"The 2013 ThinkProgress Guide To Fall Television"
The fall television season kicks off on Monday with the premiere of Fox’s supernatural drama Sleepy Hollow, and networks will keep rolling out new shows through November, with offerings ranging from Michael J. Fox’s return to television in The Michael J. Fox Show and Robin Williams’ turn as an advertising executive in The Crazy Ones, to Dracula, which features the famous vampire as a renewable energy pioneer (really) and Almost Human, a buddy-cop drama that’s also one of the more engaging sci-fi shows to come along in several years. Trying to figure out how to set your DVRs this weekend, or plan your weeks ahead? We’ve got you covered. Welcome to the complete ThinkProgress guide to 2013’s new fall television shows.
Show: Sleepy Hollow (Fox)
The Concept: Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison), the feckless schoolmaster of Washington Irving’s short story, has been transformed here into a badass Revolutionary War spy who, after killing a demonic British soldier, goes to sleep for several centuries, and when he wakes up, ends up partnering with Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie), a tough female cop who gives up an opportunity to be a criminal profiler to help him dig up preserved heads, explain why there are so many Starbucks everywhere, and fight demons.
The Verdict: It makes precisely no sense that Sleepy Hollow is as entertaining as it is, but if you’re willing and able to embrace the hearty dose of silliness that comes with chasing demonic Redcoats around modern-day Upstate New York, it’s got serious potential for fun. And as bizarre as Ichabod’s fish-out-of-water scenario is, the show is at its sharpest when Abbie’s explaining contemporary life to him, offering up a reminder that even though his clothes are weird, and his story is even stranger, he’s still capable of behaving like yet another clueless white dude. “I’ll have you know I was a proponent of the Abolitionist Act before the New York Assembly,” Ichabod tells Abbie proudly when they first meet, offering up what he thinks are bona fides. “Congratulations,” she tells him, irritated. “Slavery has been abolished 150 years. It’s a whole new day in America.”
Show: Dads (Fox)
The Concept: Eli (Seth Green) and Warner (Giovanni Ribisi) run a video game company together–though it might be more accurate to say that Veronica (Brenda Song) runs it while they goof off. When their fathers (Peter Riegert and Martin Mull) simultaneously move in with the sons, trouble results.
The Verdict: Dads is so racist, and so tremendously unfunny, that Fox president Kevin Reilly’s been making the rounds asking critics to give the show three months to improve. In the two episodes screened for critics prior to the show’s premiere, Dads‘ idea of an upgrade appears to be moving from mocking the size of Asian men’s genitalia to nonsense about Eskimos and penguin meat and global warming, and from asking Veronica to dress up like a sexy anime character for a business meeting, to giving her an everyday wardrobe of see-through crochet shirts paired with black bras. Also, old men get stoned! The people involved in making Dads may insist they’re poking fun at racism, sexism, and homophobia, but that claim isn’t helped by the live studio audience, which roars at every bigoted remark.
Show: Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Fox)
The Concept: A jokey detective named Jake Peralta (Andy Samberg) gets a kick into high gear when a new captain, Ray Holt (Andre Braugher) arrives in his precinct and sets higher standards–in part because he’s New York’s first gay captain, and he’s determined not to be caught falling down on the job.
The Verdict: Though the pitch sounds more like a recipe for a drama than a comedy, Brooklyn Nine-Nine comes to us from Michael Schur and Dan Goor, the creators of Parks and Recreation. Holt is a black, gay riff on Ron Swanson, a man who, when one of his new coworkers, Terry Jeffords (Terry Crewes) explains that “A year ago, my wife and I had twin baby girls. Cagney and Lacey,” responds in a perfect deadpan, “They have adorable, chubby cheeks.” There are jokes about the misuse of Manchego cheese, a legendary criminal nicknamed the Disco Strangler, critiques of Peralta’s manscaping and robot voices. In other words, it’s a joke-dense, enjoyably weird spin on procedural television, with a cast too deep to give its due here.
