison Keene
Premiere: Wednesday, October 5th on The CW
Cast: Peyton List, Riley Smith, Mekhi Phifer
Loosely based on the 2000 film of the same name, Frequency follows the story of a young NYPD detective, Raimy (List, a CW regular) who is suddenly able to connect through time with her deceased father, Frank (Smith) via his old ham radio. Through it, she’s able to warn him of his impending death in 1996, which he then narrowly avoids, but which also alters the present for Raimy in terrible ways.
For CW fans, the storylines will be very reminiscent to the way The Flash concluded its second season; for TV fans in general, it might be causing some time travel series fatigue. But don’t write it off just yet. Where Frequency succeeds and a series like Timeless fails is its scope. Timeless (and Legends of Tomorrow) use huge cultural touchstones and world events to show off their timey-wimey adventures, whereas Frequency is a much more contained and intimate story of one family’s journey through time. (That also helps with logic problems and time travel paradox issues). Further, it sets up a procedural aspect where Raimy helps Frank try and stop a serial killer who is still at large because of the timeline changes. (Plus, there are some rad moments of 90s nostalgia in Frank’s timeline).
Frequency feels a little darker and a little more grown-up than some CW fair, but it also has a clearer and more promising premise than most as they start out. List is earnest in her role, and manages to make the stranger aspects of the show’s time travel and inter-dimensional plot points feel grounded. — Allison Keene
Legends of Tomorrow Season 2
Premiere: Thursday, October 13th on The CW
Cast: Caity Lotz, Brandon Routh, Arthur Darvill, Dominic Purcell, Victor Garber, Franz Drameh
Like the Legends themselves, Legends of Tomorrow’s premiere is looking to reset its own timeline into what it was always meant to be — a fun, crazy, operatic journey through space and time with a team of super-powered rogues. Season 1 was dragged down by a weak villain and forced romances, but Season 2 seems ready to abandon those conceits and settle in to some whiz-bang comic moments, the very that made its initial premiere so entertaining.
The best thing about Legends of Tomorrow is the team itself and their snarky, witty interactions and one-liners. When the show forgets to let them have fun, it’s not fun to watch. The whole point of bringing together these secondary characters from The Flash and Arrow for their own show was to give them the opportunity for each to be more than a background character with a 3-episode arc. Now, the show has doubled-down on that premise by also expanding its villains into an entire Legion (of Doom), cobbled together from Flash and Arrow bad guys. The result, as the Time Lord stand-ins and the Time Bandits wrestle through history (rarely the future, because the costuming is easier if they stick to medieval or mid-20th century Western touchstones), feels much freer to be zany rather than serious this time around. We are thankful.
Season 2 also introduces a new character through a well-established one (if you haven’t read about the cameo I won’t spoil it), who happens to be a historian (Nick Zano) — you know, someone who can actually assist the Legends on the planning side of their quests rather than just running in, laser guns blazing (because as we know, Rip Hunter has always been a terrible leader). Though the show immediately jumps into battling Nazis, everyone’s favorite time-traveling starting point, it’s also glib about the choice. For those who gave up on Legends after its disappointing first season, take heart that the story might finally be getting the justice it deserves. — Allison Keene
Premiere: Tuesday, October 4th on The CW
Cast: Tori Anderson, Joshua Sasse, Amy Pietz, Sarayu Blue
Instead of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, No Tomorrow gives us a Manic Pixie Dream Boy in “Xavier with an X” (Sasse), who inspires an awkward and cautious young woman, Evie (Anderson), to seize the day. Xavier believes the world is going to be destroyed by an asteroid in 8 months, and he has the notebooks of scribbled equations and conspiracy theories to prove it. While that sends off alarm bells for Evie, Xavier is also totally hot, so, exceptions can and will be made.
No Tomorrow feels like a great premise for a movie about facing your fears, the arc of which its pilot essentially follows in condensed form. Where it goes from here is less certain. Still, Anderson and Sasse are exceptionally charming together, and the premiere has a fast-paced and quippy style that helps mitigate some of the grating nature of Xavier’s hippie / hipster-esque, no-responsibility fantasy living. By the end of the first hour, Evie has set up her own rules about how their commitment to carpe diem will work in a practical way that does suggest a path forward for the cute and fun series, one that will allow it to keep its silliness without going totally off the rails. — Allison Keene
Cast: Issa Rae, Yvonne Orji Jay Ellis
Premiere: Sunday, October 9th on HBO
The move from the web to HBO gave High Maintenance a minor but noticeable kick of ambition, and there’s a similar feeling when comparing Issa Rae and Larry Wilmore’s Insecure to Rae’s work on her breakthrough web series, The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl. The setting is still Los Angeles but Rae, Wilmore, and their creative team have expanded the scope of their narrative to include a more varied and fully realized view of both work and play.
Here, Rae (playing a version of herself) works at We Got Y’All, a non-profit that works to give black students better opportunities in the more poverty-stricken areas of L.A. Meanwhile, her best friend, Molly (Orji), works high up at a prestigious law firm but both face similar strains of not-so-quiet hostility and indifference. While Issa must deal with being the sole black employee at her job, and the target of much hushed resentment and doubt from her co-workers, Molly must cope with having her hard work essentially ignored in the face of a colleague’s engagement. And while Issa is trying to decide whether or not to get rid of her long-standing boyfriend, Lawrence (Jay Ellis), Molly is hitting choppy waters as a regular online dater.
Insecure is more often amusing and clever than outright funny, but what this engrossing, charming show lacks in guffaws, it more than makes up for in attention to character. The Issa we meet on the show wants to help young, black Americans find themselves but she’s still figuring herself out. The problems she faces at work are compounded by the snark and ego of her co-workers, but most of them are rooted in her disinterest with what she does. Is it more important to do the right thing out of a sense of duty or fulfill one’s personal passion in hopes of becoming a more self-possessed person? It’s a tough question that Insecure seems primed to explore but the genuine importance of this quandary doesn’t weigh down Rae and Wilmore’s show for one second. Insecure comes off as insightful, witty, and sincerely delightful, even as its narrative backbone is formed by tremendous philosophical concepts. – Chris Cabin
Supergirl Season 2
Premiere: Monday, October 10th on The CW
Cast: Melissa Benoist, Mehcad Brooks, Jeremy Jordan, Chyler Leigh, David Harewood
Beyond a new network and a new filming location in Vancouver, the big story in the Supergirl season premiere is the first full-on appearance of Tyler Hoechlin as the Girl of Steel’s famous cousin, Superman. Hoechlin’s take on the character is presented as the antithesis of the controversial version of the character seen in Zack Snyder’s films; he smiles, his Clark Kent is bumbling, and he has that down-home Kansas core that can even win Cat Grant over. Seeing how the other characters react to this Superman is fun, and Hoechlin fits the boots perfectly. As an added bonus, references are made to other notable characters and moments in the Superman comics lore, and fans should enjoy watching for all of the Easter eggs.
Superman’s presence comes at a point of introspection for many of the characters: Kara has the chance to be with James and to take the job of her dreams, but will she take it? How will Alex respond when a member of Kara’s biological family is actually present? Will Winn get all of the answers he wants when he stops fanboying over meeting the Man of Steel? And now that Cat Grant has conquered the world as the Queen of all Media, what can she do next?
There is a slight worry that Superman’s presence can overshadow Kara if he hangs around the show for too long; right now, Hoechlin is only set to appear in the season’s first two episodes. But his premiere flight as Superman and Supergirl’s CW debut are both very, very good and represent the best DC Comics television has to offer. — Craig Byrne
Premiere: Tuesday, October 11th on ABC
Cast: Katy Mixon, Diedrich Bader, Ali Wong, Carly Hughes
In American Housewife, (must every title start with “American” now?) Mixon stars as a Connecticut women trying to raise three relatively normal kids (“I need two of my kids to fit in less, and one to fit in more”) with her husband (Bader) in a city full of fitness-obsessed women. Originally titled ‘The Second Fattest Housewife in Westport,’ the American Housewife pilot is obsessed with body image. But instead of focusing on fake and shallow personalities, it wrongly funnels its fury into a hatred of thin women, which feels against its desire to be body-positive for those who want to just be “real,” whatever that looks like.
The pilot has some decent zingers embedded in its moral premise, and its best moments involve Bader’s staid delivery juxtaposed with Mixon’s snark. Among the couple’s three TV kids, Daniel DiMaggio stands out as a kind of Michael J. Fox in Family Ties type, obsessed with wealth and already saving for his IRA. The pilot veers towards breaking the fourth wall and being far too preachy towards the end, though, which doesn’t serve it well. American Housewife could be a fun, subversive comedy if it took a lesson from ABC’s promising new series Speechless, which lampoons those kinds of preachy affects and embraces the flaws of parenthood with wit rather than spit and venom. — Allison Keene
The Flash Season 3
Premiere: Tuesday, October 4th on The CW
Cast: Grant Gustin, Danielle Panabaker, Candice Patton, Carlos Valdes, Jesse L. Martin, Tom Cavanagh
The hugely anticipated Flashpoint paradox that Barry created at the end of Season 2 is addressed head-on in The Flash’s Season 3 premiere, but unfortunately, all too briefly. For most of the hour, the show does what it does best by leaning heavily on the charm, charisma, emotional range, and comedic timing of its star Grant Gustin, as Barry revels in a kind of fantasy world of his own making. But as the cracks and dark edges start to show, Barry begins to realize that this wonderful world (one where we as viewers get to gleefully experience different versions of some key characters) may need to come to an end.
