Let me tell you, it’s never been more difficult for a TV addict such as myself to support my habit. The Internet connection in my backwoods country farmhouse is too slow for me to watch Hulu or Netflix without making sure that no one else in the house so much as thinks about checking their Facebook, and I’ve got a very opinionated four-month-old puppy, who loves to play (and bark!) directly in front of the TV. (“You should be watching me!” He seems to say. “Not that big box up there!”) But I prevailed, dear readers, because let’s be real, there’s a crap-ton of new television this season and I didn’t want to get left out. And what kind of a writer would I be if I didn’t try to share some of my findings? Here’s a quick look at some of the new pilots this fall season, which I watched, so you don’t have to (unless you want to, in which case, go for it. There are some good ones out there).
Sleepy Hollow: Ichabod Crane time travels to 2013 to fight the headless horseman… of the apocalypse. Yeah, you read that correctly. The concept is undoubtedly ridiculous, even by Hollywood’s standards, but when I finished the episode, I kid you not, I threw my notebook into the air and said very loudly to my dogs, “F*ckin’ A, this show is actually good!” The pilot maintains balanced elements of drama, suspense, and mystery, and Crane’s sarcasm and confusion regarding the modern world provide some comic relief that actually made me laugh aloud a few times, without turning the character into a clown. Tom Mison’s performance as Ichabod shows a lot of promise, and it’s not just because he’s incredibly attractive. (Though seriously, my friend, congratulations on your face, and also your excellent sartorial choices.) Nicole Beharie also proves her worth as Abbie Mills, a lieutenant in the Sleepy Hollow Police Dept. who, after witnessing the death of her mentor, the Sheriff, is the only one who believes Crane’s story. The chemistry between the two actors reeks of potential, as does the plot. I am pleasantly surprised to say that I look forward to seeing more of Sleepy Hollow. (Premiered on Monday, September 16 on Fox at 9/8c)
Brooklyn Nine-Nine: Andy Samberg plays Andy Samb—I mean, Jake Peralta, a brilliant but kooky Brooklyn detective who refuses to grow up. It’s funny, but I don’t know that I can take it seriously as a show. The humor is zany and slapstick, and while it is indeed funny, as an audience member I felt very disconnected. There’s very little that is original about the plot, concept, or characters, and even the revelation at the end that Commander Holt is gay, which should allow us to feel more emotionally attached to the character and open up the show for a chance to explore the difficulties of the LGBT community in the police force, felt almost obligatory, like the writers threw it in so we as the audience would have some “depth”. Maybe the show will settle into its stride throughout the next few episodes. For its own sake, I hope so. (Premiered on Tuesday, September 17 on Fox at 9:30/8:30c)
Dads: Oh look. Another TV show from Seth McFarlane, chock full of the same sexist, racist, immature humor as all the others. Somehow, it’s even less funny when it’s in live-action and not animated. I gave it a chance for Seth Green and Brenda Song, and was immediately sorry I did. The jokes are lame, the laugh track is annoying, the acting is awful, and I’m sorry, but allowing Song’s character to save the day at the end of the episode through blackmail and sexual means is not a punch line, it’s just offensive. I’m so terribly unimpressed, I don’t even care enough to finish this sentence. So I think I’ll just leave it at that. (Premiered Tuesday September 17 on Fox at who cares, you should probably skip it anyway.)
Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD: Joss Whedon has come back to television! Phil Coulson has come back to the living! The next Avengers movie won’t come out until 2015, but in the mean time, Agents of SHIELD ties up some of the loose ends left from the films. In the pilot, which takes place shortly after The Battle of New York from The Avengers, we get a closer look at one of the subjects of the Extremis experiment, as seen in Iron Man 3. The writing was strained at times, like the writers were trying too hard to give us an authentic Joss Whedon experience, full of all the action, quirky characters, and hilarious one-liners that have proven themselves trademarks of his previous works. But overall, I think once SHIELD gets over the peacocking stage and settles in a bit, it will actually be a quality show. Throw in some crossover references (like one liners about Thor’s arms from Maria Hill), and appearances from members of Whedon’s usual troupe of actors (J. August Richards! Ron Glass!), and we might even have another cult favorite on our hands, one which spans far beyond the reach of any other TV show in existence. The characters could cameo in future Marvel movies. Or perhaps (and this is a big ‘perhaps’), some of the movie characters might make an appearance in the show. The scope of a show like SHIELD is limitless, simply because the Marvel universe is so wide, but at the same time it needs to remain within the boundaries the previous films have already set. Writers and producers of both the show and the films probably will have to stay in communication to make sure both media can co-exist in the same universe, and that’s fascinating. This possible capacity for a multi-platform experience, more than anything, makes me very interested to see where SHIELD goes. (Premiered on Tuesday, September 24 on ABC at 8/7c)
The Goldbergs: I always hate saying this about new TV shows, especially ones that I want to like, but I don’t think The Goldbergs is going to last very long. It’s a fairly standard family sitcom, but in a lineup like we’ve got for this fall, newcomers need to be better than just standard. It got one or two pity laughs out of me, but the jokes are stale, the characters are all archetypes in the worst kind of way, and there’s nothing very special about the plot other than the fact that it takes place a few decades ago. Maybe it would be funnier to me if I had lived in the 80s for longer than a few months. (Premiered on Tuesday September 24 on ABC at 9/8c)
Trophy Wife: The guy from The West Wing (Bradley Whitford) plays a twice-divorced lawyer who marries the chick from Watchmen (Malin Akerman), clearly hoping that the third time is the charm. She becomes stepmother to his three children. There’s a lot of the standard tension between all the wives, and between the stepmom and her stepkids, and a steady stream of both humor and character development. There are even a few moments that don’t exactly fail to tug on the old heartstrings a bit. The real treasure for me, however, was Bert, the little adopted Chinese kid played by Albert Tsai. For the first five minutes of the episode I found him incredibly annoying, but after exhibiting some brilliant understanding of comedic timing and line delivery (“Do you think I was born yesterday? I was born in 2006!”) he became my favorite character. As long as the show avoids its clichés, I think, based on the pilot, that Trophy Wife has the definite potential to not suck.(Premiered on Tuesday September 24 on ABC at 9:30/8:30c)
Lucky 7: A drama about seven gas station employees who – oh wait, the show has already been canceled after two episodes. If the pilot interested you, watch the British version, The Syndicate, which is probably better anyway.
Back in the Game: Maggie Lawson takes a break from her role on Psych to play Terry, a single mom who moves in with her cranky, alcoholic, slightly violent father, The Cannon (James Caan). Their relationship has been strained for most of her life, because her father pushed her very hard to play baseball, which she did with success as an All American player in college. When her son Danny doesn’t make the little league baseball team, she offers to coach the band of misfit kids, Bad News Bears style. The dialogue is funny, the characters are varied, and frankly there are a ton of different directions it could take. And what more, the pilot manages to convey several different levels of comedy and drama and familial love, without being heavy handed as so many sitcoms tend to do. I watched this one by accident while waiting for the Modern Family premiere, but I think I might continue to do so on purpose. (Premiered on Wednesday, September 25 on ABC at 8:30/7:30c)
The Crazy Ones: Sarah Michelle Gellar literally stalked Robin Williams until he agreed to take the role of her father in this sitcom about an ad agency, and frankly I was very interested to see what made him take the part instead of filing a restraining order against his now costar. The pilot presented us with a few unique characters, a few other ones I think I was probably supposed to care about, and a plot that took some time to resonate with me. Robin Williams basically plays Robin Williams, complete with goofy voices and slapstick humor (much of which is most likely ad libbed), and Gellar plays his foil, the straight-[wo]man who walks a fine line between anchoring the ridiculousness and being just plain whiny. The last few minutes of the episode promise some chemistry between the two main actors, and I think if The Crazy Ones can grab that and run with it, rather than just depend on Robin Williams doing his thing for 22 minutes every week (though certainly that would be entertaining, if disorganized), it might stand a chance. Plus, the improvised “drive thru” song they aired at the end was pretty entertaining. (Premiered on Thursday September 26 on CBS at 9/8c)
