TV’s new shows this fall, from binge to cringe
Flak jackets, everyone. The annual fall barrage of new shows is nigh.
Yes, traditional TV seasons have indeed broken down over the years, and all of the TV outlets — streaming, cable, and network — now release new series year round. Summer reruns haven’t served as a holding pattern for years. But fall, the time of fresh starts and blank notebooks, continues to be particularly well-stocked when it comes to series premieres.
That’s right. The leaf-peeking season remains the peak of Peak TV. In the next few months, a ton of prestige comedy, drama, and comedy-drama will come our way, buried, alas, among many, many more tons of insignificant garbage.
We’ll see A-list star vehicles led by Julia Roberts (“Homecoming”) and Michael Douglas (“The Kominsky Method”), both of which will join just-premiered series featuring Sean Penn (“The First”) and Emma Stone and Sally Field (“Maniac”). There are seven acting Oscars in that bunch. We’ll see a few crime shows, including one from “Law & Order”-meister Dick Wolf called “FBI,” and one (“The Good Cop”) that teams odd couple Josh Groban and Tony Danza as father-and-son officers.
We’ll see a spate of network sitcoms, of course, most of (“I Feel Bad”) them (“Single Parents”) failing (“The Neighborhood”) to find that magical comedy zone where the laughs are as hearty as the promise of syndication rights. We’ll see a super earnest medical series (“New Amsterdam”) and a pair of emotionality festivals (“A Million Little Pieces,” “Manifest”) desperately hoping to make you cry as hard as you do when you watch “This Is Us.”
And, of course, we’ll see reboots. “Murphy Brown,” a revival-styled reboot since it features the original cast, is hoping to reestablish relevance, while “Charmed” and “Magnum PI” have been rejiggered to suit current tastes. And “The Conners”? It’s a revival of a revival, or something like that, as the family moves forward after the death of its matriarch due to a Twitter — I mean opioid overdose.
Definitely worth trying.
This 10-episode limited series is fascinatingly trippy, just this side of the even trippier “Legion.” Directed and co-written by the visionary Cary Joji Fukunaga (“True Detective,” the next Bond movie), it follows two troubled people, played by Emma Stone and Jonah Hill, who take part in a pharmaceutical drug trial led by Justin Theroux’s cutting-edge doctor. She’s a depressed, lonely soul, and he’s the son of wealthy New Yorkers whose vivid hallucinations leave even us, the viewers, unsure of what is real. Is the drug trial actually occurring, or is it just another one of his delusions? The acting is, as expected, potent, with Gabriel Byrne and Sally Field also onboard, and the visuals are transporting, as they lure us into a strangely futuristic world filled with remnants of the 1980s. While you’re working to process all the strange twists and turns in the story, you’ll have plenty of spectacle to be dazzled by.
“Mr. Inbetween” (FX)
This is a small Australian series — comedy, drama, both — that’s more affecting than it ought to be, given that it’s about a brutal thug. Played by Scott Ryan, who also wrote the scripts, Ray Shoesmith is the tender divorced father of a preteen girl, a loving dog owner, a loyal friend, and a man who’ll make you dig your own grave if you don’t pay your debt to his boss. He’s a fixer like Ray Donovan, but Ryan makes him more accessible and sympathetic. The killer with a heart of gold isn’t a new trope, of course; viewers have repeatedly been put in the position of moral compromise in the past two decades, most recently with HBO’s “Barry.” But “Mr. Inbetween” gives it a fresh and funny going over.
The idea of stasis and frustration in middle age gets lustier treatment here than it does in Amazon’s whimsical “Forever” with Maya Rudolph and Fred Armisen. In this British production, Toni Collette plays a therapist whose marriage has essentially turned into a loving friendship. She and her husband, played by Steven Mackintosh, fall into the arms of others, an accident that, by the end of the premiere, is consensual. It’s almost a romp, as we follow the sexual and emotional arcs of each character on the show, including his coworkers and her clients. Light, but meaningful, the show looks into the complicated interplay between intimacy and sex.
“Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” (Netflix)
On her 16th birthday, Sabrina — the daughter of a witch and a mortal — has to choose between a life in magic and a life as a regular old schlub like the rest of us. The “Archie” comics-derived show, not even vaguely like the 1990s series “Sabrina the Teenage Witch,” milks her situation for all the metaphor it can, in the same way “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” did, as our heroine faces down those who frown on her mixed origins, high school mean girls, and angry men. Speaking of which, the star is Kiernan Shipka, Sally from “Mad Men,” and she brings an appealingly sincere touch as she mixes phrases such as “dark baptism” into her teen lexicon. Her aunts, played by Miranda Otto and Lucy Davis, are kooky excellence. The show, “Riverdale”-adjacent, also has a great retro look with vestiges of foggy, pulpy horror.
Julia Roberts is good in her first major TV series, but she’s not the only reason to watch this adaptation of the fictional podcast from Gimlet. The story, told in half-hour chunks, is a finely calibrated paranoid mystery, as Roberts’s caseworker counsels a man at a government facility for returning combat soldiers. She’s helping them readjust to civilian life, but she’s also gathering information for her boss, played by Bobby Cannavale. The atmosphere is foreboding and the story unfolds with confidence, thanks to the smart direction of Mr. “Mr. Robot,” Sam Esmail.
“The Kominsky Method” (Netflix)
I suspect there will be viewers who can’t tolerate all the prostate jokes and aging shtick on this Chuck Lorre creation, which does not have a laugh track. But, with a tone that veers between “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “Wonder Boys,” and “Grace and Frankie,” this look at the friendship between two older men — beautifully played by Michael Douglas and Alan Arkin — is authentic enough to appeal to the rest of us. Douglas, like Henry Winkler in “Barry,” is a devoted acting coach whose students need a lot of help accessing their true emotions. Of course, he needs some training on that score as well. Arkin is perfectly cantankerous, a kind of Larry David before Larry David was Larry David — as he faces one of the hardest parts of a long-term marriage. There’s more wit and earned heart in this show than I expected.
“Escape at Dannemora” (Showtime)
This eight-episode limited series is based on the 2015 case of two New York State murder convicts who escaped from prison with the help of a prison employee they were both sexually involved with. So yes, the plot is fascinating, even if you already know what happens. What truly makes it so very much more than just another ripped-from-the-headlines crime story, though, are the stunning performances by Patricia Arquette, Paul Dano, and Benicio del Toro. Arquette, in particular, is hard to look away from as a woman desperate to feel wanted. The character seems to take over her entire body. Also a plus: an astute script by Michael Tolkin and Brett Johnson and imaginative direction by none other than Ben Stiller.
These have potential.
“The Good Cop” (Netflix)
The first thing you need to know is that Josh Groban and Tony Danza star, Groban as an obsessively by-the-book cop and Danza as his dad, a disgraced former cop fresh out of jail. They live together as a particularly odd odd couple. The second thing you need to know is that the show is from the creator of “Monk,” Andy Breckman, who loves light mystery plots. Very light. The old- school show is easy to take, but the denouements can be seen from miles away, and Danza continues to have the kind of intensity that you either love or hate.
Self-important much? There’s an awful lot of big emotion on this show, which is my polite way of saying that it’s pretty soapy. (Not as soapy, though, as ABC’s Boston-set “A Million Different Things,” whose obsession is to remind us that dudes, too, get sad.) A plane takes off, and when it lands, five years have passed for the rest of the world. Oddly, none of the passengers seems particularly freaked out by the supernatural event; they’re more focused on mending bonds with their loved ones, who thought they were dead and had moved on with their lives. No one even notes, in passing, that the host of “The Apprentice” is now president. But there’s a “Lost”-like mystery afoot that drew me in, as the passengers begin to experience similar after-effects.
“God Friended Me” (CBS)
So here’s the deal. Based on the title alone, I was fully prepared to despise this show. But it’s actually a bit of alright for a network spin on religious querying, along the lines of “Joan of Arcadia.” The likable BrandonMicheal Hall plays the son of a minister who hosts a podcast about atheism. Yup, he’s reacting against his father, whom he loves nonetheless. Then God, or, someone in his life — or Gossip Girl! — starts to direct him to people in need via his Facebook account. Yes, it’s all hokey, and yet the premiere holds some promise as a thoughtful feel-good drama.
