1. Give It a Chance: Sleepy Hollow, Fox, In Progress on Mondays at 9 p.m.
This new action drama/mystery did quite well for Fox last week, which was an interesting surprise because it truly is sort of nuts. The headless horseman and Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison) in modern day! This pilot lost its mind (with its head) in the last 15 minutes, but in a fun way — I think. Maybe. The mythology of Sleepy Hollow is already confusing, but I’m on the ride for now. Partly because Nicole Beharie is the co-lead in fighting headless crime. The pilot is here if you want to watch it.
2. Avoid: Dads, Fox, In Progress on Tuesdays at 8 p.m.
Just the worst. I won’t belabor this point.
3. Be Excited: Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Fox, In Progress on Tuesdays at 8:30 p.m.
It’s rare that a comedy feels lived-in from the beginning, but Brooklyn Nine-Nine has done a nice job of smoothing out the bumps. If you wonder whether you like Andy Samberg (I might have wondered whether I like Andy Samberg), there’s a lot more here, starting with Andre Braugher, who is so funny as the new boss of Samberg’s authority-tweaking detective. From creators Mike Schur and Dan Goor of Parks and Recreation. I am hopeful about this show. (Here’s the pilot.)
4. Avoid: We Are Men, CBS, In Progress on Mondays at 8:30 p.m.
Fox’s Dads has been sucking the air out of the room (emphasis on sucking), but if it weren’t around, I wonder whether critics would have directed more ire toward We Are Men. We’ve seen shows like We Are Men before, in which a group of single men — played in this case by Chris Smith, Jerry O’Connell, Kal Penn, and Tony Shalhoub — bond over the awful shrews they’ve loved before and how maybe young and beautiful substitutes will treat them better. It’s not awful, but it could make you think things like, “Kal Penn left the White House for this?” or, “Didn’t Tony Shalhoub make enough money from Monk to be selective in his work?” Or… “Who is Chris Smith?” (Answer: the weak spot among the actors.) Life is short. Too short for We Are Men. PS: If this were a hits predictions list, I’d be banking on We Are Men to do well.
5. Give It a Chance: Hostages, CBS, In Progress on Mondays at 10 p.m.
I enjoyed this pilot: Toni Collette plays a surgeon who is about to operate on the president when she and her family are taken hostage in order to force her to kill him during surgery. For this show to last the 15 episodes CBS has ordered — it’s a “limited series” (the new nomenclature for the networks’ attempt not to kill these high-concept shows with a 22-episode season) — things will have to get twistier than that, of course. And that is why I am skeptical, and can’t wholly recommend Hostages just yet. I did like her family, though, as well as Dylan McDermott, who I thought was ridiculous and unlikable on Season 1 of American Horror Story (it’s nice not to feel that way here). We will see!
6. Give It a Chance: The Blacklist, NBC, In Progress on Mondays at 10 p.m.
How you feel about The Blacklist will be determined by your feelings about James Spader. I am mostly pro! Even when he’s being crazily over-the-top! Like he is here! Spader plays an internationally wanted criminal who turns himself in to the FBI with the promise of helping them catch other internationally wanted criminals if he can work with Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone), who is starting her first day as a profiler. (As far as she’s concerned, they have no connections or past relationship. Hint: They must.) It’s extremely derivative of Silence of the Lambs, and the first case they work on together is boring, but I liked their dynamic as well as the foreboding elements about The Things She Does Not Know. It’s also in this show’s plus column that there is a procedural structure each week. And if you’ve seen the terrible posters that make Spader look like a huge black bat in a fedora, fear not: He doesn’t look like that on the show.
7. Be Excited: Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., ABC, Tuesdays at 8 p.m. (Starting Sept. 24)
If you held a gun to my head — hey, please don’t! — I would capitulate quickly to tell you I have deep concerns about Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Not only because it’s so annoying to type, either. The pilot is OK; parts of it are almost great (not the cheap-looking opening, though). The return of Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson is fun — maybe not so fun that I’d hang a zillion-dollar franchise on it? I liked the rest of the cast too, especially Chloe Bennet. And it’s nice to see Ming-Na Wen back on TV. In my head, I’m not an Avengers person; but in my heart, I am a Joss Whedon person. I’d like the Joss side to win and for this show to be excellent. That he’s doing it with his brother Jed Whedon and sister-in-law Maurissa Tancharoen is worrisome: Joss, diluted. We’ll see. This show is the biggest question mark of the season. By which I mean I’m surprised they didn’t add a question mark to the title to make it even worse.