Show: We Are Men (CBS)
The Concept: We meet Carter (Christopher Nicholas Smith) shortly after his fiancee’s left him at the altar and he’s moved into an apartment complex where he meets a group of similarly-situated sad sacks, the much-divorced and Asian-loving Frank (Tony Shaloub), Speedo-prone Stuart (Jerry O’Connell) and Gil (Kal Penn), who cheated on his wife, and is pining after his lost marriage and the time he used to spend with his daughter. After some attempts to patch up his broken engagement, Carter decides to flee wedded bliss and embrace singledom, as well as living in a furnished apartment.
The Verdict: Given that there are two shows this fall that claim to be thoughtful about masculinity but that actually come across as opportunities to ogle women and to laugh along with bro humor, it would definitely be better for you to watch We Are Men than to subject yourself to Dads. But We Are Men is actually more disappointing than the most recent product of the Seth MacFarlane Amusement Factory because, listening to Penn and Shaloub talk about the show at the Television Critics Association Press Tour, it’s clear they’re more thoughtful about their performances than the writing staff is about its jokes. For several cycles in a row, now, network television’s done contemporary masculinity a serious disservice. We Are Men is yet another reminder of just how insulting pop culture can be to the men it claims to be serving.
Show: Mom (CBS)
The Concept: Christy (Anna Faris) is a single mother to two children, working as a waitress having deferred her dreams of being a psychologist–and newly sober. All this would be material enough for a sitcom, but in a twist, Christy ends up in the same AA meeting with estranged mother Bonnie (Allison Janney), who turns out to have some important insights into Christy’s parenting and sobriety.
The Verdict: One of the stronger comedy pilots of the new season, don’t get turned off on Mom either because it’s a multi-camera sitcom, or because it’s from The Big Bang Theory and Two and A Half Men creator Chuck Lorre. Mom is sharp about class–“I lost a day’s pay for no reason?” Christy moans when she races to school to make her son’s talent show, only to find out the boy mixed up the days. “Maybe we were destined to meet,” an older janitor tells her cheerfully–and not afraid to cut deep on questions of self-confidence or the impact of addiction. And it’s fun to see Faris and Janney square off, especially when Faris is, to a certain extent, playing the straight woman in the scenario. “What can you recommend for a mother and daughter who are reconnecting after a long, angry silence?” Bonnie asks their waiter at the diner where they go after running into each other in a meeting. “Pie?” the man tells them. Like the pastry, Mom‘s worth a shot.
Show: Hostages (CBS)
The Concept: Dr. Ellen Sanders (Toni Collette) is preparing to perform relatively routine surgery on the president when a FBI hostage negotiator, Duncan Carlisle (Dylan McDermott) takes Ellen and her family–which is chock full ‘o secrets, including a pregnancy, an affair, and a pot deal gone bad–hostage and demands that Ellen kill the president during surgery.
The Verdict: Hostages is one of the recent breed of shows that believes that “prestige” means dark and artificially high stakes, and as a result, has saddled itself with a concept that would barely stretch over a 90-minute action movie without straining plausibility. Watching Ellen find ways to not kill the president despite mounting pressure on her from Duncan and his team is going to become tiresome awfully quickly. And I suspect the exploration of Duncan’s motivations, the conspiracy behind him, and the will of team will be even duller. Additional points off for a terrible waste of Toni Collette. If this terrific actress is going to spend most of her time in television from now on, television really ought to be better to her.
Show: The Blacklist (NBC)
The Concept: Raymond Reddington (a silky-voiced and impeccably dressed James Spader), a rogue federal agent who’s been missing for years, walks into FBI headquarters and demands to speak with Elizabeth Keene (Megan Boone), a rookie agent who, as it turns out, is running late for her first day of work as a profiler at the agency. It turns out that Raymond has a plan to bring down the roster of the FBI’s real most-wanted list, a secret document called the Blacklist, but he wants to do it on his eccentric terms and with Elizabeth’s help.
