matt zoller seitz

Seitz on Fall TV: What New Shows to See, Consider, and Skip

Photo: FOX, CBS,

Starting today and stretching out over the next month or so, 21 fall shows will premiere across the four major networks and The CW. That’s an overwhelming number for even the most ambitious TV devotee, so Vulture’s Matt Zoller Seitz has gone and watched each new pilot and divided the lot into three categories: See It, Wait and See, Nothing to See Here. Set your DVRs accordingly.

Ben and Kate (FOX; Tuesdays, 8:30 p.m.; premieres Sept. 25). If you saw the 2000 sleeper You Can Count On Me, you’ve seen this story before: Kate Fox (Dakota Johnson), a straitlaced single mom with a 5-year-old daughter named Maddie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones), finds her life turned upside down when her freewheeling, impulsive brother Ben (Nat Faxon) moves in with her. The Odd Couple setup is as old as, well, storytelling itself, probably, but this laugh-trackless sitcom has a bouncy energy, appealing characters, and a finely tuned sense of how absurd it can get without torpedoing real feeling.   The Mindy Project (FOX; Tuesday, 9:30 p.m.; premieres Sept. 25). This star vehicle for Mindy Kaling of The Office plays like a modern, up-tempo version of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, only way weirder. Kaling’s doctor is gonna make it on her own, professionally and romantically, but not without getting embroiled in ridiculous shenanigans. Kaling’s mix of emotional openness, intensity, and kookiness binds the show together. It’s tight, funny, and cinematically conceived.   The Neighbors (ABC; Wednesday, 9:30 p.m.; premieres Sept. 26). The limits of tolerance are tested when Marty and Debbi Weaver (Lenny Venito and Jamie Gertz) moved to a gated community in Hidden Hills, New Jersey, that’s populated by space aliens who have assumed human form, but not inconspicuously so: Their families are ethnic and racial patchwork quilts, and gender-benders, too, and have named themselves after famous athletes, including Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Reggie Jackson. This sounds like a three-weeks-and-it’s-cancelled kind of show, and the concept does owe a lot to The Coneheads and 3rd Rock from the Sun. But it’s so casually surreal, and so much more interested in bizarre acting experiments than plot, that I can see it catching on, or at the very least becoming appointment television for stoners.    Elementary (CBS; Thursday, 10 p.m.; premieres September 27). We probably don’t need another incarnation of Sherlock Holmes, as the character has been reimagined umpteen zillion times, and we specifically don’t need an updated version, since PBS has that covered with its excellent, very popular modern Sherlock, starring Benedict Cumberbatch. But let’s face it: The material is so entertaining that it’s hard to have too much of it, and damned if this New York–based take on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s sleuth isn’t addictive. Jonny Lee Miller as Holmes and Lucy Liu as Dr. Joan Watson are a terrific team.     Nashville (ABC; Wednesdays, 10 p.m.; premieres Oct. 10). I came into this thinking, “The pilot had damned well better start with somebody singing,” and what do you know? Connie Britton plays Rayna Jaymes, a country music legend who’s afraid that a younger sensation, Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere), is going to steal the spotlight from her. Powers Boothe is Rayna’s dad, a legendary, much-feared local businessman; Eric Close is Rayna’s husband, who’s being encouraged to run for office and might do it, if only to have an identity apart from his famous wife. This is a juicy soap anchored in real feeling, with appealing music. 
Guys With Kids (NBC; Wednesdays, 10 p.m.; premieres September 12) Co-created by Jimmy Fallon. Anthony Anderson, Jesse Bradford, and Zach Cregger are the titular Guys; Tempestt Bledsoe and Jamie-Lynn Sigler are their special ladies (one of the three guys is divorced). The “men are overgrown boys” stuff is tedious, but the performers are appealing.   Last Resort (ABC; Thursdays, 8 p.m.; premieres September 26). Andre Braugher and Scott Speedman are nuclear submarine officers who take their sub AWOL rather than obey orders to nuke Pakistan, then hole up on an island in a permanent standoff with the U.S. government. From Shawn Ryan (The Shield). Terrific pilot; whether this premise can be sustained is anyone’s guess.    Vegas (CBS; Tuesday, 10 p.m.; premieres Sept. 25) Based on a true story, this sixties drama stars Dennis Quaid as cowboy lawman Ralph Lamb and Michael Chiklis as Vincent Savino, the East Coast gangster he locks horns with. McCloud meets Crime Story, but it’s on CBS, so it’s cheesy and obvious; the actors and period details sell it, though.   Malibu Country (ABC; Friday, 8:30 p.m.; premieres Nov. 2). Reba McEntire stars as a Nashville country music singer who learns that her husband cheated on her and burned through their money, and decides to take her daughter West and start over in hubby’s old love nest. A very traditional sitcom, this probably won’t stir many hearts on the coasts, but it’s got an immensely appealing star, and the incomparable Lily Tomlin plays the heroine’s mother.   The Mob Doctor (FOX; Mondays, 9 p.m.; premieres Sept. 17). Dr. Grace Devlin (Jordana Spiro) is, well, a mob doctor who becomes a secret healer for gangsters in order to pay off her brother’s gambling debt. A reasonably exciting start for a show that had better be very inventive to sustain itself over the long haul, though the heroine’s complicated relationship with a hitman named Constantine (William Forsythe) is compelling. 
