Television

Fall TV preview

So, what’s fall TV going to bring us?

Minnie Driver (second from left) stars in “Speechless.”
adam taylor/ ABC
Minnie Driver (second from left) stars in “Speechless.”

Fall no longer belongs to the networks. The season, once known as the exclusive launching spot for new NBC, ABC, Fox, CW, and CBS comedies and dramas, is now also used liberally by HBO, Showtime, Netflix, Amazon, and every other TV outlet trying to peddle original series. In the next two months, some three dozen newbies are going to drop, and one-third of them will come from non-network sources.

In other words, keep your digital umbrellas at hand for the deluge, which, of course, includes returning series. It’s the peak period for an era known as Peak TV. From CBS’s “Bull” and ABC’s “Speechless” to HBO’s “Divorce” and Amazon’s “Crisis in Six Scenes,” the wannabe TV obsessions will be raining down. You will be overwhelmed with options, and your DVR queues will groan.

The down side: A few good things will probably slip through the cracks and get undeservedly canceled. The up side: You will nevertheless find the kind of variety that never seemed possible in the old days. Yes, there are plenty of procedurals (“Pure Genius”), remakes (“Lethal Weapon”), and idiotic, regressive sitcoms (“Kevin Can Wait”), almost all of which are on the networks. But the season will also usher in a number of more inventive new efforts — “Designated Survivor,” ABC’s terrific new Kiefer Sutherland vehicle, for example, and NBC’s heartfelt ensemble drama “This Is Us.”

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Among the more unusual newcomers, HBO’s “Westworld” is bound to fascinate, as it dives deep into the relationship between human beings and artificial intelligence. I’m not sure TV has ever featured a series like HBO’s “Insecure,” Issa Rae’s low-key and insight-filled exploration of race and self-identity. Amazon’s “Good Girls Revolt” picks up on the themes of “Mad Men,” as it takes on women and equality in the workplace in 1970.

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Time to get new batteries for your remote.

Monday

Kevin Can Wait (CBS)

(Multicam-com, Sept. 19)

Starring: Kevin James, Erinn Hayes

Concept: The “King of Queens” star returns to the multi-cam jam as a newly retired cop — and not a mall cop. He thinks life with his wife and three kids will be a breeze. More like a hurricane.

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Am I hooked? Been there, didn’t do it then and won’t do it now. This is a throwback to mediocrities like “Still Standing” that gave us chubby hubbies acting like big kids and pretty wives who have to boss them around.

Alternate title: “The King of Beans”

Grade: C-

Timeless (NBC)

(Time-travel action drama, Oct. 3)

Starring: Abigail Spencer, Matt Lanter, Goran Visnjic

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Concept: A historian, a scientist, and a soldier must hopscotch through time to catch a criminal bent on altering history. Can they save the world as we know it?

Am I hooked? Mr. Wiiiizzzaaarrrd! I’m hooked on the idea of not having to watch this amateurish effort to summon the ghosts of “Quantum Leap” and “Time Tunnel.” The rules of time travel and changing history are doomed. The efforts to point out the racism of earlier times are flat.

Alternate title: “Time Mess”

Grade: D

Conviction (ABC)

(Crime procedural, Oct. 3)

Starring: Hayley Atwell, Eddie Cahill, Merrin Dungey

Concept: Atwell is the former First Daughter and a cokehead blackmailed into heading up a newly formed Conviction Integrity Unit to explore possibly bad trial judgments. Can she become a serious person?

Am I hooked? The weekly cases aren’t going to dazzle, based on the pilot. That means the cast has to shine, and it only flickers. And the obnoxious-but-brilliant leader story has seen better days.

Alternate title: “Not Convinced”

Grade: C+

Man With a Plan(CBS)

(Multicam-com, Oct. 24)

Starring: Matt LeBlanc, Liza Snyder

Concept: The writers deliver a stale idea — dad does the homemaking when mom goes back to work — and hope that audience affection for LeBlanc will save the day.

Am I hooked? LeBlanc’s crisp “Episodes” made fun of bad sitcoms exactly like this one. Go figure, or maybe go watch or rewatch “Episodes.” The pilot, which originally featured Jenna Fisher, has been reshot with Snyder. I’m not thinking that will help.

Alternate title: “Point LeBlanc”

Grade: C-

Tuesday

Bull (CBS)

(Legal procedural, Sept. 20)

Starring: Michael Weatherly, Freddy Rodriguez

Concept: This one is based on the early career of Dr. Phil, when he was a trial consultant. Weatherly, who looks and acts nothing like Dr. Phil, analyzes and manipulate juries.

Am I hooked? The science of jury analysis is fascinating, in the way the readings of facial expressions in “Lie to Me” were. But the procedural, case-a-week format is filled with legal cliches, and Weatherly’s know-it-all character, aptly named Jason Bull, is tiring.