The Verdict: The Blacklist should have immediately fallen afoul of my argument that masterminds are ruining television. But for an episode, at least, I’m willing to suspend my crankiness, because rather than malevolent, Raymond’s actually fun. His masterminding has limits–he’s not exactly free to run around Washington, DC at will, now that he’s surrendered–and a purpose other than cackling grandeur–he wants to make Elizabeth a better, sharper agent, and apparently to guide her to some hard truths about her troubled past. The Blacklist has some elements of prestige television, like a troubled heroine and terrorism-level stakes. But its greatest virtue may be self-knowledge: the show seems aware that it’s a procedural with a shot of silly to it. And if it can maintain that balance, it could be sustainably fun.
Show: Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD (ABC)
The Concept: While superheroes are off Hulk-smashing, developing new energy sources, and whisking Jane Foster off to Asgard in Marvel’s ludicrously profitable movie franchise, the humans who have to clean up their messes and deal with humanity’s reaction to the emergence of superheroes come together under the auspices of the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division, and team up with a hacker who’s skeptical of SHIELD’s secretive approach to superheroes.
The Verdict: Given Marvel’s long-term development process and the amount of money the franchise has generated, Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD should have been a stronger show out of the gate. There’s some weak casting, particularly Chloe Bennet as Skye, who she plays like a CW-knockoff April Ludgate, and isn’t helped by the generic dialogue she’s been given, and Brett Dalton as Agent Grant Ward, who can’t seem to get his mouth around the Whedonesque dialogue that should be one of the selling points of the show. The show will have to do a lot of world-building to give the core conflict it’s set up between secrecy and transparency some actual heft. And it remains to be seen whether Disney can continue to afford to make a show that looks as good as the pilot does. Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD isn’t all bad, of course: it’s incredibly fun to see Ming-Na Wen in action as Melinda May (and frankly nice to see a major character of color in a Marvel project who isn’t Samuel L. Jackson), and it’s great to have Clark Gregg back as Agent Coulson, particularly given that after his resurrection, Coulson seems to have a little swagger. It remains to be seen if the show clicks as a coherent whole. It’s true that Joss Whedon’s television projects have a habit of starting slowly, but it’s important to remember that Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD isn’t a long-term Joss Whedon project, or at least, it’s not supposed to be. Instead, it’s being run by his brother Jed Whedon and his sister-in-law, Maurissa Tancharoen. And reports on the scripts that were turned in after his involvement in the pilot are worrisome. I want Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD to be terrific, but it’s not there yet.
Show: The Goldbergs (ABC)
The Concept: In the height of the eighties, Adam Goldberg (Sean Giambrone) gets one of his neighborhood’s first home video cameras and begins documenting the wacky antics of his family.
The Verdict: If you’ve been missing big hair, track suits, or the impending departure of Walter White from our airwaves has left a tighty-whitey-shaped hold in your life, The Goldbergs may have something for you. But it’s part of a minor trend of television shows that treat the eighties and nineties as if they were impossibly, amusingly exotic (and I’m not just complaining about this because it makes me feel old) even though there’s less to be wrung from the clothes and music of those periods than there is from their politics, which The Goldbergs seems unlikely to touch with a ten-foot pole. And it feels like a waste of Bridesmaids veteran Wendi McLendon-Covey, wasted as Beverly, the overprotective mother of the clan.
Show: Trophy Wife (ABC)
The Concept: Kate (Malin Ackerman) embarks on a whirl-wind romance with the older, twice-married Brad (Bradley Whitford) and finds herself both a wife and stepmother in a situation where Brad’s two very different, but equally strong-willed ex-wives are watching her carefully.
The Verdict: Better than the title makes it sound, Sarah Haskins based this show on her own experiences as the third wife to her husband. Ackerman’s good as a woman who previously could afford to be careless, and who’s trying to develop the sixth sense that mothers acquire over time all at once. And Marcia Gay Harden and Michaela Watkins are sharp as, respectively, Diane, a micromanaging doctor and Jackie, an interfering devotee of New Age ideas. The show could easily be nasty to either Kate, painting her as dumb and golddigging, or to Jackie and Diane, portraying them as jealous, unpleasant older women who are trying to undermine the woman who supplanted them. Instead, it paints this extended family as a menagerie in a boat together, determined to try to make the best of the ride.
