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New to view 2019: A fall TV preview

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Fall TV premiere season is upon us!

Granted, the whole concept of the “new fall lineup” has increasingly become less of a thing with the proliferation of streaming services willing to drop entire seasons in one go and networks becoming more and more flexible with regards to when a series can and should debut, but whether it is by design or simply through inertia, we still see a whole lot of new material hit the airwaves in the autumn.

As per usual, this preview addresses only those shows entering their debut seasons. This isn’t about all the exceptional television that is returning for a second or third or fifth or tenth season – this is about stuff we haven’t seen before. It’s a chance to look ahead at what’s coming and think about what content – if any – we might be willing to invest our limited leisure time into.

It’s a mixed bag for sure. We’ve got broadcast and we’ve got streaming and you’d better believe we’ve got HBO. We’ve got comedy and drama. We’ve got prestige fare and we’ve got mass appeal. We’ve got highbrow, lowbrow, middlebrow – all the brows you could ever desire.

Will all of these shows be good? Absolutely not. Should you watch them all? Also – no. And this is far from everything. But if there’s even one or two gems among the flotsam, that’s a big win. And honestly, it looks like there might be a couple of winners here.

Or maybe it’s all just poorly-conceived adequately-executed entertainment detritus. Who can say?

Let’s have a look at a few of 2019’s fall TV premieres.

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NETWORK

Prodigal Son (Fox; Mondays at 8 p.m.)

I’ve been seeing ads for this one for a LONG time and I have to say that I’ve been in from the get-go. The basic conceit is that Dr. Martin Whitly (played by Michael Sheen) spent years as a serial killer and ALSO as a dad before finally getting caught and given the full Lecter lockup treatment. His now-grown son – played by Tom Payne - seeks to use that twisted mind to help solve other serial killer cases. It looks over-the-top and fun as hell, so long as they figure out the right amount of seriousness with which to treat the thing. “Silence of the Lambs” meets “Cat’s in the Cradle.” How can you NOT be in on this?

Emergence (ABC; Tuesdays at 10 p.m.)

One of two fall offerings featuring superpowered children on this list, “Emergence” looks to be aiming for the centralized paranormal mystery crowd. Basically, a police chief finds a child after a plane crash who is a) miraculously unharmed, and b) bears a striking resemblance to the chief herself. What follows is a show that kind of looks to be cribbing a little from the “Lost” playbook, but there’s certainly plenty of room for success within those parameters. It’ll come down to how they handle the overarching mystery element – audiences have been burned before and they’re not looking to do it again.

Nancy Drew (The CW; Wednesday at 9 p.m.)

If there’s one thing you can count on with The CW, it’s that they are unshakeable in their belief that if it worked once, it’ll work multiple times. So it is with “Nancy Drew,” a show based on the iconic book series. Only, you know … dark. This iteration features a just-graduated Nancy Drew dealing with the death of her mother and getting sucked into a supernatural mystery involving murder in her small coastal home of Horseshoe Bay, Maine. It’s an effort to put a modern spin on a classic; by all accounts, the writing is solid, the cast is strong and the show sets the right tone. Plus, it has Gritty Archie as a lead-in.

Stumptown (ABC; Wednesdays at 10 p.m.)

Ah yes, a crime-of-the-week procedural featuring a damaged private investigator with a tragic past, sprinkled with a healthy dose of “will they/won’t they.” Never seen that one before. That said, this one looks to have some potential. Cobie Smulders stars as Dex, a former soldier turned private investigator working in and around her home city of Portland, Oregon. The cast is great – Jake Johnson, Camryn Manheim, Michael Ealy – and the tone seems right. If nothing else, it looks like it’ll be fun. Whether they can make it last remains to be seen, but the initial energy from this one seems to speak well of its chances.

Perfect Harmony (NBC; Thursdays at 8:30 p.m.)

Even having watched the first episode of this show, I still can’t tell you if this show is going to be good. There’s plenty to like – specifically, the always-awesome Bradley Whitford starring as a disgraced former Princeton music professor who has fallen into ruin following the death of his wife. He’s recruited by the aw-shucks leader of a local church choir – played by Anna Camp – to help them beat the reigning megachurch choir at … choir competitions? Look, it doesn’t really matter; this is a good cast that might be able to get some mileage out of the premise. But if it turns into a one-joke fish-out-of-water deal, the fat lady will have already sung.

