This week concluded the yearly “up-fronts,” where advertisers and affiliates convene in New York City so that the various networks can trot out their exciting new fall products. It brings an end to “pilot season,” in which initial episodes are furiously produced and then handily judged, and kicks off the excitement for the following fall. (Even though, as we’re becoming increasingly aware, the traditional notions of when shows are supposed to air and how long they’re supposed to be are blurring considerably.) Out of all of the new shows – dozens and dozens of hours of freshly scripted content – we have chosen the ten shows that we find the most promising; five hour-long dramas and five sitcoms. Don’t change that dial.
“Almost Human” (Fox)
Created by J.H. Wyman, whose background includes everything from the underrated Guy Ritchie riff “Keen Eddie” to work as a producer and writer on J.J. Abrams‘ “Fringe” (Abrams returns the favor by executive producing this), “Almost Human” has an intriguing concept that, at least based on the footage, seems to be pulled off with some lively flair. In the future, all cops are partnered with robots (you know, because it’s the future). Karl Urban plays an ornery cop named Kennex (because ‘x’ appears in more peoples’ names in the future) who lost his leg in a shoot out and had to get it replaced with a synthetic model, which makes him hate all robots. He’s teamed with a “defective” model named Dorian (Michael Ealy) and wackiness ensues. Well maybe not wackiness. But Minka Kelly is also in the cast, and the appearance of any “Fright Nights Lights” alum has us just as excited as anything involving robots.
How’s this for a hook – the president of the United States is going in for a life-saving surgical procedure. This leads a rogue, conspiracy-minded FBI Agent (Dylan McDermott, more “American Horror Story” season 2 than “American Horror Story” season 1) to take the surgeon’s family hostage with instructions that she kill the president on the operating table. Oh and the surgeon is played by Toni Collette. The show, which also stars Tate Donovan, is one of those “limited” series (which means it only has 15 episodes and will be replaced halfway through the season by “Intelligence,” about a spy with a microchip in his head). It’ll be interesting to see if they can keep the intrigue going for 15 episodes — frankly, it’s hard to see how the premise will work past the pilot — but so far we’re intrigued.
Yes, there seem to be a whole lot of shows where the evil criminal mastermind turns himself in, only to be working the feds from some vague angle. And here’s another one! This time it follows Raymond “Red” Reddington (James Spader, sans hair) who was a spy turned “Concierge of Crime.” He turns himself into the FBI but demands to only speak to a plucky young agent who just graduated from the academy (Megan Boone). The pilot was directed by “The Grey” filmmaker Joe Carnahan and it looks like it could offer some thrills and chills, if only because we trust Spader to make even the most middle-of-the-road television truly weird.
Again, file this one under the “intriguing premise but is it sustainable enough for an entire season” category – a young boy (Landon Gimenez), thought to have died more than 30 years ago, returns to his parents (Kurtwood Smith and Frances Fisher) seemingly the same age as when he disappeared. An immigration agent (Omar Epps) investigates, but things start to get really weird when other people in their small Missouri town start experiencing similar phenomena… The show was based on the novel “The Returned” by Jason Mott and adapted for television by “The Killing” writer Aaron Zelman. The early footage has an eerie beauty to it (even if it’s a little soppy) and ABC still seems to be on the hunt for “the next ‘Lost‘” (it’s not happening), for better or worse. Again, it’s hard not to think that this thing will run out of steam far too early. Still, here’s hoping.
“Mind Games” (ABC)
We’re looking forward to “Mind Games” if only because it’s the third (and hopefully longest-running) series from Kyle Killen, who created Fox’s brilliant, desperately under-watched “Lone Star” and NBC’s similarly wonderful (and short-lived) “Awake.” Those shows were admittedly somewhat impenetrable, hanging sky-high concepts in a dull primetime landscape. “Mind Games” looks more accessible, and honestly a little bit more fun, with a pair of brothers (Steve Zahn and Christian Slater) who run an agency where they use subliminal cues to change people’s minds. (A kid in the trailer calls them “Jedi mind tricks.” Sure.) While this could potentially tip over into a bland USA-style show, for now it looks like it could be the real deal. Hopefully third time’s the charm for Killen.