The problem is that all of this happens so fast that it’s hard to attach any deep feelings towards it. Gustin and Patton do absolutely everything to bring us emotionally up to speed, but Flashpoint’s alternate world deserved more time and exploration in the now — even if its ramifications will be felt back in the Prime Timeline for many episodes to come. Barry is an unusual superhero because he tries so hard to make everyone happy all of the time, and that earnest good nature is something that makes The Flash such a deeply and emotionally resonate show. But the series also needs to be careful, what with its flying through time and space, to slow down its plot points sometimes to give more to its great cast and characters; one of the best scenes in the premiere is one where Wally, Iris, and Barry are just catching up with each other.
Like the Earth-2 storylines, the alternate timeline is so much fun when it comes to seeing our favorite characters with different personalities and alternte lives. But slow down and stay awhile, show. We’re not going anywhere. — Allison Keene
Premiere: Monday, October 3rd on ABC
Cast: Hayley Atwell, Eddie Cahill, Shawn Ashmore, Merrin Dungey, Emily Kinney, Manny Montana, Daniel Franzese
This fairly boilerplate legal procedural is unsurprisingly elevated by the charm and charisma of its lead, Hayley Atwell — even though she’s unfortunately saddled with a boring American accent. The pilot episode establishes Atwell’s Hayes Morrison as a former White House daughter with a brilliant legal mind, but who faces plenty of personal demons. That “rogue genius” character description is usually applied to male protagonists, and it’s refreshing to see Atwell playing such a sharp, snarky character with just enough underlying emotion to make her exceedingly likable.
Conviction follows Hayes’ team of lawyers, detectives, and forensic experts who seek to overturn wrongful convictions, which provides some easily triumphant moments (which surely won’t be the case every week, but it’s an uplifting premise). The self-imposed restriction of having only 5 days to handle each case gives the episode some urgency, but the clunky dialogue and viewer hand-holding sets it back. And while there are some potential plot threads of interest among the team, the show (much like Agent Carter) rests almost entirely on the Atwell’s capable shoulders. — Allison Keene
Blunt Talk Season 2
Premiere: Sunday, October 2nd on Starz
Cast: Patrick Stewart, Jacki Weaver, Adrian Scarborough, Dolly Wells, Timm Sharp
Blunt Talk’s second season was filmed back-to-back with Season 1, so whatever your feelings were towards it before, not much has changed. I tend to be on the positive side with Jonathan Ames’ underrated comedy, not only because Patrick Stewart is absolutely brilliant in his role as TV newsman Walter Blunt, but because the show’s casual intimacy with its characters (all wonderfully cast) creates an honest, awkward, and sometimes bracingly funny backdrop for its weekly stories — even when it’s being silly and juvenile.
Season 2 kicks off with relationship problems for Celia (Wells) and Jim (Sharp), but also for Walter and Harry (Scarborough). The events of Season 1’s hostage situation still linger, but the new focus is on a porn parody of the show that reviles Walter but fascinates the staff. Walter is also on a mission to uncover a massive conspiracy regarding a baron’s profiteering from the California draught, which moves the somewhat wonderfully aimless plot. But where Blunt Talk really succeeds is in its smallest moments and interactions. In the worlds that Ames creates, the rhythms of the character’s speech are incredibly unique and warm. Even when they’re behaving badly, they’re quietly philosophical about it, truthful to a fault, and always vulnerable. It’s an almost indefinable amalgam of tone and feeling, but one that I’m happy is back, “right here, right now.” — Allison Keene
Premiere: Monday, October 3rd on NBC
Cast: Goran Visnjic, Malcolm Barrett, Abigail Spencer, Matt Lanter, Sakina Jaffrey, Paterson Joseph
A history professor (Spencer), a soldier (Lanter), and a scientist (Barrett) walk into a bar — stop me if you’ve heard this one before. The three are from the present day, but the bar is in 1937 so yes, Timeless is another show about time travel. Is it as ludicrous as all of the others? Pretty much. But it does come from Shawn Ryan and Eric Kripke, so maybe there’s hope.
The show’s pilot quickly explains its spotty logical basis about bandits (lead by Goran Visnjic) who steal a time machine in order to change American history (luckily there’s a second time machine sitting there for this trio of heroes to follow in hot pursuit), before immediately diving into Nazi-related action. Going after Nazis is usually the fastest way to get an audience on your side, but at this point, it’s a pretty uninspired choice for an inaugural outing.
Timeless has some intriguing elements to it — including how the present day changes based on these small tweaks to the past, ones that our heroes are responsible for in trying to prevent even larger catastrophes — not to mention the always outstanding presence of Paterson Joseph. But the show (or the pilot, at least) falls quickly into the problem of taking an arrogant look back at the follies of a (as portrayed) quaintly ignorant past. Though Barrett has some great lines and what could be a compelling story about being a black man going back to more hostile times (instead of these issues being ignored or glossed over), it’s a lot to ask that Timeless be about galloping through the past, changes to the American history, layers of family drama, and historical race relations all at once. Having said all of that, Timeless’ ambitions can’t be denied, so if you are willing to check your logic at the door, this could be worth your time. — Allison Keene
Younger Season 3
Premiere: Wednesday, September 28th on TV Land
Cast: Sutton Foster, Hilary Duff, Debi Mazar, Miriam Shor, Molly Bernard, Peter Hermann, Nico Tortorella
Now in its third season, TV Land’s Younger keeps its finger firmly on the pulse of the zeitgeist. The hilarious, affecting dramedy focuses on a 40-something divorcee and mother pretending to be a carefree 26-year-old to make it in the publishing industry. Liza’s life is a Dickensian-type plot that shouldn’t work. But it does.
In the new episodes, Liza (Foster) is torn between Josh (Tortorella) and Charles (Hermann), the latter of whom gets a bit more complexity in Season 3’s early episodes. Diana’s (Shor) edges are softened even further, as we learn a bit more about how she spends her time outside of the office. And Kelsey (Duff) works tirelessly to get Millennial Imprint off the ground while dealing with her own, complicated grief. Foster continues to shine in her lead role, making us care about a woman who is lying to most of the people in her life. Liza is desperate to live an honest life, but she is more desperate to live a life free of the limits society puts on her as a woman of a certain age. Younger maintains its thematic edge not by glorifying one generation above the other or by prioritizing the domestic over the professional, but by giving insightful critiques on larger, institutionalized problems like ageism and sexism. Thematically, this show does more with its 20-minute episodes than some shows do with an entire season.
Younger’s many plot machinations work because the show has a heart and female-centrism that is missing from most TV fare these days. Younger occupies the same kind of TV space as Jane the Virgin: It may delve into ridiculousness at times, but it never loses sight of its characters in the meta-commentary about contemporary (in this case, New York City-based) culture. (It doesn’t hurt that this show is also filmed in New York City, and has at its helm Sex in the City creator Darren Star.) With a fourth season already ordered and no signs of a creative slowing-down, it’s time to jump on board the stylish, hilarious, and insightful Younger bandwagon. We have glitter. — Kayti Burt
Premiere: Saturday, October 1st on Ovation
Cast: George Blagden, Alexander Vlahos, Tygh Runyan, Stuart Bowman, Amira Casar, Evan Williams
Distinguished by a modern, atmospheric soundtrack and an magnetic lead, international co-production Versailles, which is already headed for Season 3 in France, finally brings its tales of royalty and intrigue to American shores (and don’t worry, it’s in English and not subtitled). Versailles is about exactly what you would expect: the reign of Louis XIV (Blagden) a.k.a. The Sun King, and him establishing his absolutely power and authority over France and the nobility by sequestering them at his father’s hunting lodge, which would soon become one of the most opulent castles in the world.
In the first episodes, we see Louis coming into his own as someone who has been king since he was a child, and yet, only after the death of his Regent mother is able to grasp the reins of power for himself. Beside him are his flamboyant brother Philippe (Vlahos), his wife (also Louis’ mistress), as well as Louis’ estranged wife and a host of others in the court who either revere him and plot against him.