The Unicorn (CBS; Thursdays at 8:30 p.m.)

As a rule, I’m not generally a fan of the CBS sitcom formula, but this one seems like it might be a little more than the usual fare. The always-excellent Walton Goggins stars as the titular unicorn – an over-40 single dude with a job. He’s a widower looking to get back into the dating game at the behest of his circle of supporting friends, a dynamite ensemble featuring comedic notables like Rob Corddry and Michaela Watkins. Again – there’s a lot about this that feels formulaic, but Goggins is a heck of a headliner. Honestly, it’s probably worth checking out just to see him go so thoroughly against type. There are too many talented people here for it to not be at least watchable.

Evil (CBS; Thursdays at 10 p.m.)

Near as I can tell, “Evil” is basically a religiously-oriented “X-Files,” where the whole believer/skeptic dynamic revolves around demons instead of aliens. And if you’re like me, that’s all you needed to pique your interest. The skeptic is clinical psychologist Dr. Kristin Bouchard (Katja Herbers) and the believer is novice priest David Dacosta (Mike Colter); one imagines that they’ll do a case-of-the-week that’s almost certainly tied into some grander conspiracy. Again, just a hunch, but I like my odds of getting that right. Finding the right pace is key – you can’t have the skeptic brought along too quickly (or too slowly) – and one wonders if the show’s dynamics will be allowed to develop gradually.

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STREAMING

Raising Dion (Netflix; Oct. 4)

I am legitimately jazzed for this series, landing this weekend on Netflix. It’s an attempt to make a more grounded entry into the realm of superhero stories. “Raising Dion” centers on a woman named Nicole (Alisha Wainwright), a single mother attempting to raise her son Dion (Ja’Siah Young) following the death of his father (played in flashback by Michael B. Jordan, who also serves as a producer on the series). Her efforts are complicated when Dion manifests superhuman abilities, leaving her to try and protect him from those who would exploit his gifts. It’s certainly a different perspective than we usually see from the genre – one that is definitely intriguing.

Living with Yourself (Netflix; Oct. 18)

One of the joys of the advent of streaming service originals is that they have a little more latitude to get weird. That’s what appears to have happened here. While plot specifics are sketchy (which is good – reportedly, the less you know going in, the better off you are), the basic gist appears to be that Paul Rudd plays dual roles, as a sad businessman and his (requested?) clone. As for what the pair might get up to – that’s still a mystery, at least to me. And that’s OK; weird concepts like this should have the element of surprise on their side. And really, it’s double the Paul Rudd, so how could it possibly be anything other than a delight?

Looking for Alaska (Hulu; Oct. 18)

I’ll be the first to admit that the John Green literary phenomenon largely passed me by. That’s not out of any disdain for YA fiction or anything – I just missed the boat. This Hulu show is based on Green’s novel of the same name, brought to the table by Josh Schwartz, co-creator of “The O.C.” and Gossip Girl.” It’s the story of one student’s introduction into a new school – specifically a boarding school in Alabama – and how changes like that can impact a young person’s attitudes regarding who they want to be. Again, I don’t know Green, but I know plenty of people who do. For the most part, they’re happy to vouch for him. And hey – teen drama.

Modern Love (Amazon Prime; Oct. 18)

This anthology series is inspired by the New York Times column of the same name (said column also inspired a podcast – also called “Modern Love”). Basically, this show is intended to bring some of the most impactful of those featured stories to life on the screen. And no, it won’t be all romance – many different kinds of love will be explored over the run of the series. Maybe the biggest recommendation is the cast – Anne Hathaway, Tina Fey, John Slattery and Dev Patel are just some of the notable names popping up in various episodes. Anthologies are always tricky, but something like this might be just the ticket to keep viewers hooked.

Daybreak (Netflix; Oct. 24)

I have no idea if this show is going to be good or not. It’s basically “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” meets “28 Days Later” with a healthy helping of “Mad Max” and a dash of “The Warriors.” The nuclear apocalypse has come, turning the adults of Glendale, California into radioactive zombie-esque mutants or something. The various cliques at the high school form gangs to fight the zombie menace and … do other high school stuff? I honestly couldn’t tell you, but I’m ready to find out. And the best part? Matthew Broderick plays the high school principal. Is he a zombie? Is he Old Ferris turned into Rooney? I HAVE TO KNOW!