Show: Lucky 7 (ABC)
The Concept: The employees of a small, independent gas station play the lottery together every week. But when they hit it big, tensions emerge over whether to include a player who was late on his contribution to the ticket, and how to treat a co-worker who stopped contributing to the pool as an effort to be more financially responsible.
The Verdict: It’s a huge relief to see a show generate stakes other than violent death–and frankly, it’s nice to see Lucky 7 give us a broad cast of working-class characters. There’s Matt Korzak (Matt Long), who is trying to scrape together the money for a deposit on an apartment in a housing market that, even in New York’s outer boroughs, has gone wild, so he and his wife Mary can move out from his parents’ house, especially as they’re expecting their second child. Denise Dibinsky (Lorraine Bruce) struggles with her weight and her husband’s declining interest in her. Samira (Summer Bishil) is talented enough as a violinist to win admission to Julliard, but her parents would rather see her lock down what seems like a more reliable form of stability and get married. Leanne Maxwell (Anastasia Phillips) struggles to gratify her daughter’s small desires, like buying lunch at school on pizza day. And Antonio Clemente (Luis Antonio Ramos, who became visibly emotional at the Television Critics Association press tour while discussing the lack of non-criminal roles available to Latino actors) charms everyone around him, but can’t shake the feeling that he isn’t living up to their expectations for a better life. These are real conflicts, and Lucky 7 is smart to set itself up as an exploration of what happens to these characters after they hit the lottery, and how their relationships change absent their need to work at the gas station that brought them together.
Show: Back In The Game (ABC)
The Concept: Terry Gannon (Maggie Lawson) and her son Danny (Griffin Gluck) moves back in with her father, a former Major Leaguer known as The Cannon (James Caan) who’s lapsed into obscurity, after her divorce, and finds her way into her new community when she volunteers to coach Danny and a group of other misfits on a Little League team.
The Verdict: Back In The Game is just loopy enough not to feel like a complete Bad News Bears retread. Terry’s return to baseball is a real act of courage, given the way The Cannon belittled her playing career. And the show gets a sharp edge from the sexism of Dick (Ben Koldyke), a braggart who runs the league and insists a woman couldn’t possibly run a team effectively until Terry beans him. Plus, there’s Terry’s first new friend in town, a fellow single mother named Lulu (Lenora Crichlow) who happens to be a strange wealthy widow with no sense of what baseball entails–“I’ll pay for the equipment. Mats, tights, ribbons on sticks, the whole shebang,” she declares at a meeting of league parents–but plenty of enthusiasm for her young son, and for Terry. “You have issues,” Lulu declares at the end of her first conversation with Terry. “We’re going to be great friends.”
Show: The Crazy Ones (CBS)
The Concept: Simon Roberts (Robin Williams) is a legendary ad man, who now runs an agency with his daughter Sydney (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and their coworkers Zach Cropper (James Wolk), Andrew (Hamish Linklater) and Lauren Slotsky (Amanda Setton).
The Verdict: If you like watching Robin Williams do Robin Williams things, including boxing with a giant Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robot, improvising lyrics to a dirty jingle about McDonald’s with Wolk and Kelly Clarkson, and exhibiting sudden bursts of melancholy, then The Crazy Ones may be for you! Wolk, who’s broken out in dramatic roles like Bob Allen on the beloved but short-lived Lone Star, former First Son Douglas Hammond on Political Animals, and recently as gay con man Bob Benson on Mad Men, gets to stretch out the comedic chops he demonstrated on Happy Endings. But Gellar looks strained and unhappy as the straight woman here. The Crazy Ones pilot is a breathless 22 minutes, but for the show to last, it’ll need to get to a point where it feels memorable or emotionally engaging once we’ve gotten our wind back.
Show: The Michael J. Fox Show (NBC)
The Concept: Newsman Mike Henry (Michael J. Fox), who retired when the symptoms of his Parkinson’s Disease became visible on-screen, returns to work with the encouragement of his wife Annie (Breaking Bad‘s Betsey Brandt) and producer Harris Green (Wendell Pierce), and tries to negotiate his relationships with his children, college dropout Ian (Conor Romero), wannabe-activist Eve (Juliette Goglia) and quiet Graham (Jack Gore).