Fans of series like The Borgias, The Tudors, and other historical political dramas (with an emphasis on drama over history) will find plenty to like, though by comparison to some of their depictions of sex and violence, Versailles can feel quite tame (even though there is still plenty). The sprawling story is definitely more concerned with soapy plots than the realities of court and the battle for power between the Protestant and Roman Catholic Church, a la Wolf Hall, but like Versailles itself the results are charmingly ostentatious. — Allison Keene
Crisis in Six Scenes
Premiere: September 30th, Amazon Prime
Cast: Woody Allen, Elaine May, Miley Cyrus, John Magaro, Rachel Brosnahan, Joy Beyhart, and Lewis Black
In more than a few ways, Crisis in Six Scenes, Allen’s first foray into a TV series format, is a work that wears the unavoidable handle of an older artist. It’s wisdom and honed wit, however, is still lively and resilient where the man behind Café Society came off as disappointed but also distanced by time. In this case, Allen is fully out in front of the camera, playing Sidney Munsinger, a wealthy retiree occasionally enjoying his late years with his wife, Kay (May). His life is all sweet routine until his wife lets a famed radical leftist activist, Lennie (Cyrus), stay at their place, eat their food, openly smoke pot, and make arrangements for violent acts of protests. In one particular scene, Lennie cops to being able to build bombs while listing off her skills to Sidney.
The series lacks the ruefulness that has given Allen’s recent works such an insidious, bitter, yet liberated sensibility, but there’s certainly a sense of reflection here. Much of the exchanges between the Munsingers, Lennie, and Munsinger friends Alan and Ellie (Magaro and Brosnahan of House of Cards) is reminiscent of the stage comedies that Allen first built his name on. The shots are gorgeous, fluid, and unfussy and Allen doesn’t do a lot of cutting. Each shot is decisive, embedded with a rare technical mastery that never announces itself in the tightness of the compositions. He cedes much of the floor to his performers, per usual, and his entire cast here proves more than capable of delivering Allen’s dialogue while also thinking of intimate gestures and larger physical releases to electrify his frame.
One does wish that Allen imbued Crisis in Six Scenes with some of his more profound thoughts on growing old and facing death, and how that informs his unique moral compass. What his series ultimately comes to preach is a school of adaptability and social change, even if such things make him nervous and uncomfortable. But Herbie Mann’s rendition of “Comin Home Baby” is the film’s primary auditory touchstone, and the song’s very title seems to suggest a return to something familiar, while the music itself is laced with something menacing, mysterious, and very alluring. (Full Review) — Chris Cabin
Ash vs Evil Dead Season 2
Premiere: Sunday, October 2nd on Starz
Cast: Bruce Campbell, Ray Santiago, Dana DeLorenzo, Lucy Lawless, and Lee Majors
One of the first things we see the deadite-slaying Ash Williams do in the season premiere of Ash vs Evil Dead Season 2 is proposition a flirtatious mother and daughter for some sort of deeply disturbing sexual rendezvous. Of course, this is after he’s opened a keg with his trusty chainsaw for a gaggle of party-hard twenty-somethings at a Jacksonville watering hole, where he’s been hiding out with his crew following the events of Season 1. And the moment preempts another bloody, limb-tossing attack by the deadites that sends our hero, played again by Bruce Campbell, and his compadres, Pablo and Kelly (Santiago and DeLorenzo), back to Ash’s hometown of Elk Grove, with Scott Walker’s sublime “The Old Man’s Back Again” playing on the radio. That’s exactly where Ash vs Evil Dead continues to thrive – between the crass, base joys of sex and violence at their most morally dubious, and the blissful, substantive thrill of witnessing an unpretentious artist deploy all their talents and knowledge in the service of the genre that gave them their start.
Comedy and horror have always been close kin, but few movies and literally no other TV shows have been able to shirk the specter of morality as effortlessly as Ash vs Evil Dead. There’s no attempt to turn Ash into a squeaky clean, self-serious hero and yet there’s plenty of detail given in this season (and last) that gives us an expansive sense of his tormented, impulsive inner life and his increasingly tragic backstory. In Season 2, the aftermath of what happened in the first two Evil Dead movies is directly tied to Ash’s return to Elk Grove and his reputation in the small town, as well as his relationship with his salty father, Rock “Cock” Williams (The Six-Million Dollar Man himself Lee Majors). Amongst the sheer tonnage of sexual innuendos and gallons of blood, to say nothing of a variety of other bodily fluids, Ash vs Evil Dead quietly reveals itself as a ramshackle character study of the world’s most unlikely and distasteful hero. Yet, he’s also a premiere problem-solver, the type of fella who may have no idea what he’s walking into when he enters a haunted factory, but knows how to dispatch a screaming white-eyed banshee-demon back to the fiery abyss. (Full Review) — Chris Cabin
Brooklyn Nine-Nine Season 4
Premiere: Tuesday, September 20th on Fox
Cast: Andy Samberg, Andre Braugher, Terry Crews, Melissa Fumero, Joe Lo Truglio, Stephanie Beatriz, Chelsea Peretti, Ken Marino, Jorme Taccone, Dirck Blocker, and Joel McKinnon Miller
For those who still have a Parks & Recreation-size hole in their heart from the unfortunate cancellation of that ingenious comedy series, Brooklyn Nine-Nine is about as worthy a successor as you’re likely to find these days. As with the Amy Poehler-led series, the key to Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s continued success is its sense of community and big, consistent laughs that are grounded in characters rather than plot. It’s also worth mentioning that both shows were co-created by Michael Schur, a veteran of Saturday Night Live and The Office’s writers rooms.
As the fourth season of Brooklyn Nine-Nine opens up, Jake and Captain Holt (Samberg and Braugher) are hiding out from a mafia boss in Florida, reporting to handler Maya Rudolph, and suffering boss-man Jorma Taccone at the local game center and arcade. Meanwhile, the rest of the precinct is attempting to get work done with a new captain, played by the hilarious Ken Marino. If the show isn’t nearly as funny in the first two episodes of Season 4 as the excellent third season, it’s only because the entire cast isn’t together, volleying potent guffaws. For the most part, however, the comedy series feels the same while making minor changes in each episode, and while that might often be seen as a hindrance to shows, it’s exactly what has made Brooklyn Nine-Nine so resilient over the years. – Chris Cabin
Premiere: Thursday, September 22nd on Fox
Cast: Kylie Banbury, Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Ali Larger, Mo McRae, Mark Consuelos, Dan Lauria, Meagan Holder, Tim Jo
There are very few pilots this year with a premise as promising as Pitch, yet it’s also one of the trickiest to pull off. The series, from Dan Fogelman and Rick Singer, chronicles the fictional story of Ginny Baker (Banbury), the first woman to play for Major League Baseball. After years in the minors, she’s picked up by the San Diego Padres as a pitcher (her famous screwball allows her to compete in a way that’s based on skill and not strength), where she becomes an instant celebrity and role model — something she doesn’t feel prepared for.
The heartfelt but sometimes stiff pilot (with unnecessarily jerky camera work) struggles to tell the story of a young black woman breaking into a men’s professional field without turning it into a mini Hallmark movie. And though by the end of the hour we don’t have much of a sense of Ginny, we do get to know star catcher Mike Lawson, played with conceited yet charming aplomb by an almost unrecognizable Gosselaar. Paired with Larter’s high-powered agent and the usual suspects for this kind of drama (the gruff coach, the money-hungry owner, the rowdy locker room, a wise best friend), Pitch fleshes out enough interest in its inaugural hour to — like Ginny — win over the skeptics. At least for now. — Allison Keene
Poldark Season 2
Premiere: September 25th on PBS
Cast: Aidan Turner, Eleanor Tomlinson, Heida Reed, Ruby Bentall, Kyle Soller, Jack Farthing
The BBC’s (via PBS) sweeping 18th century drama Poldark returns to Cornwall with an exceptionally dark start, as Ross (Turner) awaits trial and a possible hanging for being falsely accused of inciting a beach riot and stripping a wrecked ship. George Warleggen (Farthing) is also hoping to get him condemned for the murder of his cousin, and puts forth a considerable sum of money to make that happen.
The premiere, which will run for two hours, is packed with plot and moves at a fast pace, even though it only covers a 24 hour period of time. But it also advances the emotional arcs of its leads, from Demelza’s (Tomlinson) grief over her daughter to Francis’s (Soller) grief of just about everything. Elizabeth (Reed) still seems to pine for Ross, but her relationship with Francis (and, intriguingly, Warleggen) takes a few interesting turns, and the series is again full of wit and warmth.
Fears of a revolution like in France inform the icy legal proceedings against Ross, but even in its darkest hours, Poldark gives its Cornish tale dramatically gorgeous settings, complimented by a soulful score and exceptional cast. The political intrigue and machinations between Warleggen’s scheming and Poldark’s unshakeable pride and principle give this underrated series a great deal of depth, and manage to provide unpredictable journeys in a genre where outcomes are easily guessed. — Allison Keene
Premiere: Friday, September 23rd on CBS
Cast: Lucas Till, George Eads, Sandrine Holt, Tristin Mays, Justin Hires
On the surface, MacGyver is everything CBS probably hoped it would be: It is inoffensive, it will fit in well with their Friday night lineup, and the brand name recognition will probably hook some viewers who wouldn’t otherwise be interested. Unfortunately, while lead actor Lucas Till (X-Men: First Class) is charismatic as Mac, his voiceover and the tone of several parts of the show would remind viewers of another, better recent CBS show that was cancelled: Limitless.
