Masters of Sex
Sunday, Sept. 29, 10 p.m., Showtime
Liberally adapted from Thomas Maier’s thorough 2009 biography of the pioneering sex researchers William Masters and Virginia Johnson, Showtime’s provocative new drama has no problems whatsoever grabbing attention and whatever else that wants to get grabbed. The setting is the prim American ’50s, where well-respected St. Louis gynecologist Masters (Michael Sheen) is secretly exploring the greater mysteries of human sexuality, mainly by convincing prostitutes to let him spy on them through peepholes while they do their work.
What Masters doesn’t know about women could (and eventually does) fill several books, but things get interesting when a new secretary at his hospital applies to be his research assistant. She is, of course, Virginia Johnson (played by Lizzy Caplan), a single mother with a forward-thinking sensibility about her own sex life. As a science project, “Masters of Sex” is an early success; Sheen seems to relish playing the uptight doctor who is beginning to understand the way his world restricts women (in and out of the bedroom) and Caplan is instantly perfect as the woman who will both teach and enchant him.
But none of that is happening too fast. “Masters of Sex” masters the restrained narrative equivalent of seduction and foreplay, building its story in a controlled and stylish (and, yes, frankly adult-oriented) manner. This TV season has failed to arouse me, but if there’s one show that might hit the right spot on the Sunday DVR queue, it’s this one. Grade: B+
Tuesday, Sept. 24, 9:30 p.m., ABC
Co-creator Sarah Haskins based this appealingly manic sitcom on her own experiences after marrying a man 20 years older who has kids from a previous marriage. Malin Ackerman stars as Kate, who has married Pete (“The West Wing’s” Bradley Whitford) and, a year later, is still trying to navigate her role as a stepmom to Pete’s four children from his previous marriages (yes, plural) to Diane (Marcia Gay Harden) and Jackie (“Enlightened’s” Michaela Watkins).
“Trophy Wife” is the only new sitcom that clears the double hurdles of cast chemistry and story pacing in the pilot episode. That’s mostly because the premise isn’t wielded like a frying pan to the head and the grown-ups in “Trophy Wife” are entertaining to watch and believably flawed; the kids are a common TV assortment of precociousness, but they’re also talented wiseacres. “Trophy Wife” is no “Modern Family,” but it’s as close as we’ll hope to see this season. (And, in the tradition of “Cougar Town,” the show has been given a title that is far less worthy of its aim.) Grade: B
Tuesday, Sept. 24, 10 p.m., ABC
Based on the British drama “The Syndicate” and sent through the Hollywood tweaking machine, this drama is about eight employees at a Queens gas station whose lives change after they win the state lottery.
Each week the gang at Gold Star Gas N’ Shop pools its money to bet the same lottery numbers. Just as things are getting desperate for Matt (Matt Long) and his ex-con brother Nicky (Stephen Louis Grush), the winning numbers miraculously come through. The group has won $45 million to split, but there’s immediate upset, since one of the workers didn’t put his money in the pool. This is just the beginning of a sequence of mo’-money problems that will form “Lucky 7’s” overall story arc, as each winner faces her or his own crises and demons.
I’m immediately impressed with “Lucky 7’s” ensemble cast and how quickly the story drew me in and hinted at some further mysteries. Part of that has to do with my relief at watching any drama that isn’t a crime procedural, yet “Lucky 7” also has some moral rumination and complexity to it. It’s basically a caper disguised as a drama, and we could use a caper on prime-time TV. Grade: B
Wednesday, Oct. 2, 10 p.m., NBC
A slick and even satisfying revamp of one of those crime shows my parents watched in the ’70s (what’s next — “The Streets of San Francisco”?), this time with Blair Underwood as shrewd New York police sergeant Robert Ironside, who heads up a team of detectives (including “Orange Is the New Black’s” Pablo Schreiber) assigned to crack tough cases and crack heads when necessary.