The Verdict: The biggest problem with The Michael J. Fox Show so far is that, through three episodes, it’s not particularly funny. The jokes about Fox’s real-life Parkinson’s Disease are among the sharpest things on the show, and offer a fresh look at what it’s like to live with–and to use socially–a debilitating disease, a quality Fox has brought to The Good Wife as well. But the show has a lot of sour notes, including Eve’s pretentions, an odd subplot about Ian’s fictitious efforts to start a company with no credentials, and the presentation of Mike’s sister Leigh (Katie Finneran) as desperate and slightly pathetic. The Michael J. Fox Show might do well to streamline the number of balls it’s juggling, and in particular, to focus on what’s funny about reporting the news whether or not the reporter in question has Parkinson’s. Fox is a fabulous talent, but thus far, I’d rather see him back on The Good Wife than here.
Show: Masters of Sex (Showtime)
The Concept: Virginia Johnson (Lizzy Caplan), a secretary at a St. Louis hospital and a single mother, finds her personal and professional life transformed when she begins working for Dr. William Masters (Michael Sheen), a celebrated OB/GYN who wants to begin controversial research into the human biological response during sex, even as he and his wife struggle with their inability to conceive.
The Verdict: By far the best new drama of the fall, this lush-looking, funny, and emotionally rich retelling of the lives and work of Masters and Johnson is acted with terrific verve and sensuality. It’s fantastic to see Caplan get the kind of complex starring role she’s deserved for years. And it’s even better to see Showtime develop a show that in tone, structure, subject material, and stakes feels like a clean break from the violent anti-hero dramas that have dominated cable programming to the point of exhaustion. Masters of Sex is a substantive look at Masters and Johnson’s sex research, but it’s fun, rather than dry. I just hope that, airing after Homeland, the show finds the audience it so richly deserves–and that Caplan gets recognized come awards season.
Show: Betrayal (ABC)
The Concept: Sara Hanley (Hannah Ware), a photographer married to a crusading District Attorney, Drew Stafford (Chris Johnson), begins an affair with Jack McAllister (Stuart Townsend), the lawyer and surrogate son to a powerful, corrupt industrialist, Thatcher Karsten (James Cromwell). Their extramarital liaison becomes even more complicated when Drew lands a case that he believes he could make his career–prosecuting T.J. Karsten (Henry Thomas), Thatcher’s son, who suffers from a brain injury, for murder, meaning he and Jack will be facing off in court.
The Verdict: The pilot’s beautifully directed by movie director Patty Jenkins, but Betrayal has very little else going for it. Inexplicable and overwhelming passion may be powerful to feel, but it’s difficult to convey, and watching Sara and Jack exchange tremulous gazes and sentiments like, “You make me want to connect. When I see you, I get this feeling, this spark that–.” “You’ve never felt before,” is not precisely compelling. And the larger plot surrounding Thatcher is presented in such grandiose terms that it feels laughable rather than high-stakes. I understand that darkness seems like the road to awards recognition right now. But take the wrong route through it, and your attempt at seriousness can seem awfully goofy.
Show: Super Fun Night (ABC)
The Concept: Kimmie (series creator Rebel Wilson) and her two best friends, the sexually ambiguous Marika (Lauren Ash) and nerdy Helen-Alice (Liza Lapira) decide to try to be more adventurous about their social lives after a cute co-worker encourages Kimmie to come out to a club.
The Verdict: Wilson’s been a riot in a number of supporting movie roles here in the U.S., and this is her first shot at a real breakout role. The concept for Super Fun Night isn’t bad, given that the social mores of singledom in your twenties are genuinely confusing and contradictory, and it’s worth fleshing that idea out. But Wilson seems committed to beating up on Kimmie as hard as possible in a way that makes it difficult to sympathize with her without significant discomfort. And at the Television Critics Association press tour emphasized that she thought that was a creative and productive direction for the character. If Super Fun Night is mostly going to be cringe comedy that makes it hard to see how these characters could ever be socially successful, I’ll be tuning out.
