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Saturday, September 28, 2013

The 2013 Fall TV Season

Michael J. Fox, James Caan, James Spader, Marvel Comics, and More!

By Chris Sabga

Silver Screen Surprises is primarily a film site, but I'm taking a slight detour today to highlight some of the new shows of the fall TV season.

It's no secret anymore that the best television programs can be every bit as satisfying as a great movie. After all, like an epic series of novels, TV shows have many more hours – years – to tell their story.

Fans of classics such as "Babylon 5" and "Lost" – as imperfect as those were – can certainly attest to the power of the medium when done right.

The list below is by no means a comprehensive one. I've simply compiled some of the new shows this season that are of interest to me.

The Blacklist (NBC – Monday 10 p.m. EST): The best new show of the season? James Spader stars as a mysterious, creepy criminal who walks right into the F.B.I. and allows himself to get arrested. He specifically requests to speak to Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone), a rookie agent going into her first day on the job. He has information about an underground terrorist with a bomb, and she's the only one he'll work with. Why? I have some ideas about that, and by the end of the episode, you will too. With twists, turns, and thrills galore, "The Blacklist" is immensely satisfying. Like "FlashForward" before it, it has the potential to get too silly. It's already over-the-top, but there's a fine line. Hopefully this promising new show will maintain the right balance.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (ABC – Tuesday 8 p.m. EST): This, of course, is based on Marvel's "Avengers" universe – minus any of the actual Avengers. Clark Gregg reprises his role as Agent Coulson from the films. Without spoiling anything, that does get explained somewhat. I enjoyed this, but it's a mess. Joss Whedon's trademark humor is there, but it doesn't seem to fit. Meanwhile, other parts of the show are stark serious. All of that is mixed in with several cheesy elements that make this seem like (bad) parody of the superhero genre. I think "Agents" could be a case of a pilot trying to do way too much and establish way too many characters and storylines. Don't get me wrong: "Agents" is never unenjoyable at any point. It's fun. But this went from a show that I thought would dominate the landscape and last several years to something I could see being cancelled at the end of the season. Next week's ratings will be very telling. Like Whedon's "Dollhouse," which started out roughly too, this can (and hopefully will) get better.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine (FOX – Tuesday 8:30 p.m. EST): Andy Samberg is a detective and Andre Braugher is his gay captain. Terry Crews is in it too. Samberg doesn't tickle my funnybone and I can't buy Braugher as gay (which may be the point, since it's treated so matter-of-factly – not a big deal at all), but I like cop shows, and this one is pleasant enough. It's sillier and quirkier than most. The second episode is better. Samberg and Braugher are really gelling as a team. This is going up against ABC's "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.," which could provide very stiff competition. I just hope the finicky FOX will stand behind "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" and give it a chance to succeed.

The Goldbergs (ABC – Tuesday 9 p.m. EST): If I had to describe it, I'd say it's "Married with Children" meets "The Wonder Years." But it's not as good as either show (yet). It's set in the '80s, and it even references some of the more ridiculous '80s sitcom clich├ęs. If I didn't know any better, I'd think Jeff Garlin and Troy Gentile were really father and son. Wendi McLendon-Covey is pretty good – just LOUD! My favorite is George Segal as the grandfather. He really provides the heart of the show.  The coolest part: the show is based on a real family, and it's written by the youngest son, who is an adult in real life now (he's played as a child by Sean Giambrone). There's footage at the end of the real Goldberg family. That alone elevates this a little bit in my mind. As far as pilots go, I wouldn't call this one great, but they almost never are. As one friend of mine said, it's trying too hard. There's definitely enough potential here, though, that I'll keep watching.

Trophy Wife (ABC – Tuesday 9:30 p.m. EST): Wow! Despite the cringe-worthy name, it's actually quite funny and has a great cast. Malin Akerman (who rubbed me the wrong way before, but I love her in this) stars at Bradley Whitford's third wife – his "trophy wife." Needless to say, she's much younger than him. The always superb Marcia Gay Harden plays one of his ex-wives. The kids are good too. The daughter (Gianna LePera) looks like a young Jodie Foster, the son (Ryan Lee) is the little blond boy from "Super 8," and their baby brother (Albert Tsai) was adopted from China and has all of the "cute and funny" lines – and he's good at delivering them. "Trophy Wife" is a fun 20-minute sitcom with really great actors. I hope it lasts. Definitely the surprise of the season.

Back in the Game (ABC – Wednesday 8:30 p.m. EST): James Caan stars as an old, washed up baseball player. His daughter and her young son (Maggie Lawson and Griffin Gluck) have to move back in with him. She has a strained relationship with her father and hates baseball because of it, but gets roped into agreeing to coach a little league team. It's a weird show so far – two little boys kiss and there are several "dick jokes" – but it has potential. Apparently, it "isn't really about baseball," so we'll see.

Ironside (NBC – Wednesday 10 p.m. EST): It's a remake of a Raymond Burr show I've never seen and hadn't even heard of before now. It seems a bit generic, despite the gimmick of the main detective being in a wheelchair. But Blair Underwood is very good in it. I watched this right after the season premiere of "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," and Pablo Schreiber is in both – which was a bit jarring because he plays a sick rapist on "SVU" and a good guy cop here, but he's a decent enough actor to pull it off. The pilot didn't give him much to do though. The captain is an Asian-American, which is new at least, so between him and Underwood, "Ironside" gets points for diversity. Not an awesome show, but it's enjoyable enough.

The Michael J. Fox Show (NBC – Thursday 9:30 p.m. EST): Very cute, lighthearted show. There's nothing groundbreaking here, except that the main character (and actor) has Parkinson's Disease. They don't dance around the situation or treat it with pity. If anything, they make fun of it at times (in a lighthearted, inoffensive way). Good, clean fun, just like another Michael J. Fox family sitcom we all know and love. Aside from Fox himself, Betsy Brandt (as his wife) and Wendell Pierce (as his old boss) are the best aspects of the show. There are also special guest stars in each episode (Matt Lauer and Tracy Pollan, respectively). There are occasional asides featuring a character commenting into a camera (presumably being recorded by the daughter) like a reality show. I'm not sold on that aspect yet, and it doesn't make much sense after the first episode. But I like the show overall.

Other shows: "Sleepy Hollow" (FOX) is getting big buzz from just about everyone I've talked to, but I haven't watched it yet. To be honest, the premise doesn't appeal to me. Still, people are going crazy for it, so I will probably give it a try at some point.

"Super Fun Night" (ABC) – featuring the always hilarious Rebel Wilson (Fat Amy from "Pitch Perfect") – hasn't aired yet, but it will be worth a look because of her.

Despite being no fan of reality shows, I find myself oddly drawn to the premise of "MasterChef Junior" (FOX), which allows children from 8 to 13 to run a real kitchen. What the...? I'll probably try an episode. Let's just hope it's not as exploitative as it sounds.

You may notice the omission of anything from CBS. That's because they won't allow their newer shows to be broadcast on Hulu Plus's TV app for the PS3, Roku, and other set-top boxes and tablets. (I "cut the cord" on my overpriced cable company.)

Instead, my only option is watch their shows as they air (how 1980s!) or from my PC via Sorry, that outdated scheme doesn't work for me. I won't be a slave to CBS's mandated schedule. (And no, I'm not going to hook my PC up to my TV just to watch a show.) Keep being behind-the-times, CBS! How is that slippery slide into irrelevancy working out for you?

With all of that said, "The Crazy Ones" with Robin Williams and Sarah Michelle Gellar does look good.

Which new shows are you looking forward to?

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