Fall TV Preview 2014 

Television will rot your brain—and here’s True TV’s guide to blissful oblivion

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COMIC BOOK & FANTASY ACTION

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Gotham
(Fox) Premieres Monday, Sept. 22

The "Garfield minus Garfield" quips regarding Gotham's "Batman minus Batman" origin story are valid, as is the observation that it's just a highly stylized cop show with the occasional glimpse of a future villain ("Hey, look, the Penguin! And there's Poison Ivy!"). But a highly stylized cop show is better than a no-style cop show—as you'll see in the coming Fall TV previews—and Gotham, centered around detectives James Gordon (Ben McKenzie) and Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) sports this season's priciest-looking pilot: The police station looks like the '40s, the cars look like the '70s, you never see a cell phone or computer, but there are satellite dishes on the rooftops; Gotham occupies no time period. And of all the excellent performances (McKenzie is as stoic and solid as Logue is manic and morally fluid), the most surprising of all is Jada Pinkett Smith as Gotham crime boss Fish Mooney—any show that can make her likable (as a villain with a ridiculous name, no less) is onto something. Preview

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The Flash
(The CW) Premieres Tuesday, Oct. 7

In other DC Comics news, The Flash is poised to become this year's Insta-Hit, a spin-off of Arrow that retains all of that series' superhero soapiness and turns up the brightness several notches. The Flash, about Central City CSI investigator-turned-Fastest Man Alive Barry Allen (Grant Gustin), has more in common with the early years of Smallville than the dark and growly Arrow; even though there's some darkness in his past, nerdy Barry's having far more fun here than broody stud-boy Oliver Queen is back in Starling City. The special F/X are on the right side of budget camp, and the show's comic-book-true vision is immediately clear. Unlike, say ... Preview

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Constantine
(NBC) Premieres Friday, Oct. 24

Turns out most of the advance complaining about Hellblazer adaptation Constantine was spot-on: This show probably can't be done on network TV, but what NBC has come up with isn't a total loss. First of all, Matt Ryan is markedly better than Keanu Reeves was in the 2005 Constantine movie, injecting the right amount of seething swagger into the titular demon hunter—he's Gordon Ramsay, literally in Hell's kitchen. And ... that's about it. The occasionally impressive F/X don't mask the fact that potentially excellent support players like Lucy Griffiths (who's outta here after the first episode, anyway—smart move) and Harold Perrineau have nothing to do, and there's So. Much. Exposition. that NBC could have saved everyone a headache by just mass-mailing Hellblazer comics to fans of Grimm, Constantine's lead-in and target audience. First cancellation of the 2014-15 season, calling it right here. Preview

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Forever
(ABC) Premieres Monday, Sept. 22

Ioan Gruffudd (Fantastic Four) plays a New York City medical examiner who knows everything—literally, because he's secretly been alive for 200 years. When he teams up with plucky, equally pretty NYPD detective Jo Martinez (Alana de la Garza), there's no crime they can't solve ... if Castle or Elementary haven't already closed it. Gruffudd and Garza make a passable, vanilla-latte version of Castle/Beckett and Holmes/Watson, but it won't matter: Forever is a far too optimistic title for an ABC series whose regular timeslot will be Tuesdays at 9. Preview

COMEDY ONSLAUGHT

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Jane the Virgin
(The CW) Premieres, Monday, Oct. 13

Accidental artificial insemination? Let's say it's a thing. During a routine checkup, engaged 23-year-old virgin Jane (Gina Rodriguez) is inadvertently inseminated with a sample meant for another patient—making matters even worse, the sample is from her handsome boss at the hotel where she works! How will she explain this to her family? Her fiance? The idiotic Christian groups who think Jane the Virgin is a show about abortion? Of course she's going to keep the baby—this is The CW, not Cinemax. If you loved Ugly Betty but thought it never went telenovela hard enough, Jane is for you, and Rodriguez will be America's new mid-level TV sweetheart. Oh, and congratulations on all of the free advance publicity from the aforementioned idiotic Christian groups, CW. Preview