The pilot, directed by James Wan, at least keeps things entertaining on the action side; however, even with a near-complete retooling, some characters feel like the ones you’ve seen before on other recent CBS shows like Scorpion (the hope is that the show moves beyond that). Of the pilot’s characters, Eads’ Jack Dalton and Spiridakos’ Nikki may be the most interesting. Some nods to the original series that starred Richard Dean Anderson are peppered within, though one can hope that the theme music borrows more from the original than the temporary track that came with the screener did.
It’s probably a good thing that this new MacGyver makes an audience recall other CBS shows rather than parodies like MacGruber; as it stands, it should do okay with general viewers, but there’s still hope that someone can use a shoelace, some bubble gum, and a Pez dispenser to evolve the show into something a little more original. – Craig Byrne
Premiere: Wednesday, September 21st on ABC
Cast: Minnie Driver, John Ross Bowie, Mason Cook, Micah Fowler, Kyla Kennedy, Cedric Yarbrough
Leaning heavily on the comedic chops of star Minnie Driver and Reno 911 alum Cedric Yarbrough, ABC’s smart comedy Speechless bypasses any notions of a gimmicky attempt at diversity, and instead delivers a sweet, irreverent look at the life of a teenaged boy with cerebral palsy. Driver’s Maya is a tiger mother, dragging her family from place to place to find the best schools for J.J. (Fowler), and always looking to fight for his rights in the face of ignorance and intolerance. Some of the slights are perceived, but others are real, and Speechless so far walks the right balance between the lesson-learning needs of a family sitcom, and the sometimes difficult realities of daily life.
The series also cleverly plays up the humor of liberal guilt and an over-exuberant inclusiveness, which can be just as wrong-headed as not giving enough consideration to someone with J.J.’s needs. But the show also looks inward at the family and their own struggles, like how Maya’s youngest son feels ignored as Maya only focuses in on J.J. (Bowie as the family’s slyly funny father is another great casting choice).
Speechless has a lot of promise, and Driver — who brings her same manic, pushy, yet charming persona over from NBC’s cancelled comedy About a Boy — is its driving force. But Yarbrough is quietly the show’s greatest asset, and his interactions with J.J. allow for both characters to have that coveted voice, one that makes them as deeply considered and uproariously funny as anyone else. — Allison Keene
Secrets & Lies Season 2
Premiere: Sunday, September 25th on ABC
Cast: Michael Ealy, Juliette Lewis, Jordana Brewster, Mekia Cox, Terry O’Quinn
Your enjoyment of Season 2 of ABC’s crime anthology series Secrets & Lies will depend in large part on how well you respond to Juliette Lewis’ robotic, often doggedly wrong-headed detective Cornell, who returns to try and put the wrong person in jail once again (or will she be right this time?) As for the rest of it, the series’ new story remains on-brand for the network, which has developed a slate of programming dedicated to twisty plots, flashbacks, and gasp-inducing revelations. This time, a wealthy man’s (Ealy) life is turned upside down when his new wife (Brewster) is pushed off a rooftop during a company party. As any fan of murder mysteries will start to see, the close-knit family and their confidants could all be potential perps, though Ealy as the husband is naturally the prime suspect (His best friend quotes Forensic Files, “9 times out of 10 the husband did it. This is the exception though, of course!”)
Secrets & Lies’ first season was an exercise in frustration with a bizarre conclusion, and Season 2’s mostly clean slate has a chance to course-correct. Still, the new season won’t hold much interest for those weary of ABC’s formulaic dramas that are more interested in plot twists and intrigue than character development. For others, the passable whodunnit may be compelling enough (outside of Cornell’s obsession with her Occams razor-based theories), especially thanks to Ealy’s charisma and this family’s media-savvy, one that protects them (and us) initially from Cornell’s uninspired attempts to find the killer. — Allison Keene
Empire Season 3
Premiere: September 21st, 9 p.m. EST, Fox
Cast: Terrence Howard, Taraji P. Henson, Bryshere Y. Gray, Trai Byers, Jussie Smollett, Grace Gealey, Kaitlin Doubleday, Ta’Rhonda Jones, Gabourey Sidibe
The thrill of Empire has been in its conflation of grand dramatic turns and gestures of Shakespeare with the oversized, sprawling feuds at the center of hip-hop culture. It’s been at its most successful when those two elements are evenly balanced, and the series is as outrageous as it is resonant. Unfortunately, in its third season, the familial melodrama of Empire has grown repetitive and lacks the tension that made the series so galvanizing in its first season. And where the musical side of the drama once reflected experience and honest-to-goodness studio work, it now feels secondary to, and separated from, the drama, offering interludes rather than expressive climaxes.
To attempt to concisely explain where we are with the Lyon family would be a fool’s errand, considering the sheer density of story going on here. But to start: Howard’s Lucious has recently taken vows with Grace Gealey’s Anika to avoid the Feds, which leads him to essentially betray his family to save his own ass. He’s also having issues with the re-launch of his streaming service, Empire X-Stream, which is at the center of a concert he organizes as the season opens. There’s quite a lot more spoiler-heavy happenings going on but despite the swing-for-the-fences tone of the drama, the series feels safe and innocuous.
This is largely to do with the fact that since the end of Season 1, Empire has taken to diffusing major conflicts with an easy, even miraculous solution rather than working to a convincing end. Or, a storyline will end with a twist that allows the drama to go on in a not-all-that-different way. As such, everything that happens in Empire feels automatically flippant and unimportant, even as the cast continues to do engaging, emotional work in each episode. At this point, Empire seems to be continuing on for no other reason other than it can. – Chris Cabin
Transparent Season 3
Premiere: Friday, September 23rd on Amazon
Cast: Jeffrey Tambor, Amy Landecker, Gaby Hoffmann, Judith Light, Jay Duplass, Kathryn Hahn, Alexandra Billings, Cherry Jones, Anjelica Huston, and Rob Huebel
Jill Soloway’s empathetic, enlightened comedic drama continues to be one of the most self-explorative series of this decade – or any other for that matter. As all the members of the Pfefferman clan continue to seek out what really makes them feel happy and secure, the show continues to be restless in the ways that these characters go about prodding their own existence and perspectives at every turn.
In terms of writing and performance, there aren’t many series that quite reach up to Transparent’s level at this point. The writers room, led by Soloway and her sister Faith, continues to confront seemingly small injustices that tend to open up into much larger issues of identity and, scoff all you like, political correctness. In the first episode of the season, Maura (Tambor) is confronted with her own unintended bigotry when she asks a trio of Hispanic women if they’ve seen a young, green-haired trans woman “on the streets.” The moment plays out perfectly without any pre-conceived idea if whether what Maura did was simple thoughtlessness or something much deeper.
And that seems to carry over to how each member of the Pfefferman family continues to investigate their own existence and mindfully change to bring out new, eclectic sides of their personalities. Is the fact that Sarah (Landecker) was not allowed on a religious community board because of intolerance or an actual issue she hasn’t faced yet? One can ask similar questions about an encounter that Ali (Hoffmann) has with a colleague, or Josh’s (Duplass) new, isolated place at the head of the company. There’s a similar hint of that self-questioning in how Shelly (Light) contemplates putting on a one-woman show after doing well at a local talk.
What the series lacks in knowing visual style it more than compensates with its witty, lacerating writing and its continuously inventive and moving cast, which also includes Kathryn Hahn, Alexandra Billings, and Rob Huebel. And as the series moves on with storylines involving convincing, thoughtful work from Cherry Jones and Anjelica Huston, the heart of the narrative continues to be how the family unit is not just a place of comfort and love but also a place of self-discovery and philosophical challenge. In this alone, Transparent continues to be one of the rare series on television that seeks to expand and transcend the genre it labors under. – Chris Cabin
Premiere: Wednesday, September 21st on ABC
Cast: Kiefer Sutherland, Natascha McElhone, Adan Canto, Maggi Q, Lamonica Garrett, Italia Ricci, Kal Penn
ABC’s new drama series asks what many Americans appear to be wondering: what would happen if we started with a clean political slate? The current unrest against and mistrust of insiders and game players in Washington is tellingly laid bare in Designated Survivor, which sees Sutherland’s relative outsider, lowly HUD secretary Tom Kirkman, becoming President after a catastrophic event.
There are shades of Quantico here in exploring the repercussions of a terrorist attack on the capitol and the search for who is responsible, yet far less henley shirts and, for now, less casual sex. Scandal’s influence is also felt though the sleek, fast-talking political intrigue (and of course the hot young staffers). But this series strives to be less salacious by focusing on Kirkman’s family, including his wife and two children, and their response in going from anonymity to prime time. Sutherland himself is cool and charming, but the boilerplate stylings and dialogue leave his character — and the series — uninspired.