8. Be Excited: Trophy Wife, ABC, Tuesdays at 9:30 p.m. (Starting Sept. 24)
A TV writer friend of mine told me recently that writers should never agree to go with a working title they hate during the pilot process, because it always sticks. (See: Cougar Town.) I can only hope that’s what happened with Trophy Wife, because its dumb name is what one might call a “barrier to entry” for the smart audiences this show should actually attract. The premise is simple enough: Malin Akerman’s carefree Kate marries Bradley Whitford’s Pete and then has to navigate relationships with his three children and two previous wives. The pilot just has a wit to it that is rare and frankly somewhat shocking — a large number of comedy pilots are completely terrible. The show is broadly drawn. Kate is a bit sloppy in her youth; the two exes and Pete obviously don’t get along well. But the acting is dimensional (it helps that Marcia Gay Harden and Michaela Watkins are the ex-wives), and the jokes are funny. Funny jokes in a comedy! Imagine that. Don’t let this one pass you by; it has a tough time slot on ABC’s most ambitious, some might say absurd, night (with four brand-new shows — a strategy that has worked never in the history of ever).
9. Give It a Chance: Lucky 7, ABC, Tuesdays at 10 p.m. (Starting Sept. 24)
Geez, this show is a bit of a puzzle. It has a big concept (a group of employees from a gas station in Astoria, Queens, win a massive lottery jackpot), but it’s also low-key in a way I liked. There are a lot of characters to introduce in the pilot — the overweight clerk with the cheating husband, the good-looking white guy with the pregnant girlfriend, the beneficent boss — but I didn’t feel like Lucky 7 was slamming me over the head with their differences. And I felt interested in them all, which isn’t always the case for a big ensemble drama. I also liked its effortlessly diverse casting. With ABC’s Tuesday-night dice-rolling, Lucky 7 may be canceled immediately. But this show is an intriguing underdog, and worth checking out.
10. Avoid: The Millers, CBS, Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. (Starting Sept. 26)
Words I never want to hear in a sitcom: “Did you fart?” A thing I never want to see: A drunk, pill-addled mother and her adult son dancing to “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life.” If you want to hear those words and see those things, then The Millers — a family comedy starring Will Arnett, Margo Martindale (the farter!), and Beau Bridges — is for you.
11. Avoid: Welcome to the Family, NBC, Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. (Starting Sept. 26)
A smart Latino boy impregnates his dumb, white high school girlfriend, scuttling his chances to go to Stanford because, of course, they must marry and raise the child. Politics aside, this show is forgettable.
12. Give It a Chance: The Crazy Ones, CBS, Thursdays at 9 p.m. (Starting Sept. 26)
Robin Williams is an abundantly, almost over-abundantly, talented actor and comedian who annoys a large segment of the population. At his best, he reins himself in (or is reined in somehow, by someone); that didn’t seem likely here with David E. Kelley as the show’s creator. At the upfronts in May, CBS entertainment president Nina Tassler described the Williams character as “theatrical,” and I thought to myself, God help us all. So I approached this pilot with dread, but then I enjoyed it well enough. Williams plays an ad agency guy who is losing his mind, and therefore causing harm to his business. There are some wacky Williams antics, of course, and those are supposed to be tempered, I imagine, by his character’s relationship with his daughter, played by Sarah Michelle Gellar in straight man-mode. I didn’t care about much of that. But Williams was very funny with James Wolk, who manages to steal this show completely (as he did — or nearly did — with last season of Mad Men). I’m curious where this one will go.
13. Avoid: Sean Saves the World, NBC, Thursdays at 9 p.m. (Starting Sept. 26)
This Sean Hayes show really feels like one of those NBC late-’90s sitcoms that wasn’t Friends or Seinfeld: something like a Veronica’s Closet or Suddenly Susan. I didn’t hate it as much as some other TV journalists have, because when you pack that many jokes into a 22-minute period — it’s written like machine-gun fire — I’m going to laugh a few times. Hayes plays a gay man who’s taking care of his teenaged daughter full-time for the first time, despite his difficult job. His demanding, critical mother is Linda Lavin. Everyone talks loudly and quickly and annoyingly. If NBC had the hugest comedies on television sandwiching Sean, then maybe this show could settle into something less shrieky. I don’t see it happening.