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Red Band Society
(Fox) Premieres Wednesday, Sept. 17

A dramedy with all of the snarky teen attitude of Glee and none of the musical numbers, Red Band Society (a title that beat out Sadder Children's Hospital and Kancer Kidz!) is the only real chance Fox is taking this season besides Gotham—the exec who greenlighted Sleepy Hollow, Almost Human and anything else remotely weird last year is waaay fired. Like early Glee, the young cancer-ward residents are all fresh-faced newbies spouting rapid-fire pop-cultural zingers, leavened with gallows humor and grounded by older actors of note (Octavia Spencer and Dave Annabelle as hospital staff) who only come out of the background as needed. And the show's narrator is a child in a coma, so "deal with it" (even Coma Kid has 'tude). So, are we supposed to get attached? Ask Walter White—we had him around for five seasons. Preview

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Manhattan Love Story
(ABC) Premieres Tuesday, Sept. 30

On the name front, Manhattan Love Story could be the worst title of the year—and this is a season that includes Selfie, Black-ish and Jane the Virgin. All you need to know about MLS: Analeigh Tipton is A. Dor. A. Ble; the she-thought/he-thought dating conceit works to far better comedic effect than you'd think; did I mention that Analeigh Tipton is adorable? Give this one a chance and, not to plan your Tuesdays, romantics, but Selfie and Manhattan Love Story into Fox's New Girl and The Mindy Project (or, less likely, NBC's Marry Me and About a Boy) would make for a solid evening. Preview

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Black-ish
(ABC) Premieres Wednesday, Sept. 24

For a new series airing after the whitest show on television, Modern Family, Black-ish sure does bring up some Bernie Mac Show memories—how did this happen? And how does it lead into Nashville? Anthony Anderson stars as a family man with a corporate PR job and a sweet suburban spread, but he's becoming more and more aware (via narration, this season's hot trend, along with the Chubby Bearded Bud) of his clan's disassociation with black culture, and the casual disapproval of his live-in dad Pops (Laurence Fishburne) only exacerbates his anxiety. For a seemingly one-note premise, Black-ish delivers as many laughs in its debut episode as its more-established sitcom neighbors—this is either what The Boondocks railed against or really wanted all along. Preview

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Selfie
(ABC) Premieres Tuesday, Sept. 30

Ex-Doctor Who companion Karen Gillan is a little too good as a social-media-obsessed airhead who suddenly realizes that her thousands of "friends" aren't real friends—viewers will probably be tuning out after five minutes of her overly affected hashtag-speak. Too bad, because this roundabout My Fair Lady/Pygmalion riff turns sweet, funny and—uh-oh—educational once co-star John Cho begins schooling her Eliza Doolie (yes, really) on how to interact with Real People in Real Life. In turn, she teaches his Henry Higenbottam (the hits keep coming) how to lighten up and have a little fun. Selfie may be a more obvious movie than a series, but Gillan and Cho have the chemistry to build it into something longer-lasting. With a different name—seriously, Selfie #sucks. Preview

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Mulaney
(Fox) Premieres Sunday, Oct. 5

Daaammmnnn. Maybe it's all the "new Seinfeld" comparisons being thrown around, presumably by someone paid by Fox to do so, but Mulaney is an even bigger disappointment than present-day rich-asshole Jerry Seinfeld showing up at your kid's birthday party for a stand-up set ("Nice Hot Wheels—check out my Porsche, ya little shit"). Comic/writer John Mulaney plays an unnervingly stiff version of himself, a struggling New York comic working for a comedy-legend-turned-game-show-host (Martin Short) and living with a couple of wacky roommates (Totally Biased's Seaton Smith and Saturday Night Live's Nasim Pedrad), and throw in a random gay-geezer neighbor (Elliott Gould), because why not? That's a whole lotta talent working overtime to produce no laughs whatsoever—except from the ... ugh ... laugh track. Besides Fox, who's already ordered damned near a full season of this trainwreck (Dads 2.0!), everyone involved seems to be thinking, "Is this going on TV? For real?" Unfortunately, yes. Preview