Everything’s changed since Raymond Burr, the original “Ironside,” rolled up in his wheelchair, even wheelchairs. Taking its cues from a generation that prizes the overcoming of adversity as a prevailing narrative, this “Ironside” preoccupies itself with emphasizing its main character’s strength, physicality and virility, a task the 49-year-old Underwood handles well. Sgt. Ironside’s key advantage is his handicapability; when a fellow detective asks how he spotted a clue no one else sees, Ironside says: “I’ve got a different view of the world down here.”
But “Ironside” is also interested in the ways its protagonist copes with and resents his confinement, retracing the events that paralyzed him from the waist down, as well as the ways his partner (“The Killing’s” Brent Sexton) blames himself for what happened that night. There’s an interesting psychological drama to explore here, if “Ironside’s” writers and its seasoned cast can resist the easy, repetitive lure of cop-show pro-forma. Grade: B
Tuesday, Sept. 17, 8:30 p.m., Fox
“Saturday Night Live” alum Andy Samberg stars as Jake Peralta, a smart but slacking detective who doesn’t have much use for rules or procedure; his unorthodox behavior is tolerated mainly because he solves cases. Jake’s world is upended slightly when a tough new captain (Andre Braugher) takes over the 99th precinct. The two men play well off one another, and a skilled supporting cast (Joe Lo Truglio, Terry Crews, Chelsea Peretti, Stephanie Beatriz) ensures that “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” doesn’t devolve into Samberg overload.
Long ago, actual police officers were purported to have said that the 1970s sitcom “Barney Miller” showed a far more accurate depiction of their lives than the cop dramas. No one will accuse “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” of too much authenticity, but it does have a confident breeziness in its banter that almost immediately locates a “Miller”-esque balance in the more absurd aspects of law enforcement. Grade: B-
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Tuesday, Sept. 24, 8 p.m., ABC
Co-created by geek idol Joss Whedon (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer”), this hyperactive series plucked from the Marvel comic-book canon is an epilogue to Whedon’s big-screen “Avengers” adaptation, in which the U.S. government grapples with the existence of mutant superheroes and aliens.
Clark Gregg reprises his role from the big-screen “Iron Man” and “Avengers” films as the newly resurrected Agent Coulson, who assembles an international team of agents who all work for the mysterious S.H.I.E.L.D. (Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement and Logistics Division, with all those annoying periods intact) whose mission is to . . . start a list, I guess? Jetting the globe in their tricked-out jet, the agents hunt for everyday people with superpowers, hoping to find them before a sinister group known as Rising Tide gets to them first.
“Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” launches with a plucky, adventuresome and remarkably non-pretentious pilot episode, but if you haven’t been reading Marvel Comics lately (or at all — Stan Lee first dreamed up a S.H.I.E.L.D. story line in 1965), then the show can feel somewhat exclusionary and, frankly, a little too cornball and cutesy about its own geekiness. There’s an opportunity here to riff on the contemporary issue of government intrusion and Wikileaks paranoia, but, in its first episode at least, “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” seems more like a Comic-Con afterparty in which not enough people came dressed as superheroes. Grade: B-
The Crazy Ones
Thursday, Sept. 26, 9 p.m., CBS
From David E. Kelley (“Ally McBeal,” “Boston Legal”), “The Crazy Ones” heralds Robin Williams’s return to TV (where we first met him as Mork from Ork 36 years ago), but, more interestingly, it represents a tonal shift for CBS in terms of comedy that includes “We Are Men.”
Williams plays the hyperactive-but-brilliant founder of a successful of Chicago-based ad agency; Sarah Michelle Gellar plays his daughter, who tries to keep the agency solvent and sane. There’s a lot of energy to cram into a half-hour episode, not all of it coming from Williams; a real standout is the increasingly interesting James Wolk (Bob Benson from “Mad Men”). The first episode is uneven as the pieces and pace don’t quite cohere, but it leaves you wanting more. For my longer review, see Page 13. Grade: B-
Friday, Oct. 25, 10 p.m., NBC
A tip of the top hat to NBC for taking on a period drama — a lavish and risky proposition even in the best of times. Loosely derived from Bram Stoker’s novel, this “Dracula” stars Jonathan Rhys Meyers (“The Tudors”) as a revivified Vlad the Impaler, brought back from ossified, subterranean exile by an unlikely ally to wage battle against an age-old Order of the Dragon that has ensconced itself in Victorian-era upper society.
