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8 Fall Shows To Be Excited About, 10 To Give A Chance, And 6 To Avoid

The highs are high (Scream Queens!) and the lows are low (Dr. Ken!). Here is the fall's best and worst television — and what's in the middle too — in handy chronological order.

Give It a Chance: The Bastard Executioner


FX, Tuesdays at 10 p.m. (In progress)

A writer like Kurt Sutter is going to tell you what his show is in its first hour. And The Bastard Executioner, which had its two-hour premiere this week, does indeed do that. The show, set in 14th-century Wales during the reign of Edward I, drops the audience into a complicated, fully formed world. Its hero(ish) is Wilkin Brattle (played by Lee Jones, an Australian theater actor), the executioner of the show's title — but at first, he is a man with a pregnant wife and a violent past who is determined to live a stable life. When that proves to be impossible, The Bastard Executioner unleashes violence that makes Game of Thrones look like an episode of Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood on PBS Kids. Seriously: I couldn't believe what I was watching, and if you saw the premiere, you know what I mean. But that's what Sutter — the Sons of Anarchy creator who has hundreds of hours of television on his résumé — does, and his ardent fans will expect as much. You're either here for this, or you're not. In the same vein, Sutter's wife, Katey Sagal, who played Gemma, the Lady Macbeth of Sons of Anarchy, co-stars in The Bastard Executioner as Annora, the witch who tells Brattle that he has a secret destiny. (Annora is always trailed by a character called "The Dark Mute," who is masked and yes, mute, and is played by Sutter. These scenes are delightfully WTF, actually: Your move, Melisandre!) The only other familiar face is Stephen Moyer (True Blood) as Milus Corbett, a scheming, power-hungry, and gay adviser to the baron who holds his bloody thumb over the countryside rebels. But did I mention The Bastard Executioner's shocking violence? I can't overemphasize it. Sons of Anarchy was polarizing; this show takes the pole and stabs you with it from the start.

Give It a Chance: Life in Pieces


CBS, Mondays at 8:30 p.m. (Starting Sept. 21; this show will move to Thursdays after CBS's football broadcasts end in November)

As TV critic Willa Paskin pointed out in Slate, times are tough for the network sitcom, and all the broadcasters are flailing about for solutions. Fox's strategy during this fallow period is to go broad with tested stars. But CBS — which is broad already with its hugely popular The Big Bang Theory, but really with all of its returning comedies — has gone a different route this season with Life in Pieces and Angel From Hell. Both are single-camera shows (which have never worked on CBS), and they also are tinged with a yearning for meaning. Life in Pieces is the more successful of the two. Its pilot almost deconstructs Modern Family's first episode from 2009 when it's revealed at the end that these disparate characters are all in the same family. Life in Pieces comprises four separate short stories and, in the pilot at least, each adult sibling (Thomas Sadoski, Colin Hanks, and Betsy Brandt) is featured separately, then the whole family comes together in the last story. There are very good actors here (Dianne Wiest and James Brolin play the parents), and there are some funny and even lovely moments in the pilot. Assuming it’s representative of the show’s weekly format, it would be a nice thing for the world if it didn't die immediately.

Give It a Chance: Minority Report


Fox, Mondays at 9 p.m. (Starting Sept. 21)

Very little thrills in the pilot of Minority Report, but it’s pretty spectacular looking, and I hope the show can gel because I love the Philip K. Dick short story and the 2002 Steven Spielberg movie that serve as its source material. The series is set in 2065, some years after the movie's ending: When we last saw the precogs — the three freakish psychics who could foretell the future, including crimes — they had been left in a bucolic, isolated spot to try to live their lives in peace. And the idea of "PreCrime," trying to prevent criminal activity that had not yet happened, was deemed too sinister and was put to a stop. Fox's Minority Report shows the aftermath of all of that: Crime is back in society, there is a continuous ripple effect from the PreCrime program, and two of the three precogs have gotten bored by country life and have come to D.C. to look for action. Stark Sands (from Broadway's American Idiot and Kinky Boots) is the precog Dash, who has been unsuccessfully trying to stop murders himself until he joins forces with Lara (Meagan Good), a skilled detective. In theory, this setup is rich. In practice, I felt like I was watching boxes being checked during the pilot, and I'm worried that Good isn't a charismatic lead. There's enough here, though, that I will keep watching until this show declares itself as irredeemably boring or superior, twisty sci-fi. (Also, I like making jokes about "precogs" and "precogging" things, so I want this show to work so I can start doing that again.)