Show: Ironside (NBC)
The Concept: A remake of the 1968 series about a detective who uses a wheelchair, Blair Underwood plays Robert Ironside, a detective who, before his injury, had a penchant for hanging suspects off roofs, and now prefers to bounce them around the inside of police cars, in the service of tweaking New York’s wealthy and powerful.
The Verdict: Ironside seems to believe that the best measure of equality for people with disabilities is that they are just as capable of police brutality as folks without them. Its ideas are a mess–we initially see Ironside disarming and whacking around a suspect in a cop car, then later, he tells a suspect “Old me would have bounced you off the wall for talking to me like that. New me? I’ve had a lot of time to sit and think.” The show’s also eager to establish that he’s sexually functional, so Ironside’s equipped with a nameless, cute hookup, too. I’d love to see a good show about the challenges of doing police work while using a wheelchair, but Ironside feels obvious, rather than working the different points it wants to make into the show in a way that feels organic. And everything around him feels aggressively generic. I love a quality procedural, but unless the cases get better and Ironside develops a personality with more facets than unpleasant, giving us a detective with a disability isn’t enough to make the show feel distinct.
Show: Welcome To The Family (NBC)
The Concept: Junior Hernandez (Joseph Haro) is the valedictorian of his high school graduating class, set to head to Stanford in the fall. The one challenge? His girlfriend, Molly Yoder (Ella Rae Peck), a flighty party girl, has just figured out she’s pregnant and wants to keep the baby. And as they try to build an alternate set of plans, their dream of melding their families is complicated by the fact that their fathers, Chuey Hernandez (Ricardo Chavira) and Dan Yoder (Mike O’Malley), don’t like each other, divided by race, class, and general orneriness.
The Verdict: A television show about race and class in Los Angeles isn’t a bad idea, and neither is giving the wonderfully talented Mike O’Malley work that liberates him from Glee. But Welcome To The Family has a sour taste to it. Chuey and Dan’s dislike for each other is grounded in a petty dispute about whether Dan is tough enough to train at Chuey’s boxing gym, rather than in any real differences that might bring out their different social positions in Los Angeles as owner of a struggling small business and as an established doctor. Their wives are cast as stereotypical peacemakers. And there’s absolutely no compelling reason for the wildly unsuited Junior and Molly to be together in the first place, much less for us to feel good about them getting married as teenagers and raising a baby together.
Show: The Millers (CBS)
The Concept: Jack Miller (Will Arnett) ends up living with his mother Carol (Margo Martindale) when, inspired by Jack’s recent divorce, Jack’s father Tom (Beau Bridges), leaves Carol and moves in with his daughter and her husband.
The Verdict: This show is taking Margo Martindale away from The Americans so she can play a flatulent grandmother. Unless subsequent episodes improve Carol’s character and salve that sting, I’ll be unable to think of The Millers as anything other than the show that’s denying me Granny.
Show: Sean Saves The World (NBC)
The Concept: Sean (Sean Hayes) plays a gay single dad who’s raising his daughter Ellie (Samantha Isler) and coping with a new boss at work.
The Verdict: Sean Saves The World comes to us from Victor Fresco, creator of the ingenious Better Off Ted. But while that single dad comedy had not only a sweet dynamic between a father and his daughter, but a terrific workplace setting, the fiendish Veridian Dynamics, and a cast to round the office half of the show out, Sean Saves The World feels less innovative and nimble, maybe as a bid to last longer than Better Off Ted did. Megan Hilty and Echo Kellum, who are playing Sean’s coworkers, should add some life to the show as it progresses. But thus far, this is the sort of sitcom that makes multi-cams look a little bit dusty.
Show: Once Upon A Time In Wonderland (ABC)
The Concept: A spin-off from ABC’s family hit Once Upon A Time, this limited series follows Alice (Sophie Lowe), who’s been incarcerated in a mental hospital in Victorian England by her father, who believes her tales of her adventures in Wonderland are actually the manifestations of psychiatric illness. Just as she’s about to consent to a treatment to erase her memories, she’s rescued by the Knave of Hearts, sent from Storybrooke by the White Rabbit to break her out.