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A to Z
(NBC) Premieres Thursday, Oct. 2

Remember the Mother from How I Met Your Mother? Who was pursued for years as The Girl, only to be killed off in favor of The Other Girl in the end? Jennifer Love Hewitt action figure Cristin Milioti is back in A to Z, starring opposite Ben Feldman (Mad Men—Ginsberg!) in a romantic comedy that should be insufferable, but actually works in spite of itself. Andrew's a romantic, Zelda's a pragmatist, and when they meet due to an Internet-dating website glitch (which Andrew works for, in the office building adjacent to Zelda's—see how this is going already?), undeniable sparks fly. A to Z is unapologetically fluffy, but it's probably due for a longer life on NBC than ... Preview

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Bad Judge
(NBC) Premieres Thursday, Oct. 2

You're thinking "Bad Teacher as a judge," and you're mostly right—except that Rebecca Wright (Kate Walsh) is a smart, respected criminal-court judge by day who just happens to party like 10 animals and play drums in a rock band with her BFF (Arden Myrin) by night. Walsh has always had a wicked comic streak, and Bad Judge would have finally been a killer vehicle for it—on FX or Showtime. On NBC, it's just a bed-headed, half-dressed lead-in for the sweeter A to Z and Parenthood. I know I'm in, but I'll be one of the few who watches until it's canceled by the end of October. Preview

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Marry Me
(NBC) Premieres Tuesday, Oct. 14

If you're a fan of Happy Endings, Burning Love, Wet Hot American Summer, Children's Hospital and all the other comedies Casey Wilson and Ken Marino have starred in, you're really, really, really going to want to like Marry Me. Unfortunately, their collective manic energy initially overpowers what's supposed to be a sweet li'l rom-com about a couple seemingly doomed to never propose at the right time. Then again, Happy Endings (which was helmed by the same guy behind Marry Me) didn't click right away, so this could still work out over the long haul—good thing Marry Me isn't airing against New Girl. Oh, it is? Nevermind. Preview

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Cristela
(ABC) Premieres Friday, Oct. 10

Says here, Cristela Alonzo is a "breakout star." If that means she's breaking out of the TV screen, grabbing you by the neck and screeching "Laugh at my plight of being a modern Latina dealing with racism, sexism and following Tim Allen on a Friday night!!!" then, yeah, because that's pretty much the entire show. Preview

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The McCarthys
(CBS) Premieres Thursday, Oct. 30

A fat, loudmouthed, sports-obsessed Bah-ston family has a gay son—and, go for borderline homophobic comedy! Or borderline comedy, period. Even sadder than the continued use of the laugh track (yes, there's only one—the shows share it) in 2014 is the abject laziness in the writing, staging and execution of The McCarthys: It's like a CBS programmer found a cheap '80s pilot in the closet, dusted it off and said "Here, just jam this into Thursday night so we can hit happy hour and blow some of that Big Bang money!" Preview

CRIME, COPS & FEDS

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The Mysteries of Laura
(NBC) Premieres Wednesday, Sept. 17

There are actually two shows here: One where a surprisingly effective Debra Messing plays a wisecracking, been-there-done-that NYPD detective who wouldn't be out of place on Brooklyn Nine-Nine or even Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (you do need a new Munch, SVU—just sayin'), the other where she's a harried single-ish mom to awful, awful twins. Call me when they dump the brats. Preview

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Scorpion
(CBS) Premieres Monday, Sept. 22

Seems like we're a year or two overdue for a Nerds Assist the Feds procedural, but here's Scorpion, wherein three good-looking "outcasts" and one token fat guy in glasses clack keyboards, drop sci-fi references and run wires to fight The Terrorists. Working for squinty fed Robert Patrick, the Scorpion—or, as it will never, ever be used, </scorpion> ... yep—team are "brilliant misfits who comprise the last line of defense against complex, high-tech threats of the modern age." But wait, it gets stoopider: The team insists on adding their favorite local waitress (Katharine McPhee, whose acting has somehow gotten worse since Smash) to the payroll because, as the single mother of a budding genius, they can "translate" him for her, and she can "translate" the non-nerd world for them. </blech> Preview