Alternate title: “Dr. Pill”

Grade: B-

Ron Batzdorf/NBC
Mandy Moore in “This Is Us.”

This Is Us (NBC)

(Family drama, Sept. 20)

Starring: Mandy Moore, Milo Ventimiglia, Sterling K. Brown

Concept: What’s this, an hourlong network series that’s not a procedural? The ensemble piece, from Dan Fogelman, follows a few seemingly random story lines — including a depressed TV star, an unhappily obese woman, and a couple expecting triplets. There’s a wonderfully satisfying twist in the pilot that I won’t spoil. In May, the trailer — featuring Ventimiglia’s butt — broke viewership records, boding well for success.

Am I hooked? I may well be. The pilot is beautifully shaped, the themes of building your own meaning in life are smart, and the actors already seem to know their characters. As long as it doesn’t drown in earnestness and try too hard to make me cry, I’m in.

Alternate title: “As Tears Go By”

Grade: A-

No Tomorrow (The CW)

(Romantic comedy, Oct. 4)

Starring: Tori Anderson, Josh Sasse, Amy Pietz

Concept: Anderson’s meek, organized twentysomething meets Sasse’s handsome hippie type, who is convinced the world is going to end in eight months. They start bucket-listing together — he calls it an “apoca-list” — and falling in love. Is he a wise kook, or a psychotic?

Am I hooked? This is pleasant and likable, at least for the length of the pilot. He is her angel, in a nihilistic kind of way. Can the idea work over the long run? Who will he turn out to be? So far, I’m willing to find out.

Alternate title: “Doomsday Dating”

Grade: B+

American Housewife (ABC)

(Single-cam dom-com, Oct. 11)

Starring: Katy Mixon

Concept: Mixon’s mother of three — including one neoconservative teen — is the reckless, flawed one in her Connecticut community of rich, oh-so-perfect women.

Am I hooked? Mixon is great, and she’ll keep me interested. But her voice-over is excessive and her weight obsession is overcooked. Her character needs more development. Also, the idea of a regular Joe or Jane among Fitbit-obsessed snobs has been done, most memorably in “The New Adventures of Old Christine” and “Suburgatory.” Is ABC churning out too many post-“Modern Family”-coms?

Alternate title: “The Middling”

Grade: B

Wednesday

Speechless (ABC)

(Single-cam dom-com, Sept. 21)

Starring: Minnie Driver, Micah Fowler

Concept: ABC is once again linking the family sitcom to a group traditionally marginalized on TV, as it has with “Fresh Off the Boat” and “Black-ish.” Driver is the lower-middle-class mother of three kids, one of whom has cerebral palsy, is in a wheelchair, and can only communicate through a computer. She runs on fury, doing everything and more to make sure he is treated with respect.

Am I hooked? This show belongs to Driver, as a super mama bear who refuses to let money determine her son’s care. She’s a force — and a comic force, as she proved on “Will & Grace” and “About a Boy.” She makes me laugh, and you’ll need to feel similarly to enjoy the show. As her nonverbal son, Fowler, who has cerebral palsy, is a charmer.

Alternate title: “Supermom”

Grade: A-

Lethal Weapon (Fox)

(Action drama, Sept. 21)

Starring: Damon Wayans Sr., Clayne Crawford

Concept: Wayans and Crawford take the Danny Glover and Mel Gibson roles, respectively, in this remake of the 1987 film. A veteran cop and a younger cop with suicidal tendencies learn to work together.

Am I hooked? Not hooked, but not unhooked, either. I’ve seen worse in this era of endless reboots. The pilot is well-done, as it introduces the characters and a comic vibe. But no matter how appealing the buddy connection is, the weekly story lines are going to be formulaic.

Alternate title: “Buddy Guys”

Grade: B-

Kiefer Sutherland in “Designated Survivor.”
Ben Mark/ABC
Kiefer Sutherland in “Designated Survivor.”

Designated Survivor(ABC)

(Thriller, Sept. 21)

Starring: Kiefer Sutherland, Natascha McElhone, Maggie Q, Kal Penn

Concept: Sutherland puts down his “Dammit Chloe” persona to play a mild, low-ranking Cabinet secretary. But everyone in line before him is killed in a terrorist attack during the State of the Union address, and he becomes president. In joke: Penn, a White House employee for a year or two, plays a White House employee.

Am I hooked? The pilot is tremendous. It’s tightly plotted, and, despite being about terrorism like “24,” it brings Sutherland out of the shadow of can-do Jack Bauer. Also, it’s cinematic, with some shocking images of a fiery disaster at the Capitol. The show offers the vision of a political jolt at a time when real-life politics is mid-jolt. But how will it proceed, as a superficial action thriller or a more thought-provoking political drama? That choice will make all the difference.

