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LET THE GAMES BEGIN
The 2015-16 traditional television season has arrived! The five networks — ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and CW — will present 20 scripted new series this fall.
On the surface, several of these shows may possess that proverbial “new car smell,” which after this particularly bland summer season is a welcome odor. But many, unfortunately, are refurbished premises of series reeking of unwelcome familiarity. Be warned.
CBS is most high on the single-cam comedy “Life in Pieces” (grade: B), which is positioned well out of “The Big Bang Theory” (first on Monday, then it moves to Thursday). Each episode will feature short vignettes about the lives of the members of this extended family. The all-star cast of James Brolin, Dianne Weist, Colin Hanks, Betsy Brandt, among others, exhibit some nice chemistry. While its premiere episode is enough to warrant a second look, it does way short of the 2009 premiere episode of ABC’s similar appeal “Modern Family.”
The Eye net will also showcase the television adaptation (grade: B-) of the 2011 film “Limitless.” The show centers on Brian Sinclair, an unemployed, down-and-out musician (Jake McDorman) who samples a new drug that happens to exponentially boost his brain power. The consequences of his drug use gets him mixed up in a seedy underworld whilst crossing paths with a federal agent (Jennifer Carpenter). The FBI decide it may be within their best interest to use Sinclair as a valuable asset — a clever consultant paired up with a brunette agent. Is anyone thinking “The Mentalist” here? The movie’s star, Bradley Cooper, is an executive producer for this drama, and he will reprise his film’s character as a recurring guest role on the show.
Over two decades ago as part of Warner Bros. Television, current CBS CEO Les Moonves oversaw the production of the mega-hit hospital drama “ER.” This fall, CBS hopes to find at least some success in the post-“Criminal Minds” slot for its own emergency room drama “Code Black” (grade: B-). It stars Academy-Award winner Marcia Gay Harden as the lead doctor who heads up the busiest trauma stations in the country. The pilot episode’s second half didn’t work nearly as well as its first, as it relied on some formulaic medical plot patterns (e.g. “you’re-fired-but-we-the-viewers-know-you-eventually-won’t-be”, and “young-doctors-had-a-hard-but-great-day-according-to-an-elder-doctor”).
“Blindspot” (grade: B) gets NBC’s premiere launch time slot of Mondays after “The Voice” this season. From its start when authorities discover a tattooed naked woman (Jaimie Alexander) emerge out of a duffle bag in Times Square, the pilot never fails to grab your attention. There are hints of “Alias” and “Memento” but in essence, NBC has creatively cloned “The Blacklist” — for its sake, Blacklist’s former Monday ratings can be cloned as well.
Those lamenting the rude dismissal of the “Dallas” revival last year can look no further than ABC’s “Blood and Oil” (grade: B). Starring Don Johnson and Chace Crawford, this struggle for power and money is set against the backdrop of the North Dakotan oil fields. While it seems highly unbelievable that Crawford’s character, a young wannabe businessman, enters into town and quickly pulls off a million-dollar land deal, his eventual encounter with Johnson’s character who lords the whole shebang looks to set up some interesting conflicts in the episodes to come.
While TV should again be commended by the casting of a minority in a lead role, Morris Chestnut who portrays an overly-positive pathologist that assists the Miami police department certainly deserves better than “Rosewood” (grade: C-), Fox’s version of “Castle.” Not helping matters is Rosewood’s newfound nuisance of a partner, a transplanted-New Yorker police detective (Jaina Lee Ortiz).
Fox, meanwhile, continues the story of “Minority Report” (grade: C), the 2002 film that had originally starred Tom Cruise. As depicted in the film, three persons labeled as “pre-cogs” had been used in the city’s “pre-crime” program that arrested people before they committed any crimes. But the program — which highly violated personal privacy — had fallen apart and was later abandoned, leaving the three in exile to escape from exploitation.
