George Segal in a scene from ABC's 'The Goldbergs,' premiering Sept. 24, at 9 p.m.
NEW YORK — There’s something antiquated about the custom long known as the Fall TV Season.
It was born of a bygone era when fall signaled all things important in America: the return to school, the resumption of football, and the grand unveiling of next year’s car models.
Each autumn ABC, CBS, and NBC launched their new shows. The Fall Season represented for viewers most of what they could expect to see in prime time for months ahead, at least until the “summer replacement” shows arrived in June.
“Midseason” wasn’t part of the lingo back then. Nor were terms like “cable networks,” HBO, Hulu, or Netflix.
A half-century later, the Fall Season persists — a festival of premieres by not three, but the five self-designated broadcast “majors” (which somehow includes the little-watched CW), with, some years, no discernible dividing line between the fall crop and the winter harvest.
And no acknowledgment that outside this magic garden, bumper crops of other network shows are always blooming, stealing viewers (and a large share of Emmy love).
With all those caveats in mind, then, make way for the Fall Season.
Don’t I know you?
Many of more than two dozen new series may already be familiar, at least by name, to viewers, since the networks have been flogging them all summer.
They are familiar to TV critics, too, who got early copies of many of the new shows as long ago as June (with the proviso from the networks that some of these episodes were “non-reviewable,” since they were subject to be altered in small or large ways before their premiere date). At some point before each show’s premiere date, a version designated “reviewable” will be furnished to critics.
Adelaide Kane stars as Mary, Queen of Scots in 'Reign,' premiering Oct. 17 at 9 p.m. on the CW network.
THE CW Enlarge
This doesn’t necessarily help. For a critic to make an assessment of any TV series’ potential on the basis of a lone episode, or even two or three, is as reasonable as writing a tell-all biography of someone after meeting at a speed-dating event.
So there’s a possibility that CBS’ The Crazy Ones will ultimately reveal itself to be hilarious, and not one of the lamest new comedies on the schedule (as an initial viewing might suggest). A comedy set at an advertising agency, it brings back Robin Williams to TV sitcoms after Mork & Mindy 35 years ago.
NBC has brought back another sitcom veteran with what seems like happier results: Michael J. Fox in a self-named comedy. Addressing the real-life health problems (and triumphs) of this breakout star of Family Ties in the 1980s, The Michael J. Fox Show strikes a fresh, funny tone amid the flood of new comedies.
NBC has further relied on its once-stellar past by reviving the successful cop show Ironside, this time with Blair Underwood, not Raymond Burr, as the intrepid detective in the wheelchair.
Fantasy is fueling many new shows.
NBC’s Dracula stars Jonathan Rhys Meyers in a reimagining of the vampire as a proto-environmentalist. In his guise as a 19th century American industrialist, Dracula wants to develop cheap, alternative energy to defy his enemy, Big Oil.
Tom Mison appears in 'Sleepy Hollow,' which makes its debut Sept. 16 at 9 p.m.on Fox.
There’s also Fox’s set-in-modern-day Sleepy Hollow, ABC’s very cool, comic-driven Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and ABC’s storybook spinoff, Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, which explores the psyche of tumbled-down-the-rabbit-hole Alice, complete with CGI rabbit voiced by John Lithgow.
CW’s The Originals is a spinoff of The Vampire Diaries, while the same network’s The Tomorrow People is a sci-fi series about a genetically advanced race that also happens to be young and sexy, and the paramilitary group of scientists who see this band as a threat to the status quo. And Fox’s Almost Human is a police drama set 35 years in the future, when human officers work alongside humanlike androids.
From HBO’s Game of Thrones to PBS’ Downton Abbey, historical costume drama is big on TV. Youth-skewing CW is jumping on that trend with “Reign,” which focuses on Mary Stuart, who, better known as Mary, Queen of Scots, had been queen of Scotland since she was six days old, but, as the series begins, is a verrrry attractive teen.