Disguising himself as an American entrepreneur named Alexander Grayson, Dracula arrives on the London scene in 1896 and sets about undermining (and frequently snacking on) the ruling class, hoping to exact his revenge on the Order for what their forbears did to him centuries ago.
“Dracula” shows a lot of skill when it comes to launching a swift-paced series and weaving together several taut story lines and characters; at times it even finds an undiscovered sweet spot between “Downton Abbey” and Bela Lugosi. Rhys Meyers is an adequately creepy vampire and there is sex, style, mystery and adventure all around. Only one crucial piece is missing: “Dracula” isn’t scary. Grade: B-
Available now for streaming on Netflix
Ricky Gervais writes, directs and stars in this tenderhearted ensemble mockumentary about an enthusiastic employee at the Broad Hill retirement home. The show is a risk for Gervais, who combs his hair over and juts his jaw into an underbite in order to play the title character; we are to understand that Derek is not quite right but none of the words for it seem apt. (Simple? Special? Mentally disabled? Autistic?)
It’s ingenious that “Derek” is less preoccupied with a diagnosis and more focused on the minuscule but meaningful ways that Derek interacts with his elderly charges. The only problem is an overall feeling of hesitation — on Gervais’s part, but also on his audience’s. You’re so braced for something to snap, for the comedy to stray into no-no land, that it’s hard to relax and appreciate “Derek’s” emotional intent.
A strong supporting cast (including Kerry Godliman as the facility’s overworked manager and Karl Pilkington as the handyman) does what it can, but after a few episodes, “Derek” becomes less absorbing; it’s more of a character sketch than a fully realized story. Grade: C+
Monday, Sept. 23, 9:30 p.m., CBS
Chuck Lorre, CBS’s resident sitcom rainmaker, returns with “Mom,” in which Anna Faris plays Christy, a recovering alcoholic raising two children and working as a waitress at a fancy restaurant. At an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, she runs into her newly sober mother (Allison Janney) and the two attempt to repair their testy relationship. “Some mothers teach their daughters how to bake,” Christy tells her AA group. “Mine taught me how to beat a cavity search and still look like a lady.”
“Mom” has a dismissive, certainly blunt, Charlie Sheen-like snarkitude about relationships, dysfunction, drug use, promiscuity, teen sex, deadbeat dads and whatever else comes it way. Some examples: At the restaurant, the snooty chef (French Stewart) tells an employee to “Beat those egg whites gently, as if they were a small, annoying child.” At another moment, Christy’s young son Roscoe (Blake Garrett Rosenthal) excitedly discovers a video game where “If you hit the hooker enough times, she gives you your money back!” And when Christy’s teenage daughter (Sadie Calvano) swears she isn’t having sex, Christy replies: “Don’t lie to the woman who washes your sheets.”
Janney and Faris seem to have fun, even when the material in the pilot episode is a tad too seedy and even off-puttingly icy. If “Mom” could dial it down a notch, it would find a better balance between bawdy and snide. Grade: C+
Monday, Sept. 23, 10 p.m., CBS
With its big red PREMISE ALERT flashing like crazy, CBS’s experimental new drama is this season’s most alluring act of derring-do; it’s also the show that’s hardest to swallow. Toni Collette stars as a top-notch surgeon who will perform a tricky life-saving operation on the U.S. president. But the night before the surgery, a group of masked men (led by a rogue FBI agent played by Dylan McDermott) breaks into her house and takes her family hostage. If she doesn’t agree to secretly assassinate the president, it’s curtains for her family.