The pilot also introduces Maggie Q as an FBI agent whose story it seems important that we follow, yet it never gives a compelling reason why, nor does it give a very clear picture of where things are headed for Kirkman, either. Is this going to be Unexpectedly Becoming the President 101? If so, you’re better off watching HBO’s scathing political series Veep, whose vulgarity and absurdity feels much better match for the real world than Designated Survivor’s stodgy stoicism. — Allison Keene
Premiere: Thursday, September 22nd on ABC
Cast: Piper Perabo, Daniel Sunjata, Kate Jennings Grant, Ryan Guzman, Aimee Teegarden
Things are always a little better when they’re based on a true story, aren’t they? Like Scandal’s Olivia Pope being based on real-life White House press aid Judy Smith, Notorious takes its story from the relationship between crime attorney Mark Garagos and Larry King Live producer Wendy Walker. Here it’s the fictional Jake Gregorian (Sunjata), Julia George (Perabo), and a female-led news show, but what’s more important is the implication of the behind-the-scenes manipulations not only among media outlets and PR firms, fixers, and attorneys, but a manipulation of viewers as well. In such a fraught political season, the show’s themes feel timely, though also a little unfortunate.
But while the world burns why not have a little fun? The chemistry between the leads here is key, and Perabo and and Sunjata have it in spades. Doing as ABC does best with its flashy dramas full of sex, twists, and intrigue all set to a never-ceasing soundtrack, Notorious is the perfect kind of easy-to-digest, fluffy drama series that doesn’t feel beholden to a deeply serious central event (a la Quantico or Designated Survivor), but whose attractive cast and confidence in its storytelling make it a worthy successor to glossy, fast-paced series like Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder, which feels like exactly what ABC is hoping for with its newly Pope-less TGIT lineup. — Allison Keene
Premiere: Sunday, October 2nd on HBO
Cast: Evan Rachel Wood, Anthony Hopkins, James Marsden, Ed Harris, Thandie Newton, Jeffery Wright, Jimmi Simpson, Ben Barnes
In the second episode of HBO’s new drama epic Westworld, a crass guest (Barnes) tells his straight-laced companion (Simpson), “I know you think you have a handle on what this is: guns and tits. But you have no idea.” It’s a perfect description of what viewers might be thinking about the series, which introduces a park that is set up as a place of pure fantasy, and typically plays to humanity’s darker nature. “Hell is empty. All the devils are here.” And yet it is so much more.
The park is populated by lifelike androids, called hosts, who wake up each day in a narrative loop, one which allows for improvisation based on the needs of the guests (also called “newcomers”). The stories are vast and interconnected, though one of the story writers laments that everything works as it should, “unless a guest decides they want to kill or fuck something.”
The series — with a solid logical foundation and world-building — is lovingly crafted, marrying its Wild West aesthetic with cold sci-fi elements of the labs that run the park in a way that feels believably connected. The cast is also exceptional, with the hosts instilling both fear and empathy. Ultimately, Michael Crichton’s themes of the nature of consciousness and how we humans love to tinker with things we don’t yet understand sets up an engrossing world, and the seeds of rebellion. “These violent delights have violent ends.” (Full Review) — Allison Keene
Premiere: Tuesday, September 20thon CBS
Cast: Michael Weatherly, Annabelle Attanasio, Geneva Carr, Freddy Rodriguez, Chris Jackson, and Stefanie Flores
After making a splash in NCIS next to Mark Harmon, Michael Weatherly strikes out on his own with this procedural drama centered on the early career of Dr. Phil McGraw (yes, that Dr. Phil). In the early 1990s, McGraw started Courtroom Sciences, a trial-consulting firm that worked on court cases and also consulted Forbes 500 companies. In Bull, that business is placed in the modern day, led by Dr. Jason Bull (Weatherly), who employs a small cadre of analysts, hackers, lawyers, and other agents to figure out how to emotionally manipulate the jury into believing their case.
The way that the series unveils the world of Bull’s company, Trial Analysis Corporation, is immediately engaging, and Weatherly brings the same sense of humor and charisma that made him stand out in NCIS to this production. Beyond that, however, there isn’t a whole lot to Bull. In following a case-of-the-week format with the series, the show must rely on its level of technical nuance and the wit of its characters, and Bull doesn’t let anyone but Weatherly really stand out. And when the show tries to get moral or righteous, as it does in the second half of the pilot, there’s the unmistakable feeling of opportunism, of playing on political sensitivities to give a false sense of urgency and importance. When Bull avoids that kind of tinny grandstanding, it’s enjoyable but not particularly memorable, and there’s really no evidence that the show has ambitions that transcend that goal. – Chris Cabin
Premiere: Friday, September 23rd on Syfy
Cast: Kelly Overton, Jonathan Scarfe, Christopher Heyerdahl, David Cubitt, Rukiya Bernard
The (vampire) revolution may be televised, but if it’s as slow as Van Helsing we may all be asleep for it. For those hoping that Van Helsing might be Syfy’s latest feminist take on an old classic (see: the delightful Wynonna Earp), this is not the hero you are looking for. At least, not yet. The show’s heroine (Overton) — whose blood turns the feral, zombie-like vampires of the apocalypse back into their human form — is reluctant in her role, so much so that she sleeps through most of the first episode. The irony is not lost. The second and third hours fill out some of the details of the vampire plague in a way that’s reminiscent of The Strain, particularly when it comes to the rag-tag group that forms. But in that vein, there’s a strong feeling that we’ve seen this all before, but with better pacing and dialogue. And for just once, could a hero with cool powers be excited to have them?
Van Helsing has an interesting enough setup, if it would only capitalize on some action. It is excessively gory and often grotesque (the foley artists must have had a ball with this one), but that can’t make up for the fact that it’s just not particularly unique or compelling. Once the group finally heads outside of the hospital base where they spend the first three hours, then we might have little bit of a Walking Dead scenario worth following. But given how slowly the series is ambling along, once it does finally (hopefully) ramp up and head out, they might find that no one is there. – Allison Keene
The Last Man on Earth Season 3
Premiere: Sunday, September 25th on Fox
Cast: Will Forte, Kristen Schaal, January Jones, Mary Steenburgen, Mel Rodriguez, Cleopatra Coleman
When it first premiered, The Last Man on Earth distinguished itself as one of the boldest and most unique comedy pilots to maybe have ever aired. Two seasons later, all that was certain is that the show did premieres and finales well, and that Will Forte is unabashedly committed to subverting sitcom tropes. What lies between those premieres and finales, though, is often disappointing. And now, the show’s third season premiere, which feels like a retread of Season 2’s jokes, isn’t up to the standards of its predecessors as the show also continues to struggle with giving sufficient time to its ever-growing cast outside of Forte and Schaal.
You don’t have to like the people who star in a TV show to enjoy the show — Seinfeld is one of the greatest examples of this, and Curb Your Enthusiasm even more so. But you do have to connect with them or find them funny or interesting enough to spend time watching them week to week. That’s really no longer true with Last Man, if it ever was.
There are a few ok moments in the premiere and surely some great ones to come (last season’s “Falling Slowly” duet was among the show’s best), and for the Last Man faithful that may be enough. For those on the fence, however, this feels like the right time to say goodbye. — Allison Keene
Black Mirror Season 3
Premiere: October 21st
Cast: Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Mackenzie Davis, Bryce Dallas Howard, Alice Eve
The first two episodes of Black Mirror Season 3 get things off to a surprisingly sunny start. Under the show’s new Netflix banner, creator Charlie Brooker has crafted—with the first two episodes at least—a tiny bit of a departure in that the bleakness doesn’t entirely overwhelm the show. The first episode, “San Junipero,” has an 80s setting and features a pair of terrific performances from Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Halt and Catch Fire’s Mackenzie Davis. Another episode, “Nosedive,” features even more star power, with Atonement helmer Joe Wright directing, Rashida Jones and Parks and Recreation creator Mike Schur scripting, and Bryce Dallas Howard starring in a premise that revolves around a social media-oriented world.
While we’ve only seen these two episodes out of a total of six for Season 3, we already see the promise of a departure from prior hours, as they not only feature American characters, but also have a bit more positive disposition. That’s not to say they necessarily have happy endings, but while other episodes of Black Mirror can leave you feeling a tad depressed/terrified, that’s undercut a smidge here by some much-welcomed levity and warmth. “San Junipero” comes together more fully than “Nosedive” but they’re both incredibly fun and show that Black Mirror has definitely not lost its touch in the move to Netflix. (Read a review of the first two episodes here, and a full review of the season here) — Adam Chitwood
Premiere: Friday, September 23rd on Fox
Cast: Alfonso Herrera, Ben Daniels, Geena Davis, Hannah Kasulka, Brianne Howey, and Alan Ruck
Fox’s adaptation of William Friedkin’s malevolent, sombre masterwork, as spearheaded by creator Jeremy Slater (writer of the upcoming Death Note and The Lazarus Effect), puts the cart before the horse. Where the movie was powered by a sense of immediate dread, horror, and furious desperation, the series goes for the long build-up, giving us time to get to know the familiar perspectives of the young priest (Herrera), the old priest (Daniels), and the mother who needs their help (Davis). Hannah Kasulka plays the latest young woman to be possessed by the unholy.