For the TV edition, one of the three “pre-cogs” (Stark Sands) returns to town years later (the year of 2065) as he envisions the murder of a mother of a young girl with similar abilities as him. He is unable to stop it from occurring but runs into a determined detective (Meagan Good, in a much improved turn here than her previous small screen appearance in “Revenge” clone “Deception” on NBC) who much to his luck keeps his “pre-cog” abilities a secret and uses it to assist her in solving crimes. The drama tries to combine many elements from Fox’s two recent series, “Sleepy Hollow” and the defunct futuristic crime drama “Almost Human.” But Sands’ character aims to be weirdly likable, but it comes off as too jittery and awkward and the show is merely similar to its superior preceding film version in name only.
John Stamos is not only returning to an updated version of his former sitcom “Full House” for Netflix in 2016 called “Fuller House,” he’s also surrounded by an unexpected new family in Fox’s comedy “Grandfathered” (grade: B-). Here, Stamos plays a successful restauranteur who “plays the field” in his free time. One day, he meets a young man (Josh Peck) who tells him he’s his son and that the toddler in the stroller beside him happens to be his granddaughter. The surprising news leads Stamos’ character to reconnect with his former flame (Paget Brewster) — the young man’s mother — who clearly wants little to do with him. The show obviously wants to attract the audience that grew up watching “Full House” as a Bob Saget cameo would also attest.
Although you’d expect “Supergirl” (grade: C+) to find a home on comic-book centric CW, CBS will be the home of this DC Comics story of Kara Zor-El (Melissa Benoist) who was supposed to look after cousin Kal-El (who’d grow up to be Superman) but got sent off course and landed on separate areas on Earth from the destroyed planet of Krypton. Since Kal-El proved powerful and Kara’s responsibilities were deemed unnecessary, she decided to fit in as “normal” and became employed as an assistant to a no-nonsense boss (Calista Flockhart) at a media conglomerate in National City. Kara would soon realize her superhuman capabilities could no longer be hidden, as she must learn to embrace them. Unfortunately, the pilot leaves the viewers with too much to digest all at once. While it does display a much lighter tone than its direct Monday night comic-book drama competition, Fox’s “Gotham,” the show seems too kitschy to take seriously.
Finally, it comes as no surprise ABC, the network home to successful Shonda Rhimes dramas, debuts “Quantico” (grade: B), a new Rhimes-esque series not created nor executive produced by her. Priyanka Chopra, famous in her India homeland, leads this drama about a group of young recruits who train at the FBI facility, one of whom coordinates a large terrorist attack upon New York City. At its heart, “Quantico” is a new version of “Grey’s Anatomy.” The recruit class is even led by a strong-willed African-American woman (“How to Get Away with Murder”, we see you!) On the negative side, several parts of the premiere episode’s plot are highly illogical — as a federal facility, its security must be highly questioned if one of the recruits can secretly switch places with their twin (is this supposed to be “Big Brother 17″?). Nonetheless, “Quantico” makes for an entertaining ride.
Another flawed, but greatly entertaining ride airing opposite NFL football this fall is found on NBC Thursday nights with “The Player” (grade: B). Philip Winchester channels his former “Strike Back” action series as Alex Kane, a bodyguard and former military man who thwarts an attack on the family of a foreign dignitary. His actions capture the attention of Mr. Johnson (Wesley Snipes), a mysterious pit boss who runs a private high-stakes game among the uber-wealthy who bet on crime. The boss tasks Kane to level the game by helping prevent (or sidestep) crimes from occurring. While some parts of “The Player” must require a heightened suspension of disbelief — Mr. Johnson’s dealer Cassandra King, portrayed by Charity Wakefield, once leads Kane on a long protracted police car chase which concludes with a snap of her fingers… literally! — the series provides a fun alternative to “Thursday Night Football.”