For All Mankind (Apple TV+, Nov. 1)

I’m on record as being a big fan of the alternate history genre of speculative fiction. This show offers up a fascinating hypothetical – what if the Soviet Union won the space race? And that simply, the entire history of the second half of the 20th century shifts. The wealth of possibilities is staggering as we watch astronauts and other space agency deal with the ramifications of a world where the Soviets were the first to the moon. The global scale of the show has a lot of potential; we just have to hope that they find a balance between the macro and the micro. I plan on REALLY digging this one.

The Morning Show (Apple TV+; Nov. 1)

If you’re going to start your own streaming service, you could do worse than offer up a show starring legitimate stars. Steve Carrell, Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon are the titanic trio at the top of this show, a dramady that looks at the inner workings of a morning news show. It feels timely and there’s no disputing the CVs of the cast, but there’s a lot riding on “The Morning Show.” It’s obviously intended to serve as a flagship program for the fledgling Apple TV+ service; if it’s anything other than a huge hit, it’s going to be a disappointment. Still, when you’re working with pockets this deep and a cast this good, the odds are in your favor.

The Mandalorian (Disney+; Nov. 12)

Here’s the deal – if you’re someone who would be interested in watching this show, then you already know all about it and don’t need me to tell you anything more. “The Mandalorian” is the first live-action TV show set in the “Star Wars” universe. It’s a story that takes place at some remove from the space wizard battles for the fate of the galaxy of the films, instead focusing more on the people at places at the fringes. This is the centerpiece of the Disney+ streaming service launch; it seems likely that no expense has been spared in making this show look and feel like a full-on “Star Wars” experience. If it’s successful in replicating that vibe, this show will be an unprecedented success.

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IT’S NOT TV … IT’S HBO

Watchmen (Oct. 20)

That’s right – more superhero stuff. But this will be unlike any other superhero offering on the slate. This new series uses the classic Alan Moore comic (and hence the 2009 film) as a jumping off point for a story set in “present day.” Damon Lindelof is running the show, so there’s little doubt that there will be a distinctive vision. Whether it works or not remains to be seen, but the pieces are here – not only is Lindelof in charge, but the cast is led by a capital-G Great in Regina King. It will be weird and brutal, an alternate present the likes of which we rarely get to see on television. It might be a spectacular success or a spectacular failure, but hey – either way, it’ll be spectacular.

Catherine the Great (Oct. 21)

Yeah – a miniseries is kind of cheating. But Helen Mirren going HAM as Catherine the Great in an HBO miniseries is EXACTLY the kind of TV energy I want in mid-October. She’s playing the lead, of course, and executive producing; regular collaborators Philip Martin and Nigel Williams are writing and directing the thing. While I’ll never argue against seeing Dame Helen pop up in a “Fast & Furious” movie, because her obvious glee at doing them is a joy, it’s nice to see her digging into the sort of heavy-duty costume drama at which she particularly excels. Expect a whole lot of lavishly produced pomp and circumstance – precisely the sort of prestige TV we love to get from HBO.

Mrs. Fletcher (Oct. 27)

Another HBO adaptation of a Tom Perrotta novel; Damon Lindelof’s adaptation of Perrotta’s “The Leftovers” is considered by many to be one of the best TV shows of that past decade. Perrotta’s got plenty more where that came from. This show – based on one of the author’s newer works – features Kathryn Hahn as an empty-nester coming to terms with the fact that her son has gone away college. It’s a multi-generational perspective; we watch both mother and son growing and adapting to the strange new world in front of them. It probably won’t be the flashiest show you see this fall, but it might be one of the most emotionally engaging.

His Dark Materials (Nov. 4)

I’ll admit to not knowing much about the Philip Pullman books that serve as the inspiration for this new series. I do know that the 2007 effort to turn them into a film franchise flopped, but it’s been over a decade – an eternity in “revisiting IP” years. Besides, it’s tough to look at this creative team and not expect massive success. James McAvoy, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Dafne Keen and Ruth Wilson head up the cast. If I had to guess, HBO is crossing their fingers that this show can at least somewhat fill the void left behind by the departure of “Game of Thrones.” At least all the books are already done with this one (though Pullman is still revisiting that world from time to time).

Last modified on Tuesday, 01 October 2019 11:52

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