The anticipation of the fall network television season has been diminished in part by the year-round premieres of shows on cable and, in a relatively recent wrinkle, streaming services. Nonetheless, autumn means the return of a slew of broadcast favorites and the inevitable attempts on the part of the “big four and a half” (ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, and the CW) to generate new hit shows. Plus, the aforementioned cable channels and burgeoning streamers aren’t slowing their rollouts. Here’s a subjective survey of what’s new and upcoming on the tube over the next few months.
Although I try to avoid certain types of programming, I know many viewers can’t get enough of reality TV in its various manifestations — especially exploitive tabloid intrusion and jacked-up competition, and even combinations of the two, such as The Bachelor and its distaff spin-off. On the other hand, I avert my gaze. I actually get physically nauseous after a few seconds of watching anything in the Real Housewives franchise, not to mention the “private” lives of Kardashians, backwoods yokels, feisty little people, and so forth. So you’ll see no recommendations of that ilk. And I’ll pass on addressing animation — The Simpsons and company. It’s out there, and you love it or hate it. You make the call.
THRILLERS AND MYSTERIES
I know many people are hooked on police, legal, and medical procedurals. For those who want to watch a new season of Law & Criminal Justice — NCISVU, I wish you good luck. Meanwhile, those one-and-done case-driven American shows bore the hell out me. Serialized mysteries from England, France, Australia, Scandinavia, and other points on the globe are more to my liking. I can comfortably tout Riviera, a 10-episode British production that became available for streaming on Sundance Now in mid-September. Created and co-written by the acclaimed filmmaker Neil Jordan (The Crying Game, Mona Lisa), it’s mostly set on the French Riviera, as you might expect, and stars Julia Stiles as an American art curator driven to unravel the facts of her wealthy husband’s death.
Another U.K. offering worth investigating is Liar, which started Sept. 27 on the Sundance TV cable channel. Starring Joanne Froggatt (Downton Abbey) and Ioan Gruffudd, this series concerns the repercussions of a date gone very bad and was developed and authored by brothers Harry and Jack Williams whose previous mystery series The Missing was a must-see. And I am particularly eager to check out the second run of the taut espionage series Berlin Station, which introduces Ashley Judd as the new CIA bureau chief in Berlin with a premiere Oct. 15 on EPIX.
Notable offerings in the realm of the dramatic include The Deuce, a smart, seamy, and sordid look at the porn industry based in New York’s Times Square district during the 1970s, currently running on HBO and featuring superb performances by Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Franco; last year’s lovely and widely praised cross-generational family saga This Is Us, just a couple of weeks into a second season on NBC; the return of the unique digital-age thriller Mr. Robot for a third cycle, with Rami Malek as a tormented, morally compromised hacker and Christian Slater as his father, on Oct. 11 via USA Network; and the second season of The Crown, the docudrama about the early years in the reign of England’s Queen Elizabeth II (Claire Foy), available Dec. 8 on Netflix.
When it comes to mixing drama with comedy, there are two shows that stand out: Transparent, the award-winning series about a patriarch coming out as transsexual and the subsequent impact on the wife and children, based on creator Jill Soloway’s own family and streaming its fourth season on Amazon; and Shameless (based on a British series of the same name) about a seriously dysfunctional extended clan led by an alcoholic single dad played by William H. Macy with his usual verve, coming to Showtime for an eighth season on Nov. 5.
Comedy is getting its fair share of airtime, beyond the latest blast of first-run episodes of super-hit nerd-com The Big Bang Theory (in its 11th season) — or the ratings magnet’s brand-new prequel spin-off Young Sheldon, narrated by TBBT’s grown-up misfit brainiac Sheldon, Jim Parsons, both of which having already premiered on CBS in late September.
I’m happy to report that my two favorite sitcoms — FXX’s super-snarky Los Angeles millennial relationship comedy You’re the Worst on its fourth season, and Showtime’s brilliant TV-business satire Episodes (with Matt LeBlanc continuing to do the best work of his career as a heedlessly egocentric caricature of himself) on its fifth and final stand — are a few weeks into their respective returns. Plus, there’s a big buzz around the revived groundbreaker Will & Grace, off the air since 2006, but on NBC’s schedule again as of Sept. 28, with its original comedic quartet of Debra Messing, Eric McCormack, Megan Mullally, and Sean Hayes intact.
I can’t vouch for other freshman efforts except to say the would-be supernatural buddy romp Ghosted, with an Oct. 1 launch on Fox, does have the benefit of the capable Adam Scott and Craig Robinson as its co-stars.
A few promising returnees include a second go-round of the amusing Great News, which is basically a variation of NBC’s late, beloved backstage TV lampoon 30 Rock, only at a second-tier television news outlet. This one is even co-produced by (but not starring) 30 Rock mastermind/lead actress Tina Fey for NBC, and it just resumed Sept. 28.
The Good Place, with its successful high-concept gamble, is back for a sophomore semester on NBC as of Sept. 28, and it’s an even better bet for laughter with Kristen Bell as a deceased, unrepentant ne’er-do-well and Ted Danson as the architect of the afterlife where she finds herself. And the best bet of all is that the funniest misanthrope in the entertainment world will be welcomed back to HBO, as Larry David again portrays a (slightly) fictionalized version of himself for a ninth season of Curb Your Enthusiasm starting Oct. 1.
SUPERHEROS AND THE SUPERNATURAL
On the weirder, wilder front, there’s the usual barrage of DC Comics-inspired superhero shows on the CW — Supergirl, The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, and Arrow, slotted to gear up again throughout the week of Oct. 9. On Fox, there’s the off-kilter reinterpretation of Batman’s history, Gotham, which returned last month, and the considerably better Lucifer with its take on the Devil (a devastatingly charming Tom Ellis) as a hedonistic Los Angeles nightclub owner who becomes an informal consultant for a sexy female detective, beginning Season 3 on Oct. 2.
Marvel Comics’s video adaptations of the company’s enhanced characters continue with Inhumans, which just began a short stretch on ABC to be followed by another season (the fifth) of the spy-fi serial Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. in November, plus the young-mutant X-Men spin-off The Gifted starting Oct. 2 on Fox. There are more installments of the first and foremost zombie apocalypse series, The Walking Dead, shambling to AMC Oct. 22. And the entire second series of the surprise 1980s-era small-town supernatural smash Stranger Things will be made available by Netflix on Oct. 27, just in time for Halloween.