Throughout the pilot, you’ll wonder why this couldn’t all be handled in a mediocre two-hour action movie, mainly so that Collette will be free to keep searching for work more befitting her talent. Is there really a series here? Yes, the producers assure us — the relationship between the hostages and their captors will evolve as facts emerge and conspiracies take over. “Hostages” is based on an Israeli series (just like “Homeland” was, with the same frantic baseline addiction to the terror milieu), and it exudes the kind of taut confidence that CBS likes in its dramas. It’s handsomely made and yet patently ridiculous. Grade: C+
Thursday, Oct. 3, 8:30 p.m., CBS
Beau Bridges and Emmy nominee Margo Martindale (“The Americans”) star as Tom and Carol Miller, who, after 43 years of marital bickering, decide to split up once they learn of their son’s impending divorce. Carol moves in with the son, local TV reporter Nathan Miller (“Arrested Development’s” Will Arnett, in the latest of what appear to be his limitless chances at finding a sitcom gig), while Tom moves in with Nathan’s sister (“Glee’s” Jayma Mays) and her husband (“Veep’s” Nelson Franklin) and daughter.
“The Millers,” which was still undergoing some tweaking at press time, does have its bitterly funny scenes, leaning heavily on Martindale and Bridges. When they start going at it, there’s a glimmer of something mean and magic. But the show suffers from the same banal characteristics of most paint-by-numbers network sitcoms, right down to the predictable addition of Nathan’s BBF (“Black Best Friend”) played here by “Curb Your Enthusiasm’s” J.B. Smoove.
As it tries to find its way, “The Millers” has at least locked in on a central theme, or something like it: Divorce is just hilarious, if you include enough references to elderly flatulence. Grade: C+
Thursday, Oct. 17, 9 p.m., The CW
You guyyyyys: Instead of “Stairway to Heaven” as a prom theme, how about 16th-century France? (The dresses are sooo pretty! There’s a castle! The boys can all wear tight leather pants!)
And lo, once you get past the utter silliness of the idea, “Reign” is kind of a kick. Adelaide Kane stars as Mary, Teen Queen of Scots, who has been living a sheltered life in a country convent, betrothed to Prince Francis (Toby Regbo), the heir to the French throne. After a thwarted assassination attempt, the nuns decide Mary will be safer in the royal court. A coterie of childhood friends arrives from Scotland to keep her company and pretty soon “Reign” becomes a parade of interchangeable paper dolls and swoony romance pageantry, with plenty of inter-palace intrigue.
In a way, “Reign” is only trying to partake in the same fashionable fun that filmmaker Sofia Coppola had at Versailles with her 2006 take on “Marie Antoinette,” replete with contemporary pop songs; it’s not feloniously inaccurate and at least it’s not vampires. Someone is always trying to kill Mary, whom a younger, hotter Nostradamus (I mean, really) has ominously predicted will bring disaster to the palace power structure.
That thud you just heard was a history professor who passed out. Grade: C+
Monday, Sept. 16, 9 p.m., Fox
A minimally engaging update of Washington Irving’s 1820 horror story, in which American revolutionary soldier Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison) wakes from an underground, 240-year coma/nap, emerging into daylight in modern-day New England, where it seems the fearsome Redcoat he beheaded in battle has also returned to exact a complicated revenge on the locals. It isn’t long before a bewildered Ichabod (hipster baby-name alert!) is arrested on suspicion of murder and then partners up with a dubious deputy (Nicole Beharie), who helps him hunt for the Headless Horseman.
Deliberate and thoughtful is not an option here. Rather than observe the ways a man from the 1770s might grapple with the realities of 2013, “Sleepy Hollow” seems mainly concerned with quickly launching a “Grimm”-like romp through folklore and episodic crime-solving. It’s layered with hints of unfolding conspiracies — time-travel and secret brotherhoods and what-not. It’s all done with a cold efficiency and a gloomy, disinterested tone. Grade: C
Monday, Sept. 23, 10 p.m., NBC
A shaved-headed James Spader (“Boston Legal”) transforms into yet another of TV’s manipulative criminal masterminds who sits in confinement and yet, with a Lecter-like ingenuity and coyness, manages to unleash havoc for the poor agents who must defuse, decode and otherwise debase themselves in order to interpret the mastermind’s clues.
Spader plays Red Reddington, a traitorous U.S. agent who aided dozens of international criminals and terrorists. After decades on the most-wanted list, he surrenders to the FBI, offering to help them catch the remaining members of the list, but under certain conditions — among them that he will only work with a fresh-out-of-Quantico agent named Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone).