Alternate title: “45”

Grade: A-

Frequency(The CW)

(Supernatural drama, Oct. 5)

Starring: Peyton List, Riley Smith, Mekhi Phifer

Concept: In this adaptation of the 2000 film that starred Dennis Quaid and Jim Caviezel, List (she was Jane Sterling on “Mad Men”) plays a detective who discovers she can speak via ham radio to her estranged detective father, who died in 1996. Together they try to solve a cold case, by changing the past in order to change the present.

Am I hooked? The movie moved me, but the show feels like it’s going to wear thin after the setup in the pilot. The timeline rules are fated to get complicated and contradictory.

Alternate title: “Radio Papa”

Grade: C+

Thursday

Notorious(ABC)

(Soapy drama, Sept. 22)

Starring: Piper Perabo, Daniel Sunjata, Ryan Guzman, Aimee Teegarden

Concept: It’s not Hitchcock! Inspired by the lives of defense attorney Mark Geragos and cable news producer Wendy Walker, the drama looks at the complicity between criminal law and the media, and between a pair of flirty high-powered professionals.

Am I hooked? The concept is muddy, the twists are hokey, the Shonda Rhimes-esque tone and pace are exhausting, the compelling ethical questions about journalism and the law are unexplored, and the relationship between Sunjata and Perabo is smirky and unintentionally hard to understand. There was little to love about this openly cynical product.

Alternate title: “NO-torious”

Grade: D+

Pitch (Fox)

(Drama, Sept. 22)

Starring: Kylie Bunbury, Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Ali Larter, Mark Consuelos, Dan Lauria

Concept: The idea gets an A. Bunbury plays the first woman to play in Major League Baseball when she becomes a pitcher for the San Diego Padres. She must deal with the fallout from her controversial promotion.

Am I hooked? A woman in a field dominated by sexist men? It’s a good, if eternal, theme, especially as we consider the prospect of a female president, but “Pitch” does little to make it resonate deeply. And the writers telegraph every single point, especially the sentimental ones, because subtlety can be so darn challenging. Bunbury, though, delivers an appealingly tough performance.

Alternate title: “Swing and Miss”

Grade: C+

The Good Place(NBC)

(Supernatural single-cam-com, Sept. 22, preview Sept. 19)

Starring: Kristen Bell, Ted Danson

Concept: In this twist on Albert Brooks’s 1991 movie “Defending Your Life,” Bell — finally liberated from “House of Lies” — plays a petty, self-centered woman who dies and is accidentally sent to heaven. Her caretaker, Danson, doesn’t know she belongs in the Bad Place. She tries to become a better person and earn her stay.

Am I hooked? It’s from Mike Schur of “Parks and Recreation,” which makes me hopeful. And Danson is a pleasure. But is there enough material for a full series? I’m eager to see how Schur develops his amiable setup, beyond the amusing idea that there are no hangovers in heaven.

Alternate title: “Heaven Help Her”

Grade: B

The Great Indoors (CBS)

(Multi-cam-com, Oct. 27)

Starring: Joel McHale, Stephen Fry, Christopher Mintz-Plasse

Concept: Due to financial problems at the magazine he writes for, McHale’s adventure-travel reporter has to work from the office and manage millennials.

Am I hooked? No, and you won’t be either, unless you like stories about “kids these days.” After his good work on “Community,” McHale is slumming with this one-joke piece of network business.

Alternate title: “Adventures in Babysitting”

Grade: C

Pure Genius (CBS)

(Medical procedural, Oct. 27)

Starring: Augustus Prew, Dermot Mulroney

Concept: Prew’s Silicon Valley magnate hires Mulroney’s veteran surgeon with a checkered past to head his risk-taking, groundbreaking new hospital.

Am I hooked? The medical deduction stuff is entertaining, just as it was on “House,” and here it’s done with more high-tech gadgetry in the room. But the regular characters aren’t particularly interesting, so the doctoring stories will need to buoy the show.

Alternate title: “Tech’s in the House”

Grade: B-

Friday

MacGyver (CBS)

(Action drama, Sept. 23)

Starring: Lucas Till, George Eads

Concept: Till takes on the secret agent role played by Richard Dean Anderson in the 1985-92 series. He’s super-duper-resourceful as he uses everyday items to get out of extraordinary situations.

Am I hooked? No. The slick action is soulless, the voice-over is awkward, and Till isn’t faceted enough to add a human dimension.

Alternate title: “Paging MacGruber”

Grade: C-

The Exorcist(Fox)

(Horror remake, Sept. 23)

Starring: Geena Davis, Alfonso Herrera

Concept: This adaptation of the classic horror movie is set in present-tense Chicago, as a priest becomes increasingly drawn into the world of exorcism and Davis’s daughter becomes increasingly in need of him.

Am I hooked? My head is spinning. I was fully prepared to find a cheesy knock-off, a lame attempt to milk the franchise once again. But the pilot is better than it has any right to be — tensely paced, sharply directed, and creepy enough to make you look and look away at the same time.

Alternate title: “Could It Be . . . Satan?”

Grade: B+