Another costume drama, of a sort: ABC’s very funny comedy The Goldbergs, which revisits the childhood of creator Adam Goldberg in the distant, “simpler” time of the 1980s.
Rare on the lineup is a straight-ahead, humanist comedy-drama. This fall there’s only one: ABC’s Lucky 7, a potentially charming and engaging series about a group of New Yorkers who share a winning lottery ticket, and the effects of that windfall on their lives.
ABC’s promisingly titled Betrayal is a soap that involves a murder, a marital affair, and a powerful family at war with itself.
CBS’ Hostages puts Toni Collette in the middle of a political conspiracy: She plays a surgeon ordered to assassinate her patient, the ailing president of the United States, to save her family held captive.
Possibly the season’s most surefire hit is NBC’s The Blacklist, which stars James Spader as one of the FBI’s most wanted fugitives who surrenders to the FBI with a mysterious offer: to help them catch the terrorists he used to enable.
Moving back home is an all-too-common theme.
ABC’s Back in the Game finds sexy Maggie Lawson as a former all-star softball player who, post-marriage, returns with her son to move in with her irascible father, himself a washed-up baseball player (played by James Caan).
Family Guy mastermind Seth MacFarlane’s live-action Fox comedy Dads focuses on two best friends and business partners whose fathers move back in. Its raunchy humor has already ruffled critics’ feathers, but its problems are more fundamental: It isn’t funny.
On CBS’ grim-in-spite-of-itself Mom, newly sober single mom Christy is suddenly inflicted with the return of her formerly estranged mom (Allison Janney), who, to say the least, didn’t serve as much of a parental example: “While other mothers were cooking dinner,” Christy reminds her, “you were cooking meth.”
On NBC’s Sean Saves the World, Sean Hayes plays a divorced dad with an overbearing mom (Linda Lavin) and a weekends-only 14-year-old daughter who moves in with him full time, complicating his life.
On CBS’ The Millers, Will Arnett stars as a recently divorced local TV news reporter whose mother moves in with him while his dad moves in with his sister.
But broken marriages are always ripe for laughs. On CBS’ promising We Are Men, three divorced men bond and offer dating advice to a young pal who was left at the altar by his betrothed.
On the comedy Trophy Wife, Pete (Bradley Whitford) has two broken marriages behind him when he lucks upon lovely Kate (Malin Akerman), who, on becoming Pete’s third bride, suddenly finds herself in a sort-of blended family with three stepchildren and two ex-wives — a big cast and complicated dynamics that surely have ABC dreaming may qualify this show as a hit akin to Modern Family.
A strong contender for silliest new show is Enlisted. It’s a military comedy set in the not-so-funny modern age of war, with three brothers stationed on a small base in Florida. If there’s an issue of taste (are wars still being fought suitable for comedy?), this sitcom somewhat navigates it. Whether Enlisted is actually funny is another matter entirely.
Not so funny
Fox’s cop comedy Brooklyn Nine-Nine doesn’t measure up to the comedic brilliance of its star, former Saturday Night Live player Andy Samberg, nor does it do right by its other leading man, the acclaimed dramatic actor Andre Braugher.
NBC’s Welcome to the Family attempts to mine laughs from a Stanford University-bound whiz kid who learns his bubble-head girlfriend, who barely got out of high school, is pregnant with his child. College plans for both of them are off, marriage and parenthood are on, and both sets of in-laws-to-be are distraught.This is funny?
And what about ABC’s comedy Super Fun Night? Its plus-size creator-star Rebel Wilson (Pitch Perfect, ‘Bridesmaids) plays Kimmie, a lawyer who hangs out with her two best girlfriends every Friday night.Wilson obliterates the comedy by overplaying it, using her heft as a comic blunt instrument. Like Kimmie, she just tries too hard to please.
It’s a familiar condition among the broadcast networks in their latest round of an aging tradition. There are too many new shows, with too many of them trying too hard to please.
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