We both knew this day would finally come: Counting all the broadcast, cable and streaming outlets, there are too many new dramas and comedies in this fall TV season for one critic to digest. I grow more convinced each year that the concept of "fall TV" is outdated (unless you're buying or selling TV advertising), and this is the year I decided to do something about it. Although I've scrutinized close to 40 upcoming shows for this preview, I'm no longer able to write a review of every dang one of them.
Instead, I'm writing about 10 shows that rose to the top of my list. They aren't perfect (and they might be on channels and outlets you don't get), but they're good enough to watch for a few episodes to see if they click. In the past, these 10 shows would have gotten at least a B grade in my annual preview.
And just so neither of us will miss out on the sick pleasure of bad reviews, I've also included five shows that had me reaching for the bucket — shows I would have given D's and F's. Watch them at your own risk.
Why the shift? I'm hearing a lot these days from viewers who are overwhelmed — and they certainly have my sympathies. We should all budget our viewing time more carefully, and this guide hopes to help you do that. In the peak-TV era, it's becoming more important to watch like a critic — ruthlessly, passionately and, most of all, thoughtfully.
10 new shows to watch
(Sundays at 9 p.m. on HBO; premiered Sept. 10) David Simon and George Pelecanos ("The Wire," "Treme") return with a provocative eight-episode drama tracing the rise of the sex industry, starting with Times Square at its sleaziest in 1971. James Franco is okay in dual roles as bar manager Vincent and his good-for-nothin' twin brother, Frankie, while Maggie Gyllenhaal positively shines as Eileen (a.k.a. Candy), a prostitute who takes an entrepreneurial interest in pornographic filmmaking. But it's a supporting cast of pimps, prostitutes, cops and others who give the show a vital and appealing electricity. The story and its subjects can be unsettlingly frank, but "The Deuce" excels at examining corruption and sin as innately human instincts — and as business propositions.
(NBC at 10 p.m., Monday, Sept. 25) Given months to consider what sort of shows they wanted to bring out in the President Trump era, some broadcast networks have retreated to the politically safe territory of gung-ho dramas about elite soldiers battling foreign terrorists in top-secret ways. CBS has one called "SEAL Team," and the CW offers a complicated coverup plot with "Valor." But it's "The Brave" (from Israeli producer Avi Nir, who shepherded "Homeland" to American TV) that busts in with the smoothest operation skills, as Anne Heche plays a hard-driven intelligence agency head who gives orders to a tightknit (and ethnically diverse) special-ops team headed by Capt. Adam Dalton ("Under the Dome's" Mike Vogel). With so many fingers hovering over nuke buttons these days, it's not my preferred form of escapism; for others, it will get the job done.
(CBS at 8:30 p.m., Monday, Sept. 25) Chuck Lorre's spinoff of his "The Big Bang Theory" opts for single-camera format (no sitcom studio audience) to travel back to the challenging childhood of 9-year-old Sheldon Cooper, played by "Big Little Lies's" Iain Armitage (with adult-Sheldon voice-over narration from Jim Parsons). Hypergifted at academics but unable to read social cues, Sheldon endures a disastrous first day of high school in East Texas, embarrassing both his older brother (Montana Jordan) and his dad (Lance Barber), who coaches the school's football team. Lorre has never committed to the idea that Sheldon is on the autism spectrum, preferring a sentimental love-conquers-all approach. Fortunately, Armitage is adorably watchable — so much so that we don't really need Parsons butting in to tidy up the stories.
(Sundance TV at 10 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 27) Joanne Froggatt ("Downton Abbey's" beloved Anna Bates) stars in this downbeat (yet gripping) six-episode British miniseries as Laura, a newly divorced small-town schoolteacher in Kent who decides to go on a dinner date with handsome surgeon Andrew (Ioan Gruffudd). Things go swimmingly until Laura wakes up the next morning with little memory of what occurred, other than the certainty she was raped — which Andrew denies when police arrest him. From the people who brought us Starz's "The Missing," "Liar" is a tangle of trigger alerts, filled with "Fatal Attraction"-ish moments of doubt and debate in a claustrophobically small community of subplots. I skipped ahead to make sure the ending is worth the effort, and for the most part, it is.