Also on NBC Thursday nights is the worthy return of “Heroes” in “Heroes Reborn” (grade: B), an update of the former hit about a group of people discovering they possess extraordinary skills. The series begins with a terrorist attack in Texas, which left many to believe that several of those “heroes” — who went into hiding, as a result — had caused it. Meanwhile, several people across the nation uncover their newfound abilities. Returning from the original series is Jack Coleman, Masi Oka, Sendhil Ramamurthy and Greg Grunberg.
ABC looks to boost its flailing Tuesdays with an updated version of “The Muppets” (grade: B-) which uses the mockumentary format of “Modern Family” and “The Office.” The series will rely highly on the public’s longstanding fondness for the lovable puppets, but it remains to be seen if the series evolves into a legitimate humorous comedy in this latest version.
Neither humorous nor longstanding will be the two new Friday “comedies”, ABC’s “Dr. Ken” (grade: D) and NBC’s “Truth Be Told” (grade: F). “Truth Be Told” desperately desires to be irreverent in social commentary, but falls completely flat in all aspects. Someone needs to tell the writers this is a comedy. And “Dr. Ken” with former “Community” star “Dr. Ken” is only slightly better.
You can also pass on CBS’s “Angel from Hell” (grade: C) which actually boasts a good cast (Jane Lynch, Maggie Lawson, Kevin Pollak) in this one joke premise.
And the major disappointment this fall comes courtesy of the over-hyped Fox horror dramedy “Scream Queens” (grade: C-).
For the past decade, Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk have successfully launched several shows for the Fox-related networks like “Nip/Tuck,” “Glee,” and “American Horror Story.” This new series seemed like a slam dunk hit: a sorority, headed by Chanel No. 1 (Emma Roberts), comes under fire from a new university dean (Jamie Lee Curtis) who expresses a distaste for the group’s seedy activities. Grace Gardener (Skyler Samuels), the show’s protagonist, arrives at the college wanting to join the sorority but soon gets caught up in their troubles, reluctantly dealing with Chanel and her minions amidst the backdrop of a serial killer offing people on campus.
The offbeat tone to “Scream Queens” takes evident priority over the depiction of murders but it also works as a disadvantage to itself by overwhelming the overall plot, numbing all its action as well as the personalities of its characters. It even overshadows singer Ariana Grande (especially for one scene, in particular) who portrays one of the sorority sisters. There was a much more effective balance of fear and humor in the “Scream” films of the late 1990’s, as well Murphy and Falchuk’s own “American Horror Story” editions. Curtis — the show’s lone standout — does her best as a man-crazed disciplinarian but her fellow supporting cast members leave little to be desired.
Two other new series leaning on the comedic side of things do, however, lead the fall pack creatively this season: The first is “The Grinder” on Fox (grade: A-), starring Rob Lowe, Fred Savage and William Devane. Lowe is Dean Sanderson, Jr., an actor whose long-running law drama entitled “The Grinder” (of course!) just concluded and returns home to his brother Stewart and father Dean Sr. (Savage and Devane) who are real-life lawyers. Dean Jr. believes his “expertise” as a TV lawyer will help out Stewart’s case and sets out in assisting his brother, much to Stewart’s chagrin. Lowe gives a hilariously on-point portrayal as a narcissistic, self-absorbed but good-hearted former actor while Savage admirably plays off him as the insecure, nervous sibling.
The second standout, The CW’s lone new fall series “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” (grade: A-), stars Rachel Bloom (one of the show’s co-creators) as a unhappy Manhattanite attorney who leaves her successful law firm and ventures to West Covina, California to hopefully reconnect with her high school boyfriend. Originally purposed as a half-hour for Showtime, this series was fast-tracked for the CW and revamped as an hourlong weekly episodic. It well combines comedic and musical elements, and keeps hold of a slight hint of its raunchy Showtime pilot roots, as exhibited in one of Bloom’s segment ditties in the premiere, “My Sexy Getting Ready Song.” “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” seems like a well fit on Mondays with “Jane the Virgin,” but ratings (like “Virgin”) are likely to fall short.
(Preview of ABC’s “Wicked City” was not available at post time; grades based solely on each series’ pilot episodes)