Her torment is only beginning as Reddington sends her in several different directions at once. Spader seems to relish the character’s oozy pretentiousness and obnoxiousness; the only actor who would enjoy it more, perhaps, is Kevin Spacey. The pilot episode is stylish and swiftly paced, but that’s all it is, and despite some intriguing plot twists, there’s not a lot of motivation to keep coming back. Grade: C
Sunday, Sept. 29, 10:30 p.m., HBO
A friend once told me it’s possible to become cool in L.A. simply by osmosis, but it’s not soaking in for poor Stuart (Stephen Merchant), a lonely British bachelor trying to find love (or just sex) in a town without pity. This eight-episode HBO series is more of a riff on the kind of awkward hubris and guaranteed humiliation that has become a defining feature of 21st-century situation comedy. Future television and movie historians will know us mainly by our enjoyment of stories about sad sacks who further their own misery by trying to impress those around them.
It’s a threadbare shtick, but Merchant, whose most notable work was done in collaboration with Ricky Gervais, has mastered it. Stuart is too unctuous and aggressive to gain the right sort of viewer empathy, but that burdensome feeling is balanced out a tad by Merchant’s co-stars (Christine Woods as his apartment tenant Jessica; and Nate Torrence as his friend Wade). We wincingly follow along as Stuart tries to get into exclusive clubs and then makes all the wrong moves on cruelly indifferent women. It’s as if “Entourage” had a nightmare. Grade: C
We Are Men
Monday, Sept. 30, 8:30 p.m., CBS
Taken lightly, “We Are Men” is a nimble little exercise in macho liberation, as four men who live at a furnished-apartment complex in Tarzana quell their emotional sorrows with carbohydrates and casual sex. Give it too much thought, however, and it’s easy to become astonished at the zealously regressive sense of humor displayed here, which leans much too heavily on the same-old “Mars/Venus”-style jokes about the gender gap.
After his fiancee leaves him at the altar, “Graduate”-style, Carter (Chris Smith) moves into the apartment complex, where, poolside, he befriends the quadruply-divorced Frank (Tony Shalhoub) as well as Stuart (Jerry O’Connell), an OB/GYN going through a bitter divorce and Gil (Kal Penn), whose wife kicked him out after she discovered him having an affair. The men take on the mission of re-acclimating Carter to the freedoms of manhood and, because it’s a pilot episode, the jokes are all delivered with the nuance of a car bomb. The cast is certainly talented enough to overcome “We Are Men’s” shortcomings, if the writing improves. Grade: C
Sean Saves the World
Thursday, Oct. 3, 9 p.m., NBC
“Will & Grace’s” Sean Hayes waltzes back onto NBC’s Thursday-night schedule fairly effortlessly in this new sitcom, in which he plays a gay single dad to a sullen teenage daughter (Sami Isler), with occasional meddling from his outspoken mother (Linda Lavin).
Hayes plays it all so dutifully that even his pratfalls have an on-point, pro-athlete precision to them, giving his show a very rote approach; it’s Lavin who seems more delighted to have the chance to nibble on the scenery a bit. “Reno 911’s” Thomas Lennon plays the new owner of the design firm where Sean works — one of those exposed-brick workplaces that approximates the feel and mood of what TV writers think office work must be like. They’ve even given him a standard-issue Black Best Friend at work (Echo Kellum). And, plucked from the ruins of “Smash,” Broadway actress Megan Hilty has been added to the cast since the initial pilot was screened by critics this summer.
Nothing about “Sean Saves the World” is off-putting, but not much about it is welcoming either. But when Hayes is going full blast, it’s nice to reconnect with some hints of the hilarity and snarky mania he made his own back in the late ’90s. Grade: C
Once Upon a Time
Thursday, Oct. 10, 8 p.m., ABC
ABC did not release a full pilot episode by press time of its new “Once Upon a Time” spinoff, in which Victorian-era teenager Alice (Sophie Lowe) must persuade her doctors at an insane asylum that she really did follow a talking rabbit down a hole, where she met and fell in love with a genie and got into all sorts of trouble. A 20-minute preview of “Wonderland” shown to critics looks to be similar in tone to the first show, but with more special-effects razzmatazz. Really, I think this is a way for Disney (ABC’s parent company) to remind us that it owns nearly every character there is. As Alice rushes around, you half-expect the Muppets and Darth Vader to make cameo appearances. No grade yet.