14. Be Excited: The Michael J. Fox Show, NBC, Thursdays at 9:30 p.m. (Starting Sept. 26)
I liked Michael J. Fox fine on Family Ties and in Back to the Future and in all the other things that made him a star, but his elfin smugness didn’t square exactly with my taste. By contrast, though, I’ve found Fox’s post-Parkinson’s acting career to be fascinating, from his arc on Rescue Me to his repeated Good Wife appearances as Alicia’s winking nemesis, Louis Canning. Fox’s life took an insane turn. Instead of disappearing, he has thrived, and has become an actor with depths he never had, or was not allowed to display, pre-illness. Of course, doing guest stints is one thing, but being on TV every week, and being the star of that show, is different. So I’m relieved to report that The Michael J. Fox Show is funny and smart and enjoyable. He plays a local NBC newscaster in New York City who decides to return to work. I’ve heard people say that they think the show leans on Fox’s illness too much; I’ve also heard people say that they wonder whether audiences will want to watch him, with his stilted cadence and unpredictable body movements. That second part surprised me — it had not occurred to me. But if that’s how someone feels, who am to call them a monster? (I did in my head, though.) This is all to say that The Michael J. Fox Show is probably not a sure thing. But quality-wise, it was as good as I hoped it would be. And whatever happens to Marie on Breaking Bad, Betsy Brandt plays the wife here (she is funny).
15. Avoid: Betrayal, ABC, Sundays at 10 p.m. (Starting Sept. 29)
There are no words to describe how dreadful Betrayal is. If there were, we would have to say them in terrible American accents (both leads, Hannah Ware and Stuart Townsend, do not sound like they live in Chicago — or the United States of America). I wish this soap opera — there is cheating! there is murrrrderrrr! — were amusing garbage; instead, it is so, so boring. Heed my warning.
16. Be Excited: Masters of Sex, Showtime, Sundays at 10 p.m. (Starting Sept. 29)
It’s not a great year for new television on the networks. It’s not even what I would call a decent year. If it were, I wouldn’t have included cable in this breakdown, because there would have been too many network shows to discuss. But in order for this list to be useful, I had to open things up, because there is really only one show I am positive is first-rate, and that is Masters of Sex. Telling the story of Masters and Johnson, the famous scholars of human sexuality, this gorgeous-looking drama is compelling, funny, well-acted (especially its leads, Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan), and often poignant. I also love when a story is based on real figures that you’ve known a little about for years then gives you a full picture; I’m literally learning things about these important people. The writing and pacing are also excellent (the show was created by Michelle Ashford, based on Thomas Maier’s 2010 book). Oh, and if you miss the early days of Mad Men for how it looked at the start, you’ll get your fill of vintage clothes and furniture on Masters of Sex. The pilot is online for free if you want to watch it; decide for yourself. Here.
17. Avoid: Super Fun Night, ABC, Wednesdays at 9:30 p.m. (Starting Oct. 2)
This one hurts me. Rebel Wilson is an important figure in comedy — especially in lady comedy — and this show is god-awful. And this is the retooled version! Everything you read about this show will complain about Rebel Wilson’s decision to have an American accent here, and — yes. Distracting and weird. Note: The pilot that was screened for media has been scrapped, and the new premiere, which was originally planned as the second episode, was not available yet for me to watch. Fingers crossed that this new attempt is better. Rebel deserves it.
18. Be Excited: The Originals, CW, Tuesdays at 8 p.m. (The premiere, however, is Thursday, Oct. 3.)
I watch The Vampire Diaries and like it quite a bit. I am not, however, all up on what core fans think of the characters: I assume they like The Originals, meaning Klaus (Joseph Morgan) and his siblings? Or else there wouldn’t be a spin-off, right? Just asking. Anyhoo. This show makes sense to me. Beyond the cast we knew already, my favorite being Claire Holt as the tragic-yet-bitchy Rebekah, the additions of Phoebe Tonkin and Charles Michael Davis are also smart. And I think it will be good for The Vampire Diaries to de-populate a bit too. Tuesdays at 8 is a tough time slot for a genre show, though, as it’s going up against Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. Yet I wouldn’t bet against The Originals.