The pilot offers one remarkable sequence, wherein Herrara’s Father Ortega has a vision of Daniels’ Father Keane attempting to get the devil out of a young boy. In this sequence, Slater and director Rupert Wyatt convincingly convey a sense of terrifying menace in Keane’s battle with the cackling demon that is nowhere to be found elsewhere. Instead, Wyatt and Slater attempt to build the series as a timid family drama and a sentimentalized study of faith and its requirements. The amount of story that they try to fit in zaps the narrative of any momentum and strikes out any scene that doesn’t speak directly to an upcoming plot twist or sheer exposition. It’s mighty difficult to make demonic possession feel boring and mechanistic, so in that sense, Wyatt and Slater have indeed accomplished something here. – Chris Cabin
Premiere: Friday, September 30th on Netflix
Cast: Mike Colter, Frankie Faison, Mahershala Ali, Alfre Woodard, Simone Missick
Though Marvel’s series on Netflix will eventually lead to The Defenders team-up, for now each story belongs uniquely to its title protagonist. Taking place several months after Jessica Jones, Luke Cage (Colter) has relocated to Harlem from Hell’s Kitchen, and is attempting to keep a low profile. He’s barely making ends meet as he sweeps hair at a local barbershop (owned by Faison’s Pops) and cleans dishes at a nightclub owned by the crime boss Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes (Ali). But it doesn’t take very long for those stories to connect, as young regulars at the barbershop see an opportunity for quick cash that soon turns bloody. The fallout from this is what pushes Cage to finally move forward with his life and embrace his strengths for the protection of those who need it.
Luke Cage is a story that’s about more than being a vigilante, as the series deals with difficult real-world issues that go beyond metahumans and cartoon villains. Race also matters in Luke Cage, but most especially in the way that the show fully embraces its Harlem location with style and substance. There’s an intimacy of place, and it extends to all corners of the series in cultural specificity and details. The idea of Luke Cage not just as a hero, but as a black superhero, is important here.
Colter gives Cage a sense of reticence mixed with righteous defiance that hits all the right notes for the reluctant hero, and does so in low tones and with a casual confidence. Though he may struggle to define his heroism and what it means for himself and Harlem, there are no complications for viewers. He is the hero we’ve been waiting for. (Full Review) — Allison Keene
The Good Place
Premiere: Monday, September 19th on NBC (Regular Timeslot starts Thursday, September 22nd)
Cast: Ted Danson, Kristen Bell
Once you get past the faux-theologic gobbledegook that feels like some kind of cult orientation, The Good Place settles in to being a comedy about a recently deceased young woman, Eleanor (Bell), who has been erroneously sent to the “good” place rather than down to the “bad” place (where we’re told all artists and U.S. Presidents go). To stay in this fantasy world of perfection, Eleanor must learn how to discover the good person within herself, all while continuing with the ruse that she belongs among all of these so-called saints.
The pilot for the series, which comes from The Office and Parks and Rec‘s Michael Schur, is saved almost entirely by Bell, who imbues Eleanor with a typically charming and comedic persona. And while there are probably some actually interesting ethical quandaries that could be addressed with a wry satire in The Good Place, the show rests on half-baked notions that seem like they would be much better suited elsewhere than a network comedy. Still, it’s weird enough to give it a gander and see where it goes. — Allison Keene
This is Us
Premiere: Tuesday, September 20th on NBC
Cast: Milo Ventimiglia, Mandy Moore, Justin Hartley, Chrissy Metz, Sterling K. Brown, Susan Kelechi Watson, Chris Sullivan
Branding itself as the weepy of the fall season, though facing a difficult time slot, Dan Fogleman’s This Is Us tells the story of a group of individuals who (mostly) share a birthday. Their stories seem disparate as one gives birth to triplets, another struggles with her weight (“I ate my dream life”), a third searches for his biological father and — in the most meta plot — an actor rails against his sophomoric comedy series and blows up his career. But they share a common thread that is propped up as a surprise revelation, even though it ultimately doesn’t matter as much as the calibre of the acting, which is exceptionally high, and the series’ clear desire to manipulate every scene into being extremely emotional (and dammit, it does succeed).
Though a final reveal in the pilot feels a little gimmicky, it’s also a signal that the real drama (and tears) can start to flow. If you were a Parenthood fan, this series appears to be in a similar vein. Mark it one down as the most likely candidate for the guilty (or perhaps not so guilty) obsession of the fall season. — Allison Keene
Son of Zorn
Premiere: Sunday, September 25th on Fox
Cast: Jason Sudeikis, Johnny Pemberton, Cheryl Hines, Tim Meadows, and Artemis Pebdani
The conceit of Son of Zorn is very clever: a He-Man-type cartoon hero, voiced by Jason Sudeikis, returns to California to spend time with his very human son (Johnny Pemberton). Unfortunately, beyond Zorn’s crassness and fish-out-of-water situation, there’s not much more to Son of Zorn. Nearly every joke circles back around to how out-of-place he is or making reference to random alien worlds that he’s either conquered or made love on. Cheryl Hines and Tim Meadows, as Zorn’s ex and her new man respectively, add a few inspired moments of physicality and delivery but nothing to sway the tide.
There are intermittent laughs to be had but the series regulates its sense of invention from the get-go to deliver a slightly more imaginative yet similarly tiring family sitcom. If there are momentary blips of intergalactic outrageousness, they never quite add up to something to counteract the rote plots that creators Reed Agnew and Eli Jorne (Wilfred, Crank Yankers) give a minimal spin to in each 20-odd-minute episode. The result is a show that’s imaginative on paper but little more than mildly amusing in practice. – Chris Cabin
Gotham Season 3: Mad City
Premiere: Monday, September 19th on Fox
Cast: Ben McKenzie, Jamie Chung, David Mazouz, Donal Logue, Sean Pertwee, Robin Lord Taylor, Erin Richards, Camren Bicondova, Cory Michael Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith, Drew Powell, Chris Chalk, Michael Chiklis, B.D. Wong, Clare Foley, Richard Kind, and Jessica Lucas
In its third season on Fox, Gotham continues to get it exactly half right. Series creator and oft-times director Danny Cannon has built a strikingly visual world for the titular city’s misfits, murderers, and malcontents to run free in, under the watchful eye of cop-turned-bounty hunter Jim Gordon (McKenzie). The use of shadow and color might smack a bit too much of Tim Burton meets Christopher Nolan, but the overall aesthetic gives this ludicrous vision of Gotham before Bruce became Batman a fittingly outlandish timbre of imagery. Even the antic takes on The Penguin, The Riddler, and Hugo Strange seem to match up and enliven the look of the show from episode to episode.
But where the visuals suggest a wild burlesque of the mad and blood-lusting criminals of Gotham, the writing goes for goofy quips and platitudes that keep the show just safe enough to be aggravating. With the Indian Hill gang currently on the run, headed by Jada-Pinkett Smith’s revived Fish Mooney, the series now focuses on Gordon being seduced back to the force as he also tries to hunt down the Indian Hills misfits. Meanwhile, young Bruce Wayne (Mazouz) has uncovered the doings of the Council of Owls and now must face their vengeance. The story is very dark but the dialogue never even comes within spitting distance of the grave stakes that Cannon has set up here. The result is a intermittently promising, hugely irritating series that often feels as if it’s directly catering to a DC-fan contingency excited for nothing more than to see characters from the comics be realized on the small screen. – Chris Cabin
Premiere: Friday, September 16th on Amazon Prime
Cast: Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Sian Clifford, Olivia Colman, Bill Patterson, Brett Gelman
Playwright Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s exceptional half-hour series Fleabag is a raw, honest, and often uproarious portrait of a young single woman’s life in London that somehow manages to avoid all of the genre’s tropes and pitfalls. Waller-Bridge stars at the title character, narrating her life and giving knowing glances to the camera, using it to make us confidents and partners in crime, as well as to admonish our assumptions, or to confirm how absurd a situation is. And while the likable and relatable Fleabag likes pointing out other’s faults, she’s not always easy on herself, either. Struggling through modern dating (where there’s plenty of humor to be found), she’s also haunted, increasingly over the first season’s 6 episodes, by the recent and unexpected death of her best friend. It’s a dark river coursing through the season that, as in real life, floods over in unexpected moments.