Witches of East End
Sunday, Oct. 6, 10 p.m., Lifetime
Julia Ormond stars as Joanna, a witch in a seaside town who is cursed to lose her daughters, Freya and Ingrid (Jenna Dewan-Tatum and Rachel Boston), over and over — giving birth to them again each time they die. She decides to break the curse by casting a spell over her girls so that they won’t dabble in witchcraft or know their true nature. Now they’re grown and fate has come calling on the night of Freya’s engagement party: Spells are cast, gloom and agony are foretold and, when Freya starts making out with her fiance’s brother, a vase of roses bursts into flames.
If that stirs you (and if your fingers need a break from typing all your erotic fan-fiction), then “Witches of East End” isn’t the worst you could do. The show has a sincerity about its silliness and light spookiness; for a moment there, it’s almost as if “True Blood” tried to conceive a demon baby with “Bunheads.” It didn’t turn out quite right, but that’s why we keep all those Mason jars in the basement. Grade: C
The Tomorrow People
Wednesday, Oct. 9, 9 p.m., The CW
Stephen (Robbie Amell) is one of those teenagers who goes to an urban school in The CW district where everyone looks like they’re 25 and even the ostracized kids are pretty. He’s on anti-psychosis meds to quell the voices he hears and he suffers from a weird sleepwalking problem where he wakes up in other people’s houses.
Turns out he’s been teleporting short distances and the voices are a group of specially gifted humans called the Tomorrow People, who make contact with Steven and tell him that his father was their last best hope for eluding the Ultras, who are trying to snuff out their kind. As he learns to use his powers of telekinesis, telepathy and teleportation, Steven has to decide if the Tomorrow People are what they seem, or if the Ultras (including his uncle, played by “Lost’s” Mark Pellegrino) are in fact the good guys. Sounds confusing, but it’s actually too simple — based on a British show, but derivative of sci-fi and superhuman dramas we’ve seen plenty of times before, up to and including the slo-mo “Matrix” bullets flying out of a gun. Grade: C
Friday, Nov. 8, 9:30 p.m., Fox
In the combined years the United States has spent fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, we’ve never had the “M*A*S*H*”-like companion comedy (or even a “Gomer Pyle: USMC”-like companion comedy) on network TV that could sound a lighthearted bugle bleat to the drums of war.
“Enlisted” would seemingly like to be that show, but it gets off to a clumsy start that lacks just the right edge. Geoff Stults stars as Pete, an Army sergeant who is reassigned to rear-detachment base duty after a meltdown in Afghanistan. At the bases, he is reunited with his doofus brothers (Chris Lowell and Parker Young), a corporal and a private. Soon enough, the show feels like a series of yellowed “Beetle Bailey” comic strips found in an old footlocker, with enough sex jokes thrown in to remind you that it really is set in 2013. Grade: C-
Tuesday, Sept. 24, 9 p.m., ABC
In theory I love the idea: Creator Adam F. Goldberg delves into the actual home videos he shot as a child of his argumentative, suburban Jewish family in the mid-1980s and uses those tapes as the basis for this sitcom three decades later.
The result, unfortunately, is a dopey pilot episode that succumbs to the trap of portraying the ’80s only in obvious ways — bring out the pastel leg warmers and geometric Cosby sweaters — and it rapidly turns into a prolonged, nearly laughless sketch about domestic life in the Pac-Man era. If the old videos were so funny, why not just show them instead? Grade: D+
The Michael J. Fox Show
Thursday, Sept. 26, 9 p.m., NBC
Who wants to be the one to tell Michael J. Fox that his new show, which is built entirely around the nobility of his real-life travails and triumphs with Parkinson’s (the word “disease” seems to have been dropped from all references), just isn’t that entertaining? Here, the ’80s star of the small and silver screens leaps back into series comedy, playing a Manhattan TV reporter who went on hiatus to manage his illness.