Beauty and the Beast (CW; Thursday, 9 p.m.; premieres Oct. 10). Homicide detective Catherine “Cat” Chandle (Kristen Kruek of Smallville) was nearly killed as a child when her parents were murdered by gunmen; a mysterious creature intervened; an investigation leads her to a doctor named Vincent (Jay Ryan, Terra Nova), who turns out to be The Beast, and romantic adventures ensue. Update of the popular eighties series starring Ron Perlman and Linda Hamilton.    Chicago Fire (NBC; Wednesdays, 10 p.m.; premieres Oct. 10). Hunky, brave, troubled firemen, often covered in grease and soot, and the various women in their lives; basically, Rescue Me minus the kinkiness. Dick Wolf (Law and Order: Parking Violations) produces.    Partners (CBS; Mondays, 8:30 p.m.; premieres September 24). Michael Urie and David Krumholtz star as lifelong best friends, one gay, one straight; Brandon Routh and Sophia Bush play their significant others. The conception of straight and gay identities is pretty stereotypical in a lot of ways, but the actors are very likable, and the show comes right from the heart.    666 Park Avenue (ABC; Sundays, 10 p.m.; premieres September 30). Terry O’Quinn (Lost) and Vanessa Williams are the owners of the Drake, a luxury apartment wherein straaaaaaange thiiiiings keep happening. This is part American Horror Story, part Fantasy Island, and promising, though forever teetering on the brink of corn.    Emily Owens, MD (CW; Tuesdays, 9 p.m.; premieres Oct. 16). Mamie Gummer (The Good Wife; also, Meryl Streep’s daughter) stars as the title M.D., who balances professional obligations and Ally McBeal–ish romantic intrigue; likable show, but The Mindy Project has a similar concept and is much more original in execution.
Animal Practice (NBC; Wednesdays, 8 p.m.; regular timeslot September 26). Justin Kirk is veterinarian Dr. George Coleman, one of those familiar crank asshats that everyone tolerates because he’s The Best At What He Does; Joanne Garcia-Swisher (Better With You) is his ex-girlfriend Dorothy Crane, who takes over the hospital and tries to shape the place up. Sparks don’t fly, amusing complications don’t ensue, every setup and punchline are pounded into the viewer’s head with a reflex hammer, and the only performer who comes out unscathed is the monkey from The Hangover, Part II, who thinks he’s a doctor.   Go On (NBC; Tuesdays, 9 p.m.; regular timeslot September 11). This sitcom stars Matthew Perry as a recent widower who shows fellow group therapy participants how to lighten up and have fun instead of just talking about their problems all the time. It’s like a rejected script from a nineties Robin Williams movie, stretched out to a season-length TV show. Toxic.   The New Normal (NBC; Tuesday, 9:30 p.m.; premieres September 11). David (Justin Bartha, The Hangover) and his partner, Bryan (Andrew Rannells, The Book of Mormon) play an upper-middle class gay couple who decide to have a baby through a surrogate (Georgia King) and end up in a complicated relationship with her and her grandmother (Ellen Barkin). The show is co-created by Glee’s Ryan Murphy and has a similar mix of faux-campy humor, politically incorrect sniping, and progressive messages. Not a frame of the pilot feels anything less than calculated, and the whole thing is so obnoxious that it’s hard to imagine giving it a second chance.   Revolution (NBC; Mondays, 10 p.m.; Premieres Sept. 17). J.J. Abrams (Lost) is behind this post-apocalyptic thriller, which starts with a genuinely scary prologue in which all electricity instantly vanishes, then picks up fifteen years later with civilization in ruins and humanity scattered into tribes and terrorized by warlords. All of which is a way of saying that in the space of a few minutes, the show goes from something you haven’t seen before to something you’ve seen way too many times. Do we really need a TV remake of Kevin Costner’s The Postman?   Arrow (CW; Wednesdays, 8 p.m.; premieres Oct. 10). Playboy Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) disappears for five years, is discovered on a tropical island, and returns to Starling City to adopt a secret identity as a crime-fighting archer. This adaptation of DC Comics’ The Green Arrow wins points for sincerity, but there’s almost no way that network TV budgets can keep up with the increasing creative ambition of superhero movies — and the characterizations aren’t deep enough to compensate.   Made in Jersey (CBS; Fridays, 9 p.m.; premieres September 28). Basically, Working Girl: The Series, with a dash of Erin Brockovich. Martina Garretti (Janet Montgomery) is a working-class Jersey gal who uses her street smarts to succeed in the Ivy League–dominated upper echelons of New York law; a couple of mentors take her under their wing and try to make another Dershowitz or Darrow out of her. The Bournemouth, England–raised Montgomery is ultimately unconvincing as a Garden Stater, and the show lays the class resentment on so thick that it verges on parody. The cast is likable and one wishes the show were more ambitious.
Fall TV: What Shows to See, Consider, and Skip