Fleabag is charming and openly confessional about sex, grief, loneliness, and financial frustrations, and Waller-Bridge does an exceptional job of making viewers feel like we’re right there with her through each humiliation and dark realization, even though it’s masked with an extremely clever, dry-witted humor. Fleabag is never too dark, though (its finale almost disrupts that notion), even when it’s disarmingly honest. A particularly aching moment happens in the fourth episode, when Fleabag and her perfectionist sister Claire (the excellent Clifford) go to a silent retreat, and she sees a loan officer she had a heated exchange with in the premiere. She sits in silence while he details what he really wants in the wake of his personal transgressions—to just go home and unload the dishwasher and watch his wife drink a cup of coffee—to which Fleabag answers, finally, breaking her silence, “I just want to cry all the time.”
She resists, but the acknowledgement of the impulse is as emotionally raw as it comes. Marrying an exceptional comedic sensibility while allowing its characters to have real feelings, doubts, and fears is what elevates the series past its more shallow or scattered dating-centric counterparts. Fleabag unpacks the life of a complicated young woman—with all of its pain, insecurity, anger, humor, friendship, impulses, and more—with a unique sensibility that makes it essential viewing. — Allison Keene
Kevin Can Wait
Premiere: Monday, September 19th on CBS
Cast: Kevin James, Erinn Hayer, Taylor Spreitler, Ryan Cartwright
This one won’t come as much of a surprise. The former King of Queens, James returns to TV as an overweight, retiring cop with an impossibly young, hot wife (Hayer). It’s everything you would expect from CBS: a multi-cam comedy with a laugh track, stale jokes, and a healthy dose of sexism (women are either prostitutes or princesses, naturally). Kevin plans activities with his cop buddies like go-kart races with paint guns, and heavy drinking (another cop’s attempts at sobriety are met with hearty guffaws), in the hopes of not having to sit around and be with his family–the ultimate nightmare for a middle-aged male character on CBS. The pilot spends most of its time on the fact that Kevin dislikes his college daughter’s app-developing boyfriend, since in this world a computer science degree makes you weak and jobless. You could suffer through Kevin Can Wait, or you could watch Amy Schumer skewer its brand of comedy here instead. – Allison Keene
Premiere: Wednesday, September 21st on Fox
Cast: Damon Wayans, Clayne Crawford, Jordana Brewster, Kevin Rahm, Johnathan Fernandez, Keesha Sharp, Chandler Kinney
This adaptation of Richard Donner’s classic action-comedy of the same name, starring Mel Gibson and Danny Glover as LAPD detectives, begins with a tragedy: the death of the wife of Office Riggs (Clayne Crawford), a hot-head but talented police officer. Where the movies merely alluded to her death, letting Gibson convey the tremendous pain in small moments, the show is haunted by the death and suggests that the series is a heavy drama, rather than a buddy comedy.
On this, and any other level you can measure, Lethal Weapon is a near-catastrophic failure. It’s the kind of overbearingly self-serious, sheepishly crass retelling of a story that no one needed to be repeated that we’ve come to expect from similar movie-to-TV adaptations. Crawford, a moving and involving performer in Sundance’s excellent Rectify, and Damon Wayans, taking over for Glover in the role of Murtaugh, do their best with the material but the material is joyless and unsubtle about its familiar thematic concerns. The season premiere, directed by McG, conflates scenes and scenarios from all four Lethal Weapon movies, but it’s primary focus is a rote recitation of the importance of family that makes you want to scream uncle with the first 10 minutes. That Mad Men’s Kevin Rahm, playing Murtaugh’s former partner and recently promoted chief, is dragged into this mishigas is the rotten cherry on top. – Chris Cabin
Premiere: Friday, September 16th on HBO
Cast: Ben Sinclair
Based on the web series by Sinclair and his wife Katja Blichfeld, High Maintenance is a six-episode, half-hour series (now on HBO) that follows The Guy (Sinclair) as he sells marijuana to a rotating cast each episode. High Maintenance’s format is that The Guy connects all of these otherwise disparate people (and in one case, a dog) and their vignettes from across the city, but what really connects them is the luxury of disposable income. Still, for cannabis fans there is surely some charm to the stories told of those united by a sativa haze (and inspite of scattered or assholish behavior), with cameos from Dan Stevens, Lee Tergesen, Yael Stone, and Amy Ryan. But it’s really Sinclair who makes the most of his brief screen time as a hapless hipster dealer who floats around in the gorgeously directed and scored series, bestowing weed and awkwardness on all of those he meets up with. Though High Maintenance does contain some universal truths about city life, it’s best episode is not about humanity, but about the dog. – Allison Keene
Premiere: Friday, September 9th on Cinemax
Cast: Logan Marshall-Green, Jodi Balfour, Peter Mullan, Damon Herriman
Adapted from Max Allan Collins’ novels, Quarry is about a marine (Mac, played by Marshall-Green) returning home after serving in Vietnam in 1972. Implicated, though ultimately cleared, in a massacre overseas, the town is left unsure of his character, and shuns him. But Mac also struggles within himself and his aptitude at killing, leaving him at odds with his wife (Balfour). Though he initially turns down a job offer by a menacing stranger known only as The Broker (Mullan), Mac is ultimately pulled into being a killer for hire to pay off an inherited debt, alongside a quirky cast of characters (including, mostly fantastically, Justified’s Damon Herriman).
Set in Memphis, Quarry is resistant to Southern stereotypes (though accents are all over the place), as it details the exploits of a crime syndicate that spans to Mississippi. It builds up a distinct and beautiful (and sometimes ugly) sense of place, letting its 70s setting act only as a backdrop, thankfully avoiding any winking hindsight or cartoonish depictions of style. (Some of the set dressings inside the houses are pretty hauntingly perfect, too).
The 8-episode first season is directed in Greg Yaitanes, and its meditative tone and punctuations of violence will remind some viewers of Yaitanes’ previous series Banshee. In similar fashion to Lucas Hood, Mac’s complicated past and present leave him haunted and restless, and Marshall-Green has a low-key charisma that fits Mac’s sensibilities perfectly as a flawed anti-hero that’s worth rooting for in a story that’s instantly engaging. One of the most promises series of the Fall season. — Allison Keene
Premiere: Thursday, September 8th at 10 p.m. on FX
Cast: Pamela Adlon, Celia Imrie, Mikey Madison, Hannah Alligood, Olivia Edward
As one might have expected from longtime Louie staple Pamela Adlon, the tone of Better Things, Adlon’s new FX comedy, skews closely toward Louis C.K.’s hysterical fever dream of New York City. In this case, the storied character actor is a single mother of three in Los Angeles, working as voiceover artist and part-time player on TV series. C.K. works as a producer, writer, and director on the series, but the visual tone and sense of pacing that he envisions with Adlon is distinct to the personality we’ve come to expect from Adlon. If C.K. is an empathetic dreamer, floating through a privileged life as a well-paid comedian with two young daughters, Adlon is an exasperated realist, cynical but not inherently broken while dealing with a brilliant, neurotic middle child (Alligood’s Frankie), a pothead, argumentative teen (Madison’s Max), and her clingy youngest (Edward’s Duke).
Matters of race, sexuality, sexism, and feminism are lent tremendous insight, but are more importantly given a vitriolic edge of rage. Disappointment and being overwhelmed are not exactly in Adlon’s Sam’s vocabulary, and the editing and thoughtful, even elegant use of the score and pop songs evokes the frazzled life of a working artist with even more detail than Louie. The work of a busy performer is seen with little romance, but the show goes a step further to show a full vision of modern Hollywood away from the grandiose proclamations of making movies and TV series that change the world. Sam has friends and close working relationships, such as with a director played by, Lenny Kravitz, but she also gets fired over script changes and is forced to subject herself to sexual humiliation for big laughs. In between, she swoons over flirty texts with her traveling lover and enjoys vodka with her belittling mother (Imrie), but the cumulative charm of this exhilarating comedy is owed to the no-bullshit demeanor has both carefully constructed over the years and yet seems to be always poking a sharp stick at. – Chris Cabin
Premiere: Friday, September 9th on Amazon
Cast: Tig Notari, Casey Wilson, Noah Harpster, John Rothman
Amazon’s “traumedy” (and it is the best use of the word) One Mississippi is a personal story for comedian and radio host Tig Notaro, who stars as a fictionalized version of herself returning to her hometown in Mississippi after her mother passes away suddenly. The wonderfully upbeat opening credits juxtapose with the tragedy Tig experiences through her mother’s death, her own health issues, and the sexual abuse she suffered as a child. But no matter what terrible, awkward, or absurd things befall her, Tig approaches it all with curiosity, and ultimately acceptance.