19. Give It a Chance: The Tomorrow People, CW, Wednesdays at 9 p.m. (Starting Oct. 9)
This show feels paint-by-numbers to me. A sci-fi premise (the Tomorrow People are born with cool, paranormal abilities) that groups a bunch of good-looking teenagers together to battle foes. Robbie Amell — the cousin of Stephen Amell, who plays Oliver Queen on The Tomorrow People’s lead-in, Arrow — is the lead. The CW loves Amells! (The two sound alike to me more than look alike, for what it’s worth.) The pilot is fine; the devil will be in the details.
20. Give It a Chance: Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, ABC, Thursdays at 8 p.m. (Starting Oct. 10)
ABC hasn’t yet made the pilot for this Once Upon a Time spin-off available, so no one knows how it is yet. Since it’s the Alice in Wonderland story in Victorian England, with Sophie Lowe as Alice, Wonderland seems like it could be more adult than OUAT. Which has had its problems.
21. Give It a Chance: Reign, CW, Thursdays at 9 p.m. (Starting Oct. 17)
Mary, Queen of Scots reimagined as a CW teen queen! I just have no idea with this show! This pilot is nuts, and I suspect its target audience will either love it or hate it. I, who am decidedly not in the target audience, enjoyed it enough to see where it goes. Kind of a mess. But it’s fun to watch, I liked the palace intrigue, and Adelaide Kane is a good Mary.
22. Be Excited: Ravenswood, ABC Family, Tuesdays at 9 p.m. (Starting Oct. 22)
Caleb’s spin-off! ABC Family is hoping the Pretty Little Liars phenomenon can expand to a new show, and has bet on Tyler Blackburn and Caleb for Ravenswood. The brave thing here is that the channel isn’t sending him to another town to get into a PLL-style mystery; Ravenswood’s horrors will be supernatural, not Earth-bound. I’m just hoping it’s less confusing than PLL, which I find mind-boggling.
23. Give It a Chance: Dracula, NBC, Fridays at 10 p.m. (Starting Oct. 25)
This show is tremendously trashy — like…really trashy. And Jonathan Rhys Meyers is playing Dracula, which is also not good. But will it be so trashy and so bad that it could be fun and funny? Maybe!
24. Give It a Chance: Almost Human, Fox, Mondays at 8 p.m. (Starting Nov. 4)
When I say “give it a chance,” I’m talking to myself more than you, in this case. I was left cold by this pilot, which has been revamped since it was initially sent out to journalists. Though I like the lead actors (Karl Urban and Michael Ealy) in other things, I thought they were flat in this. I didn’t really understand the mythology of the show (and since it comes from the J.J. Abrams factory, that is somewhat frightening). And I didn’t like the way it looks (“Blehrunner,” I’ve termed it). Ha, wow, I really didn’t like it at all now that I’m looking at that list, because that’s pretty much everything (and I didn’t even list wasting Lili Taylor yet — now I have). However. Almost Human is my sort of show. And Fox obviously knows that it needs to get better, which is why it’s changing. So I’m going to watch it for a bit in case it improves. And if it’s your sort of show too, then please join me!
25. Be Excited: Getting On, HBO, Sundays at 10 p.m. (Starting Nov. 24)
What a wonderful pilot this HBO comedy-ish has. Based on a British series, and adapted by Will Scheffer and Mark V. Olsen (the creators of Big Love, one of my favorites), Getting On is about the lives of the people who work in the extended-care geriatric ward of a hospital. Alex Borstein (pictured above, of Family Guy, this show’s tonal opposite), Niecy Nash, and Laurie Metcalf star and hit just the right pitch; after all, the subject of aging, illness, dementia, and death is not easy material. I knew Metcalf was brilliant, but I was happy to be surprised by Nash’s and Borstein’s understated, humane notes. There was one scene that had me crying laughing, and I rewound it twice. I can’t wait to see more.