Give It a Chance: Blindspot


NBC, Mondays at 10 p.m. (Starting Sept. 21)

Jaimie Alexander plays an amnesiac Jane Doe who’s found in a duffel bag in Times Square. When she emerges — naked, and tattooed on nearly every inch of her body — she is soon put at the center of a number of (absurd) FBI operations. They're led by Agent Kurt Weller (Sullivan Stapleton, from Animal Kingdom and Strike Back), whose name is ominously tattooed on her back, though she's a stranger to him. As Jane Doe's skills are revealed during moments of stress, we find out (and she finds out) that she speaks an obscure Chinese dialect, kicks ass in martial arts, and can thwart terrorism through the clues inked on her body. This is all to say that this show makes no sense! None! However: Alexander is good, and the pilot's action was top-notch. Stapleton as a square-jawed G-man feels generic, but that's not a bad thing in something so…well, generic. (I would tell him to pick an American accent that works for him, but I'm too freaked out still by his crazed Animal Kingdom character, so I will simply whisper it here.) I hope that Blindspot leans into its most promising aspects — Jane as a confused yet capable person, as well as the show's impressive, cinematic pacing and set pieces — and stays away from its obvious pitfalls. If it takes the second path, it will soon turn into the mirror image of The Blacklist, except that at its center will be a woman whose body knows every secret instead of a man whose mind does.

Avoid: The Muppets


ABC, Tuesdays at 8 p.m. (Starting Sept. 22)

As soon as ABC Entertainment President Paul Lee began repeating the phrase "not your grandmother's Muppets" about the network's new version of the show, I began to worry. When I saw the billboards promoting the show that made jokes about Kermit and "full-frontal nudity," I felt sad. And when entertainment journalists began to report stories about Miss Piggy and Kermit breaking up, or here's Kermit's new girlfriend, as if they are real people, I felt a rage I can't describe in words. (But possibly could in screams and strangled squeaks. Just to begin to address that last point, though: Journalists, we are not in marketing!) Still, all of these painful moments didn't have to have anything to do with the show itself — which I could have loved, as a lifelong fan of the Muppets. After all, the original Muppet Show always worked on two levels, thrilling children and also nodding at its adult audience. The first set of movies did the same. Meaning, reading stories that in any sane world doubled as press materials — yes, on BuzzFeed too — did not mean that that show itself would be terrible. And no, it's not terrible: Bill Prady, its executive producer, also co-created The Big Bang Theory, and he is talented. But the new Muppets is ill-conceived, smug, unfunny, and mean-spirited. In the two episodes ABC (finally) put on its press site earlier this week, I laughed one time, and that was when the tone of the show-within-the-show abruptly shifts, and the populist religious scholar Reza Aslan is a guest. Does that gag indicate how up its own ass The Muppets is? Because it should. The running joke of the show is that Miss Piggy, the star, is a diva monster, and Kermit, her ex-boyfriend and producer, has to wrangle her constantly. Gone is the wit of the Miss Piggy character of the past; the brilliance of Jim Henson's original creations are entirely absent here so far. And parents, if you were thinking about watching this with your kids, know that there is a waxing joke, fat jokes about Miss Piggy, a Tracy Anderson reference, and a riff on Fozzie's lack of luck with online dating because "bear" is so frequently misunderstood in his particular case. I'll be here crying if you need me.

Be Excited: Scream Queens


Fox, Tuesdays at 9 p.m. (Starting Sept. 22 at 8 p.m.; it will move into its regular slot the following week)

It's impossible to know what roads Scream Queens will go down over the course of its 15 episodes, and one must hedge against hope. But its two-hour premiere thrilled me to no end. Created by Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, and Ian Brennan (the Glee trio), Scream Queens is my ideal mix of Heathers and '80s slasher films — sort of like the movie Scream, but heavier on its dose of Heathers. I laughed out loud many times watching the premiere, especially when Emma Roberts talked, or even just reacted in disgust as others talked. She's playing a part similar to the one she played in Murphy and Falchuk's American Horror Story: Coven, but snappier and, well, alive. The plot of Scream Queens is standard slasher fare: Someone is killing the beautiful young students on a college campus, focusing especially on the bitchy sorority Kappa House, where 20 years ago a sister gave birth to a baby during a party and then was allowed to bleed out because no one wanted the party ruined. (Specifically, "Waterfalls" by TLC came on, and that was their song, so they left her to die while they danced.) Is all of the death the revenge of the baby, now a student? Students Grace (Skyler Samuels of The Nine Lives of Chloe King) and Pete (Diego Boneta) are investigating (but also might be involved, of course). Me, I don't really care about the mystery, but it's good enough, and carries the plot along at a speedy pace with sinister red herrings. What I love about Scream Queens is the dialogue and the jokes. Every character gets to be funny, but especially Roberts as Chanel ("What was I supposed to do?" she asks rhetorically at one point when someone questions her horrible behavior, "True Tori was over, I was bored"). Jamie Lee Curtis, who plays the school's dean (and has a part in the baby plot too) is also great, and her presence, of course, is the stuff of fan fiction. And Lea Michele! As a creepy, obsequious, morbid sorority pledge in a neck brace! Please, please stay good, Scream Queens.