Ten Days in the Valley
(ABC at 10 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 1) Emmy-winner Kyra Sedgwick ("The Closer") is back with a nerve-racking and entertaining thriller in which she plays Jane Sadler, the overworked creator/showrunner of a hit TV crime drama who finds herself panicked and in big trouble when her daughter, Lake (Abigail Pniowsky), is taken from her home in the middle of the night. Jane accuses her recovering-addict husband (Kick Gurry) of kidnapping Lake, but as LAPD detective John Bird (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) starts poking around in Jane's personal and professional life and acquaintances, he discovers contradictory stories and dangerous secrets. It's an instantly engrossing show, made more tense by Sedgwick's all-in performance of a woman losing a precarious grip on things.
(Netflix streaming on Friday, Oct. 13) There are three new, heavily hyped shows this season that networks didn't screen in time for this fall preview, including NBC's "Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders" and CBS All Access's "Star Trek: Discovery." But the one I'm most eager to get a look at is "Mindhunter," which brings film director David Fincher ("Zodiac" "The Social Network") back to Netflix, after he lent some needed cachet to its first hit, "House of Cards." Based on former FBI agent John E. Douglas's book, the series is set in 1979 and follows two agents — played by Jonathan Groff ("Looking") and Holt McCallany — who get the idea to interview imprisoned serial killers as a way to better understand their methods and predilections. Despite their superiors' doubts, the agents begin to work up profiles that could help solve other cases. It looks dark and . . . let's say Fincher-esque.
(Showtime at 10 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 15) Somewhat underused during his run on "Saturday Night Live," Jay Pharoah makes a nice landing in this sharply written dramedy as Floyd Mooney, a comedian who's a hit with predominantly black audiences. But his agent (Utkarsh Ambudkar) and baby mama (Cleopatra Coleman) keep pushing Floyd to reach for mainstream movies and TV pilots that will, as the title of the show bluntly suggests, broaden his brand. Floyd's encounters with Industry elites — from Jamie Foxx, who plays a crazier version of himself (and serves as one of the show's producers), to Michael Rapaport as a producer with an insane commitment to method-acting — aren't here only to lambaste Hollywood for its racism. The microaggressions follow Floyd beyond showbiz, and the show deftly weaves them into a comically effective story.
(AT&T Audience Network at 10:30 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 17) A 50-ish crank after my own heart, Sam Loudermilk ("Office Space's" Ron Livingston) is a recovering alcoholic and burned-out Seattle rock critic who rarely misses an opportunity to mock millennials — such as asking two bearded hipsters if they're Civil War reenactors. This surprisingly appealing dramedy from Peter Farrelly ("Dumb and Dumber"; "There's Something About Mary") and Bobby Mort ("The Colbert Report") symbolically picks up where Gen-X totems like "Singles" and "Reality Bites" left off decades ago, packed with cynical but hilarious "Louie"-like moments of honesty. There's a tender heart that beats beneath Loudermilk's misanthropy, especially when it delves into his work moderating group-therapy meetings and his attempts to help a young addict (Anja Savcic) get her act together.
(Netflix streaming on Friday, Nov. 3) After "The Handmaid's Tale," author Margaret Atwood's big year in TV continues with this quietly mesmerizing adaptation of her 1996 novel, which was based on the true story of a 19th-century Canadian housekeeper convicted of a double murder after a sensational trial. This six-episode series, written and produced by Sarah Polley and directed by Mary Harron, begins in 1866 as an American psychiatrist (Edward Holcroft) travels to Toronto to reevaluate Grace Marks (Sarah Gadon) 15 years into her prison sentence. The story comes to the viewer in complex chunks and unsettling layers, as Grace reluctantly recounts her dirt-poor immigrant childhood and the circumstances that led to her fate. Innocent or guilty? There's much more to it than that.
(Hulu streaming on Tuesday, Nov. 14) This silly and mindlessly enjoyable 13-episode sci-fi comedy comes from actor/producer Seth Rogen and his childhood friend and colleague, screenwriter Evan Goldberg ("The Interview"). Josh Hutcherson ("The Hunger Games") stars as Josh Futterman, a video game addict who still lives at home and works as a janitor at a research lab that's pursuing a cure for herpes. When Josh finally conquers level 83 of his favorite (but hugely unpopular) game, he is visited by two badass soldiers from an apocalyptic future (Derek Wilson and Eliza Coupe), who believe he's the savior they've been searching for. Big mistake — but also too late, as their mission is too crucial to abandon. It's a dumb, profane and predictable show that works because it never once aims for greatness. Everyone here just wants the viewer to enjoy the ride.