We are (of course) also looking forward to Joss Whedon‘s “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D” (ABC) with some hesitation, along with Alfonso Cuaron‘s midseason J.J. Abrams collaboration “Believe” (NBC), which would be on this list were it not premiering in 2014, though if something else tanks, it might well move up, and we hold out cautious optimism for both”Dracula” (NBC) and “Once Upon a Time in Wonderland” (ABC), two period productions that look like they might have some actual money behind them. (Although we’re still sore at ABC for not picking up that show based on the Big Thunder Mountain Disneyland attraction.)
“Brooklyn Nine-Nine” (Fox)
It’s a half-hour sitcom about a detective (Andy Samberg) who must grow up and “respect the badge,” by being partnered with a new, stern superior (Andre Braugher from “Homicide“) – do you need to know more? Oh, you do? Well it was co-created by Michael Schur and Dan Goor, both of whom previously worked on “Parks and Recreation” (Goor is responsible for the “Lil’ Sebastian” episode, Schur co-created the show). Yes, this will be very, very funny and seems to have a weekly “Other Guys“-type feel.
“The Michael J. Fox Show” (NBC)
Maybe the sitcom with the single strongest sizzle reel, this new show starring Michael J. Fox (as the title would suggest) deals with his Parkinson’s disease in a real and seemingly hilarious way. Fox plays a New York news anchor who leaves the business because his disease is getting in the way, but is coached back into work by his supportive family (his wife is played by Betsy Brandt from “Breaking Bad“). It seems unsentimental and there are a couple of gags (like the chair thing) that had us rolling. (The show was co-created by “Easy A” director Will Gluck, who also directed the pilot.) Plus, the cast includes Wendell Pierce, and where Wendell goes, we shall follow.
Never in a million years would we imagine getting excited about a Chuck Lorre CBS comedy, but this is a Chuck Lorre CBS comedy that stars Anna Faris, who plays a recovering alcoholic who is dealing with her similarly flawed mother (Allison Janney), and her errant teenage daughter. Yep, Anna Faris is now deemed old enough by Hollywood to play the mother of a sexually active teenage girl. The rest of the cast includes French Stewart and Nate Corddry and, while a few of the laugh track-y gags don’t hit, it’s hard to argue with this cast and it’s nice to see a show centered around a woman whose life isn’t exclusively looking for a dude to marry. File under “cautiously optimistic.”
“Super Fun Night” (ABC)
Maybe the sitcom, besides “The Michael J. Fox” show, that we’re most looking forward to – this is a new series co-created and produced by Conan O’Brien, built around the presence of Rebel Wilson, the outstanding comedic performer from “Bridesmaids” and “Pitch Perfect.” The show was originally set up at CBS for this past season, but when they passed, Wilson and O’Brien took it to ABC, where it was fast-tracked. Gone are original cast members Jenny Slate and Edi Patterson (replaced by Liza Lapira and Lauren Ash), while the central concept remains: three best girl friends spend every Friday as “Friday Fun Night,” mostly in their apartment drinking tea and playing board games. But Wilson decides to amp it up and actually go out, which leads to the titular nocturnal adventure. It’s going to be a gas.
“Us & Them” (Fox)
This looks like another bright spot in Fox’s upcoming comedy line-up. The show stars the incredibly likable Jason Ritter (who also voices one of the best shows on television, “Gravity Falls“) and Alexis Bledel (coming off a wonderful guest performance on “Mad Men” last season) as twenty-somethings falling in love in these overly-complicated modern times. The show was based on “Gavin & Stacy” a BBC series that garnered much critical and commercial acclaim, although the across-the-pond translation success rate is pretty low (for every “Office” there are ten “Couplings“). Still, this has a wonderful teaser and the cast is full of “Stella“/”Upright Citizens Brigade” alums (including Michael Ian Black) so we’re in.
Other potential gut-busters include the Robin Williams/Sarah Michelle Gellar vehicle “Crazy Ones” (CBS); “The Goldbergs” which is like “The Wonder Years” but in the eighties (and way more Jewish) (ABC); the ambitious but potentially abhorrent “Mixology” (ABC); and “The Millers,” which stars Will Arnett and Margo Martindale.