One Mississippi’s pace and tone are casual and languid, like Tig’s own radio stories, but it’s also similarly personal and surprisingly intimate. Tig has an openness that not only makes her an exceedingly likable presence, but one that feels truly knowable. Though the series is, refreshingly, not interested in Southern stereotypes, some of the broad strokes used to satirically paint the supporting cast of sundries in Tig’s life can feel quirky for the sake of it, skimming the depths of truth that Tig herself seems so devoted to uncovering. Still, John Rothman as her step-father, Bill, is an absolute stand-out, as he struggles with showing his emotions towards the family he loves deeply—and instead saves most of his outward affection for his cat. — Allison Keene
Premiere: Tuesday, September 6th at 10 p.m. on FX
Cast: Donald Glover, Brian Tyree Henry, Keith Stanfield
Like many of FX’s half-hour series, Atlanta isn’t strictly a comedy. It’s often bracingly funny, but it can be deadly serious. Creator and star Glover has previously described the series as “Twin Peaks for rappers,” and it’s apt. The show plays with the surreal while managing the stay grounded in a way that is charmingly off-kilter as Glover’s Earn Marks reaches out to his cousin (Henry), who now goes by the rap name Paper Boi, to manage him in the hopes of making a living wage. Under Hiro Murai’s direction, the city of Atlanta is both familiar and incredibly distinct, which matches the series’ unique beats and storylines. And as referential as the show is, it never feels obtuse or difficult for those unfamiliar with the world it portrays. Atlanta is a complicated city, and Atlanta is a complicated show. Yet the bottom line is that Earn doesn’t want to be poor. What’s more universal than that? (Full Review) — Allison Keene
Harley and the Davidsons
Premiere: 3 night event starts Monday, September 5th at 9 p.m. on Discovery
Cast: Michiel Huisman, Robert Aramayo, Bug Hall
It’s not high art, but it’s entertaining. Discovery’s latest historical miniseries takes on Harley-Davidson motorcycles, from its humble Wisconsin origins at the turn of the century to eventual global domination. The cast works well together as three necessary parts to the start-up: Harley the engineer (Aramayo), the elder Davidson as the machinist and racer (Huisman), and the younger Davidson as the marketer and salesman (Hall). But the show really belongs to Huisman, whose rugged charm is a perfect ambassador for the “murder-cycle” culture of beer and speed, with an American flag seemingly always unfurled in the background. The series drops plot threads faster than the Harley prototype leaked oil, but it makes up for a lot (including hokey dialogue and predictable story turns) with thrilling race sequences. A good time, even if it doesn’t always make sense. — Allison Keene
Premiere: Tuesday, September 6th at 10 p.m. on OWN
Cast: Rutina Wesley, Dawn-Lyen Gardner, Kofi Siriboe, Tina Lifford, Omar J. Dorsey, Dondre Whitfield, Bianca Lawson
Rather than rifle through historical personalities and events after the well-due praise for Selma, Ava DuVernay returns to the intimate, forceful soil of her early melodramas–I Will Follow, Middle of Nowhere, etc.–for her first foray into television. Adapted from the novel of the same name by Natalie Baszile, who aided in the adaptation, Queen Sugar tells of the three Bordelon siblings: pot-head reporter Nova (Wesley), privileged but brilliant Charley (Gardner), and criminal single father Ralph Angel (Siriboe). Through these characters, Duvernay, along with co-creator and OWN honcho Oprah Winfrey, surveys a wide swath of modern African-American living, but does so through thoughtfully captured moments of intimate betrayal and required performance.
The hospitalization of their father, Ernest (Glynn Turman), brings them together to sort out what will happen to his 800-acre sugarcane farm, which is a way of sinking into the collective past that these three very different siblings share. Duvernay frames Nova’s illicit romance and spiritual business, Charley’s role in a celebrity scandal involving her basketball star husband, and Ralph Angel’s fumbling, guilt-ridden parenting through images that are both sumptuously alive with color and tone and piercingly analytical. The performances, including those from Omar J. Dorsey and Tina Lifford, are uniformly sublime, even when Duvernay’s use of music threatens to overplay already explosive emotional moments. Duvernay’s writing room, however, plays modern African-American political concepts with a sharp eye for personal stakes and unshakeable knowledge of how grief, desperation, and fury come alive within familial relationships. There’s a potent anger within the luminous world that DuVernay has created here, and yet the series moves with a grace that is unique to its creators’ empathy, curiosity, and devastating intellect. – Chris Cabin
Premiere: Tuesday, September 6th on Crackle
Cast: Martin Freeman, Adam Brody, Edi Gathegi, Otmara Marrero
Set in Miami but filmed in Puerto Rico, online streaming service Crackle’s latest foray into drama (see also: The Art of More) doesn’t show a South Beach full of bright colors and sunny skies, but rather, a grittier palette painted with hardcore violence. Somehow, in the middle of it all, the unifying force is of entrepreneurship. StartUp follows three unlikely partners as they try and fulfill their desire to make a Bitcoin-esque currency (called GenCoin) a global phenomenon, but one that’s built upon stolen money.
The series distinguishes itself both by featuring a Latina tech genius (Marrero), and in how it explores the story of a Haitian gangster (Gathegi) trying to break free of that life. The series is also helped along by star Adam Brody’s natural charisma and awkward humor, and that levity is sorely needed in this serious tale, especially when Martin Freeman is playing so completely against type as a humorless and crooked FBI agent.
The 10-episode series—like The Art of More—unfolds at a sleepy pace, and only plays with style (like one particularly great unbroken shot in the first hour), without committing to it. Still, it has potential. Its first few episodes set up a complicated plot that, if it can break free from convention and its clunky dialogue, might be worth investing in. — Allison Keene
Narcos Season 2
Premiere: Friday, September 2nd on Netflix
Cast: Wagner Moura, Boyd Holbrook, Pedro Pascal
Nothing much has changed in the time since we last checked in with Pablo Escobar (Moura), who was cornered by a small army in one of his warehouses when Narcos Season 1 ended. The first episode of the second season of this amiable crime series goes about explaining how he escaped and him laying low for just a little bit, as DEA agent Steve Murphy (Holbrook) sees his personal life begin to crumble due to his obsession with catching Escobar. There’s no real thrill to Escobar’s escape–he literally tells a soldier to let him go–and then things are both visually and structurally the same as they ever were.
Where there was a cool focus and explorative undercurrent to most of Season 1, Season 2 of Narcos feels repetitive from the get-go. At least, that’s how it rolls out in terms of imagery and style. The writing remains involving, the performers are still consistently enthralling, but there’s nothing to surprise outside of the well-known twists of the overly calculated plot. The emptiness of America’s obsession with the drug war is never fully realized here, though Murphy’s increasingly unpredictable behavior, compared to the dedicated passion of Murphy’s partner, Agent Peña (Pascal), hints at the darker, more politically radical work that could have been.
Escobar’s brutal and efficient network both murders and tortures at will and yet, they also keep their communities going, offering money for doctor’s bills, groceries, child care, and a plethora of other fiscal issues that effect the poor. And yet America’s focus is not on the neighborhoods of sick and dying adults and children but rather on the drug kingpin who has uncovered their population to be rife with addiction. There are potent and provocative ideas that lie frustratingly dormant throughout this series, which seems to be just happy to play a competent but only occasionally compelling Michael Mann riff. – Chris Cabin
Documentary Now! Season 2
Premiere: Wednesday, September 14th at 10 p.m. on IFC
Cast: Bill Hader, Fred Armisen, Helen Mirren
In Season 2 (or Season 51, as the show asserts) of IFC’s occasionally uproarious parody series, the show tightens up its focus and has let its thematic curiosity expand a bit. The series served primarily as a showcase for two great impersonators–Bill Hader and Fred Armisen– in its first season, and that remains the main pull for Season 2 (Armisen and Hader co-created the series with Seth Meyers). This is clearly true of the first episode, in which they take on The War Room, Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker’s classic chronicle of James Carville and George Stephanopoulos running President William Clinton’s 1992 campaign. Title The Bunker, the parody-documentary allows Hader and Armisen a chance to play with the personages of Carville and Stephanopoulos, respectively, and they both have exhilarating fun playing with the real-life pundits’ characteristics, down to the inexplicable 90s wardrobes.
Their aim is the opportunism of such campaign leaders, with Hader’s Carville-proxy Redbones placing racist lawn jockeys alongside lawn signs for his candidate’s opponents. The writing remains sly and quite funny but the political anger stops at the water’s edge in The Bunker, unfortunately. In the case of Juan Likes Chicken & Rice, a riff on Jiro Dreams of Sushi, the criticism is more pointed, taking aim at the preposterousness of the superstitions and preparations that Michelin-star chefs indulge in, versus the cheap fun and flagrant impersonality of chains like Applebee’s or Moe’s. This feels more distinctly connected to the concerns of the show’s core creative team: can great art be fun, intelligent, and non-indulgent all at once? Documentary Now makes a solid case that it could very well be a comedy series that fits that bill, but the series’ ambitions remain just a bit too hit-and-miss to fully realize that promise. This is not to say, however, that the show couldn’t make good on that by the end of this season. We shall see, as always. – Chris Cabin