And five shows you can totally skip
Me, Myself & I
(CBS at 9:30 p.m., Monday, Sept. 25) This smarmy comedy takes a character named Alex and in each episode visits him at three crucial points in his life: as a 14-year-old (Jack Dylan Grazer) in Chicago in 1991, trying to navigate high school and the presence of a new stepfather and stepbrother; as a semi-sucessful 40-year-old inventor ("Saturday Night Live's" Bobby Moynihan) who has just discovered his wife has been cheating on him; and, in the future, as a 65-year-old success story (John Larroquette) who has decided to retire and turn his corporation over to his daughter. If you're wondering how Moynihan winds up looking like Larroquette, let me assure you, this show has bigger problems than that. The tragic part is we were all hoping for better things for Moynihan this soon out of the SNL gate. He's clearly got talent to spare.
(Fox at 8:30 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 1) In concept this show might have worked: Take Craig Robinson ("The Office") and Adam Scott ("Parks & Recreation") and have them play a couple of those devotedly delusional ghost (and/or Bigfoot) hunters who pervade cable television. Alas, the pilot episode makes things way more complicated than they ought to be — a secret government agency brings together the two men (Robinson plays a skeptical ex-cop, and Scott is a college professor who got kicked off the tenure track for his wacky beliefs in the paranormal) and forces them to chase some kind of alien terrorist from another dimension. The jokes are flat (or absent), and the chemistry between the two men is regrettably nonexistent. Needs more "Scooby-Doo" and less "X-Files," perhaps.
Wisdom of the Crowd
(CBS at 8:30 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 1) Prime-time TV loves the misguided notion that high-tech can eradicate all problems — including the tedious work of criminal justice. "Wisdom of the Crowd" stars "Entourage's" Jeremy Piven (who should try to find better work) as Jeffrey Tanner, a wildly successful yet grieving Silicon Valley innovator who gives up his large company to develop a new crowdsourcing app (named after his murdered daughter) that lets users solve real crimes in real time. Tanner unleashes the app's users on his daughter's case, hoping to prove that the cops and courts initially flubbed it. The crowd builds and contributes clues and evidence faster than the cops can keep up with them. No one here seems all that worried about the Uberizing and Yelpifying of our privacy rights and other constitutional guarantees. Lousy idea, lousy show.
Kevin (Probably) Saves the World
(ABC at 10 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 3) If technology can't save the world, then TV always has another cliche standby: sassy angels and a warm-fuzzy sense of the spiritual. Jason Ritter ("The Event") stars in this drama as Kevin Finn, who, after losing his job and his girlfriend and attempting to kill himself, crashes at the home of his widowed sister (JoAnna Garcia Swisher) and her teenage daughter (Chloe East). He's not the only thing crashing — there's a meteor, which brings a celestial presence named Yvette ("Vice Principals's" Kimberly Hebert Gregory), who tries to convince Kevin that he is the last of 36 "righteous" humans who keep the world in balance. Now he must find 35 new righteous replacements. The first episode is so sappy it belongs on pancakes — and, yes, I realize the world is hurting, but patronizingly low-grade inspirational junk like this is not the answer to anyone's problems.
(CW at 9 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 11) Prince had it right back in 1986: You don't have to watch "Dynasty" to have an attitude. Nevertheless, those geniuses in Hollywood have added "Dynasty" to the ever-growing list of unnecessary, uncalled-for remakes. This one tries mightily to update the original to 21st-century levels of deceit and depravity among the 1 percent. (How can it possibly compete with the White House?) Elizabeth Gillies stars as Fallon Carrington, conniving daughter of energy mogul Blake Carrington (Grant Show) and the heir apparent to the family corporation — until she runs into her new stepmother-to-be, a Carrington PR executive named Cristal (Nathalie Kelley), who has other plans. Much has changed — for starters, gay brother Steven (James Mackay) gets to have a lot more sex than his '80s forebear. Even though there's an abundance of gilt and Gulfstreams these days, the sizzle is nowhere near the same.