Michael J Fox Show: So many new family sitcoms this season! The best thing this one’s got going for it is the cast, as it marks Michael J. Fox’s first major return to network television since his semi-retirement in 200 due to Parkinson’s Disease. The pilot makes no secret of his condition – in fact a lot of laughs are gleaned from it – though it’s very clear that this inclusion is intentional. We laugh with Fox, not at him, and this is an important distinction, because the comedy could very easily turn to pity if they’re not careful. The cast is fairly strong, even if their characters are a little unoriginal: sassy, patient wife, headstrong-yet-clueless college dropout son, unamused teenage daughter, crazy but cute younger son, and the sister/neighbor who thinks she’s much younger than she is. The pilot utilizes that incredibly popular (and increasingly tired) device, the mockumentary, framing it around a class project for Fox’s daughter. The pilot has drive and a clear plot, but it resolves itself by the end of the episode and honestly, without main character Mike Henry’s return to work as a focus, I’m not sure what else is really left but the same kind of family sitcom that’s already flooding the networks. It wasn’t the funniest of the new comedies, but again, the show has a strong cast and obvious working chemistry between the characters, so I will give it a chance to figure itself out, and defer my judgment until later in the season. (Premiered Thursday September 26 on NBC at 9:30/8:30c)
Super Fun Night: Rebel Wilson writes and stars in this show about a group of friends trying to step out of their comfort zones. The concept is kind of weak, and I, like a lot of people I know, really only gave it a chance because of Wilson, who more than proved herself by stealing her scenes in movies like Pitch Perfect and Bridesmaids. She’s all anybody talked about for awhile. She had it made! But her debut as a starring actress didn’t thrill me. The plot was a bit shaky, the characters blended together and were a little inconsistent, and I’m sorry, but Wilson’s terrible American accent was cringe worthy and in my opinion, unnecessary. There are already several international characters on the show, what difference would one more make? The humor in Super Fun Night relied a lot on fat jokes and body humor for Wilson, which got old after about three seconds. I want this show to succeed, because honestly I’d love a weekly dose of Rebel Wilson on my TV, but based on its initial reception and the fact that the “pilot” was actually the second episode, because the original pilot sucked that bad, it’s got a lot of work to do if it wants to avoid cancellation. (Premiered Wednesday October 2 on ABC at 9:30/8:30c)
The Originals: I’ll admit that I like The Vampire Diaries. But I’m just not quite sure how this spin off is going to stand up on its own. More so than on any other spin off I can call to mind, the characters are still deeply intertwined with the plot of The Vampire Diaries, so much that I don’t see how new viewers will be able to understand everything going on. It’s like the creators of TVD decided they had too much plot for next season, so they split it into two shows. Do I hope that there will be plenty of crossovers, so my little shipper heart can get some Klaroline closure? Absolutely. But despite how well these vampire siblings have aged (and in true CW style, they certainly do look hot for 2,000 years old…), I’m afraid I can’t see them surviving much longer on their own show. (Premiered Thursday, October 3 on The CW at 9/8c)
Once Upon a Time in Wonderland: Once Upon a Time is one of those shows that makes me sad, simply because of its squandered potential: a promising concept that, through poor execution, and misappropriated plot, went terribly, terribly wrong. I’ve been hate-watching it since pretty much the moment it aired, and I am trying to decide whether I will have the energy to do the same with its spin off. The pilot doesn’t offer much more than the same cheesy special effects and scoff-worthy crossovers (Jafar from Aladdin? In Wonderland? Sure. Okay.) and like The Originals, it’s very tied in with its roots, which will alienate new viewers. I don’t know, maybe there’s something I’m just missing about this whole franchise. After all, a lot of people seem to really love it, enough that it apparently warranted this spin off. But as a lover of both fairy tales and quality television, I’m very much inclined to say that both OUAT, and now its sister production, OUATIW (holy vowels, Batman!) are not a good representation of either. (Premiered Thursday October 10 on ABC at 10/9c)
Dracula: More Vampire-genre TV. Hooray. Really though, I thought this whole vampire craze was finally beginning to die down? Maybe I’m being too harsh. There’s some great vampire media out there. I’m a diehard Buffy fan, for crying out loud. The show is a very marked twist on Bram Stoker’s novel, and I wonder if that will help in its ascent or serve as its downfall. Shows about vampires are a dime a dozen, after all, but slapping a name like Dracula on it means you’ve got some big shoes to fill. (Premieres on Friday October 25 on NBC at 10/9c)
Almost Human: This one might be it. This might be the new show I am most excited for this season. From one of my personal heroes, Mr. JJ Abrams himself, Almost Human is set 35 years in the future in a world where police officers are partnered with androids (If the show fails to ever make a Robocop joke I am going to be super upset). Karl Urban (Eomer!) plays John Kennex, who returns to duty after his partner is killed in action. He blames the androids and is distrustful of them, so he is partnered with Dorian (Michael Ealy), an android programmed to function with human emotion. The full-length trailer manages quite well to make me feel a whole bunch of feels, so I can’t imagine what the show itself might be capable of. (Premieres on Monday November 4 on Fox at 8/7c)
Death By DVR is written by Emily Krempholtz.