Having recovered his confidence and grown bored out of his gourd as a stereotypical husband and stay-at-home dad to three children, Fox goes back to the local NBC affiliate for a ballyhooed return cooked up by his producer (“Treme’s” Wendell Pierce). The first episode is rife with cross-promotional NBC references, making it difficult to notice if there’s a show on or if it’s just ads. For more of my thoughts, see Page 13. Grade: D+
Thursday, Oct. 3, 9 p.m., The CW
This spinoff from “The Vampire Diaries” follows Elijah’s brother Klaus (Joseph Morgan) — an “original” thousand-year-old vampire who also happens to be part werewolf — to his old stomping grounds in the French Quarter of New Orleans. (In all that time, no one has told Klaus that a self-respecting vampire would never call the town New Orleeenz.) Once there, he discovers his ancient frenemy Marcel (Charles Michael Davis) heads up a gang of party-hearty, night-and-day vampires while somehow keeping a mysterious control over the local witches.
The biting, the brooding, the smoldering — it all continues to press safe-but-slightly-naughty buttons for today’s paranormally obsessed teen market. Like “Vampire Diaries” (and so much else), “The Originals” lacks a sharp wit, preferring the heavy-velvet drapery of self-seriousness and pretend passion. You would think the kids have had their fill by now. Grade: D+
Sunday, Sept. 29, 10 p.m., ABC
A sleek but forgettable addition to ABC’s undying belief in the nighttime soap — rounding out a trio of one-word emotional pitfalls that include scandal (“Scandal”) and revenge (“Revenge”).
Adapted from a Dutch TV drama, “Betrayal” isn’t like ”Scandal” or “Revenge,” nor does it have “Nashville’s” heat-seeking instincts. A photographer named Sara (Hannah Ware) is ambivalent about her marriage to an ambitious Chicago prosecutor (Chris Johnson); she meets handsome stranger, Jack (Stuart Townsend), at a gallery show and tentatively begins an emotional, then physical, affair. Only too late does Sara discover that Jack is an attorney for his father-in-law (played by “American Horror Story” and “Six Feet Under’s” James Cromwell), a crime boss who is the target of an investigation headed by — you guessed it — Sara’s husband.
So far, there’s not much here you don’t see coming from many miles away, and there’s barely enough chemistry between Ware and Townsend to make things bubble. If “Betrayal” wants to stick around, it better have some real surprises in store. Grade: D-
Tuesday, Sept. 17, 8 p.m., Fox
Seth MacFarlane’s camp has coughed up this embarrassingly anachronistic attempt to have its way with the multi-camera, studio-audience sitcom format, in which Seth Green and Giovanni Ribisi star as entrepreneurial game designers who have troubled relationships with their clingy, financially fraught fathers, played by Peter Riegert and Martin Mull.
The pilot episode has already been pummeled by some critics, mostly for its relentless attempts at the sort of racially and sexually frank humor that, for mainly intangible reasons, works better in MacFarlane’s animated shows (“Family Guy,” etc.) or his big-screen film “Ted.”
Off-color and offensive humor is not a terrible strategy, as we all know — it worked out just fine for CBS’s “2 Broke Girls.” What’s galling is the utter absence of originality, spirit or even new jokes: When “Dads” wants to make fun of Asians, it dresses a character up as a Harajuku schoolgirl; when it wants to make fun of Latinas, well, here comes the sassy housekeeper; when it’s gays, Mull snaps “You go, girl.” The poor actors look like they’re serving mandatory sentences for the creators’ crimes of laziness. Grade: F
Back in the Game
Wednesday, Sept. 25, 8:30 p.m., ABC
Maggie Lawson plays Terry, a single mom who has moved in with her ill-tempered father, whose nickname is the Cannon (James Caan), a former baseball player who projected his athletic and personal failings on his daughter, giving her the TV version of feelings of inadequacy and resentment. When her son (Griffin Gluck) fails to make the baseball team, Terry, who harbors bad memories of how the Cannon forced her into sports, challenges the iron-fist rule of the alpha-dog coach (Ben Koldyke) by volunteering to coach a team of misfits, “Bad News Bears”-style.