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NCIS: New Orleans
(CBS) Premieres Tuesday, Sept. 23
Any need to spell this one out? Scott Bakula is the Aw-Shucks Silver-Maned Leader, Lucas Black is the Leather-Jacketed Wild Card, Zoe McLellan is the Sensible Female Presence, and CCH Pounder is the Quirky Science Lady; they investigate military crimes in New Orleans. Don't worry, your town will eventually get its own franchise ... were we talking about NCIS or Popeye's? Preview

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How to Get Away With Murder
(ABC) Premieres Thursday, Sept. 25
The Shonda Rhimes takeover of Thursday nights is complete, leaving How to Get Away With Murder star Viola Davis (playing a morally ambiguous, far-too-well-dressed college professor who becomes embroiled in a murder mystery with her law students) to chew scenery with impunity. Also, there's a character named Bonnie Winterbottom. No more witnesses! Preview

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Stalker
(CBS) Premieres Wednesday, Oct. 1

It's difficult to say who's working harder on Stalker: Dylan McDermott, acting his ass off to prove that he's a brilliant Noo Yawk detective with every right to be the cocky prick with perfect stubble he is, or the special F/X crew toiling to give co-star Maggie Q cleavage. Both fall ... flat. As the title suggests, this series is about a threat-assessment unit of the LAPD that works stalker cases, but it's just another under-lit clone from the CBS Cop Show Replicator 3000®. Maggie should be free from those torture devices in 13 episodes, if that. Preview

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Gracepoint
(Fox) Premieres Thursday, Oct. 2

It's like no one's even trying with the show titles this season—Gracepoint? Could be a condo development, could be a Toyota hybrid, could be a Cialis product, who knows? In this case, it's an American remake of the British crime-mystery series Broadchurch, with the rare convenience of having both the original star (David Tennant—you know, one of those Doctor Whos) and show creator/producer onboard. But it's still just a cop procedural, and not even Anna Gunn (Breaking Bad) as Tennant's partner can distract from the fact that Gracepoint is a dour trudge that's as dull as its name. And Dour Trudge was my favorite Downton Abbey character, too. Preview

POLITICAL UNREST

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Madam Secretary
(CBS) Premieres Sunday, Sept. 21

When the Secretary of State is killed in a plane crash, Elizabeth McCord (Teá Leoni), who quit the CIA years ago over "ethical issues," is suddenly yanked out of her college-professor gig to replace him, because that happens. Once past the shaky setup, however, Madam Secretary kicks into full-tilt West Wing mode of establishing Government As We Wish It Were Run with McCord's zero-tolerance policy for bureaucratic bullshit and useless protocol (though it is funny to see her balk at having an appointed stylist, as she looks like she has one of her own on retainer). Madam Secretary is as solid a political drama as network TV has seen in years and, handled right, could be Leoni's The Good Wife moment—don't blow it, CBS. Preview

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State of Affairs
(NBC) Premieres Monday, Nov. 17

Katherine Heigl was great in Grey's Anatomy, and then Knocked Up—let's pretend she joined the Peace Corps in 2007 and is just now returning to acting, OK? In State of Affairs, she plays a CIA analyst/adviser with a special relationship with the president (Alfre Woodard)—no, not like that: She was engaged to POTUS' son before he was killed in a terrorist attack (as depicted in the pilot's intense, straight-outta-Zero Dark Thirty cold opening). Now, she drowns her pain in booze and random hook-ups by night and helps set foreign policy by day. Of course, this couldn't be just a straight-up political drama (right, Teá?), so there's some Blacklist-y conspiratorial intrigue about the fiance not being what he seemed/seems. Upside: Heigl has better hair than Lizzy from The Blacklist, and a less-scary cryface than Carrie from Homeland. Preview

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