The Verdict: Once Upon A Time In Wonderland has some of the same cluttered feel as its predecessor, due to Disney’s desire to get as much of its intellectual property in the show as possible. But the idea of treating a woman’s adventures as a sign that she’s mentally ill as a way to bring her back into conformity with the expectations for a woman of her class is a smart one. And in a season that’s almost wholly lacking in shows that it’s possible to watch with the whole family, much less show’s you’d want to watch as a group, Once Upon A Time In Wonderland at least makes some progress towards meeting that need.
Show: Dracula (NBC)
The Concept: Dracula (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) is resurrected in Victorian England and decides to set himself up as an alternative energy magnate as a way to strip power from the League of the Dragon, a supernatural order that’s consolidated its power by buying up oil interests, predicting it’ll be the key commodity of the next century. I am not actually kidding.
The Verdict: Vampires are pretty played out at this point, but Dracula, thankfully, has abandoned True Blood‘s attempts to treat them as a metaphor for gay rights, or Twilight‘s pretense of vegetarian vamps. Dracula himself is lethal, and thanks to the casting, reasonably sexy. And the idea of supernatural beings competing at technological innovation as cover for their presence among humanity isn’t terrible. There are a lot of convoluted things going on involving Jonathan Harker (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) as an apparently bribable journalist, Minna Murray (Jessica De Gouw) as a potential reincarnation of Dracula’s dead wife, who was killed by the League of the Dragon, and a rather more capable Renfield (Game of Thrones‘ Nonso Anozie) than is the norm. But as Halloween entertainment goes, Dracula‘s not a bad spin on a concept that’s close to drained.
Show: Almost Human (Fox)
The Concept: John Kennex (Karl Urban) is a cop in 2048, a time when all police officers are required to be partnered with robots with advanced combat capabilities. When he returns to the force after losing a leg in a terrorist attack, Kennex is paired with an old, and somewhat eccentric model (that is, after he pushes a more modern robot out of his car and claims it’s an accident), Dorian (Michael Ealy). As they try to unravel a series of daring robberies, they make a startling discovery about the boundaries between humans and robots.
The Verdict: Almost Human is the best new genre show of the fall, a stylish-looking, if not wholly original buddy cop riff. The dynamic between John and Dorian is a lot of fun to watch–“I’m running my colloquialism routine so I express most data conversationally, man,” Dorian explains when they’re first paired up–and has some sly reverses. While John thinks he’s appeasing his superiors by accepting a robotic partner, Dorian explains that they’re locked in a cycle of mutual dependence: his willingness to keep working with John is the only reason John isn’t being discharged from the force, just as John is Dorian’s one shot at making it as a cop given the rise of more lethal, but more mentally constrained, models. “You’re lucky I want to be a cop so bad,” Dorian tells him. And Dorian helps John learn to acclimate to his robotic leg, suggesting olive oil for creaky joints. Given the extreme disappointments of Revolution last year, it’s nice to have a promising, and genuinely science fictionally engaged show back on the air.
Show: Enlisted (Fox)
The Concept: Sgt. Pete Hill (Geoff Stults) has a promising military career–until he decks a superior officer in Afghanistan and is detailed back to a rear operating base in Florida that mostly looks after military families, and has to reconnect with his brothers, whose military careers have been decidedly less successful.
The Verdict: One of the best comedy pilots of the season, Enlisted pulls off an exceptionally difficult assignment: being joke-dense, while also outlining the challenges both soldiers and the families they leave at home face, especially in wartime. Stults, who’s been making the rounds on Fox shows for some time, finally has a role that suits his comedic talents and his imposing physique. The dynamic between the brothers feels detailed and lived-in, as does Pete’s attempts to take command of a group of soldiers who have different reasons for joining the Army than he did, and highly different aptitudes. And the humor feels smart and specific to the setting, without being impenetrable: there are hilarious wargames against members of the Italian military, a civilian contractor named Wallace, who when he gets huffy, makes declarations like “I am so texting the general,” and a search for a lost dog that’s a base family’s pet. Everything about Enlisted feels fresh and fun, and it’ll be a welcome addition to the calendar in January.