Producers persist with this post-recessionary fixation on adult children who fall on hard times and move back in with a parent or two; it’s both the worst and funniest premise that marginally employed sitcom writers can currently conceive. And so far, it’s worked mainly as an indicator of quick cancellation. Grade: F
Super Fun Night
Wednesday, Oct. 2, 9:30 p.m., ABC
Australian comedy star Rebel Wilson (“Pitch Perfect”) bizarrely opts for an American accent in this comedy she writes and produces, in which three Manhattan women prefer to cocoon themselves on Fridays (a.k.a. “fun night”) with binge-eating and board games in their shared apartment. “We have indoor faces and bodies,” Kimmie Boubier (Wilson) tells Helen Alice (Liza Lapira) and Marika (Lauren Ash) at a particularly down moment. “Let’s just leave the going-out to the pretty and popular people.”
Once more we plunge into the unsettling, split-personality narrative of today’s post-feminist young women, whose theme song may as well be “You Are 27 Going on 12.” I get part of the act: they want to be seen as sexy and complicated girls (or “Girls”), until the precise moment they briefly reclaim their sense of maturity and pride as women. “Super Fun Night” reaches for the stylings of Mindy Kaling and Kristen Wiig, replaying over and over the lesson that self-assertiveness somehow erases humiliation.
Kimmie is both loser and winner, an attorney who just got a promotion and yet lives beneath a cloud of self-effacing humor and off-key “Wicked” ballads, which is more pathetic than evocative. To impress a handsome co-worker (Kevin Bishop), she pours her extra-full figure into a sausage-casing dress and drags her friends along to his nightclub party. The “struggle bus” crashes when a wardrobe malfunction leaves Kimmie nearly naked (Spanx and all), exposing her LED-lighted heart panties and bra, which blink out unanswered distress signals to Lucille Ball and Mary Tyler Moore about the sad state of comedy we’re in. Grade: F
Welcome to the Family
Thursday, Oct. 3, 8:30 p.m., NBC
My nominee for quickest and most punitive cancellation goes to this facile dramedy about two 40-something couples who must learn to get along because their teenage children — a boy who is a Stanford-bound valedictorian and a girl who is an unfortunate iteration of the clueless blonde stereotype — are suddenly expecting a baby and have decided to keep it.
Or perhaps they’re being forced to keep it, because they live in some parallel America in which Roe v. Wade has been fully reversed, thus reducing at least one obvious solution to the dilemma. (Which would, of course, cut the premise off right there; I understand that the point of the show is the pregnancy.) The truth is, these kids do live in a parallel America, the imaginary land of network television, which hasn’t found a way to talk frankly about abortion in the half-hour comedy format since, I don’t know, “Maude”? I’m not at all opposed to the personal choices made by the characters in “Welcome to the Family,” I just wish they’d had the choice to make.
The foregone conclusion in the pilot is galling, especially in the scene where the teenagers’ combative fathers (“Glee’s” Mike O’Malley and “Desperate Housewives’s” Ricardo A. Chavira) are seen chasing after the girl, believing she’s about to get on a rollercoaster. The metaphor is quite blunt: Save the fetus at all costs! (And forget Stanford!)
That’s my editorial carp, but here’s my review: What a limp and unfunny show; it’s just more Thursday-night clutter. Grade: F
Monday, Nov. 4, 9 p.m., Fox
Another dull example of the manufacturing of sci-fi factory goods with the (increasingly devalued) J.J. Abrams label slapped on. Less a homage and more like a bad knockoff, “Almost Human” lifts elements of “Blade Runner,” “Minority Report,” “I, Robot” and “Robocop” for this police drama set in 2048, where a cop (Karl Urban, who played Dr. McCoy in Abrams’s updated “Star Trek” films) is forced to work with a synthetic partner (Michael Ealy), even though he doesn’t like or trust the new technology.
I hope that when “Almost Human” airs in November it will be slicker than the junky pilot episode shown to critics, but I’m afraid that it needs more than just a CGI juicing to get over the fact that it’s dull as a box of broken toys. Grade: F