“All American” (The CW)
This one arrives with the rumor that it’s like “Friday Night Lights.” Nah, it’s a long way from that classic. But it takes on the same themes — football, family, and, most important, community — as it loosely tells the story of NFL linebacker Spencer Paysinger. Well-played by Daniel Ezra, a Brit with a flawless American accent, the show’s Spencer is growing up with his single mother in South Central Los Angeles when he gets recruited to play for Beverly Hills High by Taye Diggs’s coach. Culture clash and racial tensions ensue, of course; just watch his face when the coach’s well-to-do wife asks him if he has any food allergies, or when a student asks him, “Crips or Bloods?” He’s drawn to the swimming pools, but he misses his lesbian best friend and his less challenging life. It’s all pretty schematic in the premiere, but I’m hoping more subtlety will creep in going forward.
No preview episodes were available for review.
“Murphy Brown” (CBS)
Candice Bergen is diving back into the culture wars, after a couple of decades off, for a 13-episode season as the fictional journalist who got the actual Dan Quayle’s goat by choosing to have a child as a single mother. Now, she hosts a talk show with Corky (Faith Ford), Frank (Joe Regalbuto), and Miles (Grant Shaud), while her now-adult son, Avery, played by Jake McDorman of “Limitless,” hosts a competing talk show on a conservative Fox News-like network. How long before the first “enemy of the people” joke? It sounds a little pat, but who knows? Tyne Daly is in the cast, by the way, as the sister of former bartender Phil.
Four dysfunctional couples go into the woods for a weekend, and neurosis ensues. Bonds are tested in this cringe comedy, especially by Jennifer Garner’s Type-A wife. The show, based on a British series, is from Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner of “Girls,” which I liked, and it features a cast with potential, including David Tennant, Brett Gelman, Juliette Lewis, and Ione Skye.
“The Romanoffs” (Amazon)
As a “Mad Man” diehard, I am crazy-eager to see Matthew Weiner’s follow-up series, which Amazon will roll out one episode per week. It’s an anthology drama, and each episode is set in a different location as it looks into some of the supposed descendants of the Russian royal family. The long cast of stars — one of the benefits of the short commitment of an anthology show — includes Diane Lane, Aaron Eckhart, Noah Wyle, Mary Kay Place, Corey Stoll, Amanda Peet, Kathryn Hahn, Paul Reiser, Isabelle Huppert, and a few “Mad Men” alums including John Slattery and Christina Hendricks.
“The Conners” (ABC)
The revival of “Roseanne” was a big hit, which, oddly, Donald Trump took credit for. The truth is, the network sitcom was all about liberal-identified concerns, from gender identification and the subtleties of racism to the dangers of bad or no health insurance. Now that Roseanne is out of the show, perhaps it will be seen for what it is: a sympathetic portrait of a working-class family making the best of life in a country that doesn’t care about them. Can the story thrive in its multi-camera way without Roseanne? I’m thinking yes. Can viewers detach the new iteration from the sins of its former lead? Still to be determined.
“My Brilliant Friend” (HBO)
This eight-parter adapts the hugely popular book — the first of Elena Ferrante’s four Neapolitan novels and the first of the four planned adaptations — about two women friends from Naples, Italy. It looks gorgeous in the trailer. The series will be in Italian, with subtitles, which may pose a challenge to HBO viewers, but I doubt it.
“The Little Drummer Girl” (AMC)
AMC’s adaptation of John le Carre’s “The Night Manager” was a huge success, so another le Carre adaptation was almost a given. In this six-parter directed by Park Chan-wook (“Oldboy”) a leftie actress becomes entangled in a spy plot in the late 1970s. Alexander Skarsgard, Michael Shannon, and Florence Pugh star.
For masochists only.
“Magnum P.I.” (CBS) Sept. 24
“Single Parents” (ABC) Sept. 26
“A Million Little Things” (ABC) Sept. 26
“The Neighborhood” (CBS) Oct. 1
“Happy Together” (CBS) Oct. 1
“I Feel Bad” (NBC) Oct. 4