Give It a Chance: Limitless


CBS, Tuesdays at 10 p.m. (Starting Sept. 22)

Before there was the Scarlett Johansson movie Lucy, there was the Bradley Cooper film Limitless, a surprise hit in 2011. Both stories have explored the idea of people getting to use their brains' entire capabilities. But Cooper didn't turn into black goo at the end of Limitless. In fact, his character, Eddie Morra, appears in the pilot of this television continuation of the story. (Cooper is also an executive producer of the show.) Here, Brian (Jake McDorman), is a shmoe musician approaching 30 whose friends have all become respectable and whose family — his kind, disappointed parents are played by Ron Rifkin and Blair Brown — has learned to accept his limitations. When Brian runs into an old friend and former bandmate who slips him a mysterious pill, the now-brilliant Brian finds himself in the midst of both a murder and an FBI investigation of the drug, NZT. Jennifer Carpenter (Dexter), whose role is somewhat edgeless and thankless in the pilot, plays an FBI agent who is drawn to Brian. I see why CBS thought that Limitless could be adapted into a continuous story, and the pilot sets up both a procedural engine and a big arc. But I'm not sure either is hugely interesting in the age of Mr. Robot? Maybe Limitless will become less vanilla as it goes.

Give It a Chance: Rosewood


Fox, Wednesdays at 8 p.m. (Starting Sept. 23)

This show's highest aspiration is squarely in the middle. Morris Chestnut plays a magnetic, self-promotional, arrogant forensic pathologist (???) who charms the ladies and steamrolls the Miami PD (?????). I feel so confident that isn't a real thing in this world! Yet Rosewood is entertaining. Chestnut is lively, and the pilot sets up a warm family dynamic between him and his mother (Lorraine Toussaint) and his lesbian sister (Gabrielle Dennis) who works for him, along with her fiancé, TMI (literally, that is what she is called, and she's played by Anna Konkle). Rosie, as Chestnut's eponymous character is nicknamed, spars with and then collaborates with (Moonlighting style) a detective played by Jaina Lee Ortiz, a professional salsa dancer who's never been on TV before. Fox has paired Rosewood with Empire, network television's biggest drama success in years, but the two shows have little in common other than their black lead actors. If that helps Rosewood find an audience, I'm happy about it.

Give It a Chance: Heroes Reborn


NBC, Sept. 24 at 8 p.m. (Starting Sept. 24)

I don't quite know what to say. Like many people, I enjoyed the first season of Heroes in 2006–2007, and like many people, I stopped enjoying the show shortly after that. I stopped watching it during its second season, never to return for the next two. I think Claire (Hayden Panettiere) became a lesbian later? Even that did not tempt me to check back in with the show. But the first season of Tim Kring's superhero drama did many things well: It told a geographically sprawling story with a racially diverse cast; it introduced a well-picked ensemble (Zachary Quinto as Sylar!), and made unlikely stars of actors like Masi Oka; and it looked absolutely great, even figuring out how to do subtitles in a new, stylish way for television. And then it all fell apart; the story became boring and nonsensical. It died, rightly. So this 13-episode "event series" with Kring again at the helm? As previously stated, I don't know what to say! The two-hour premiere is fine. It introduces a slew of new characters with special abilities, and once again, HRG (Jack Coleman) is attempting to save the world (and possibly the cheerleader, too, though who knows — Panettiere is living over in Nashville). There was nothing about the premiere that made me think that history won't repeat itself, even in this shortened form, and there's a lot of good TV on these days. It's pretty tempting to say you should avoid this show, but maybe Heroes diehards will love it. So I will just say that I will be avoiding it.

Give It a Chance: The Player


NBC, Thursdays at 10 p.m. (Starting Sept. 24)

As with Fox's Minority Report, The Player's action is predicated on the idea of precrime. Philip Winchester plays Alex Kane, a Las Vegas security consultant with a wealthy clientele, who gets drawn into a high-risk game where rich people bet on real-life crime prevention. Through a set of (nonsensical) circumstances, Alex becomes the Player, and his high-speed, bullet-spraying doings are overseen by the house: the menacing Mr. Johnson (Wesley Snipes) and his sidekick, Cassandra (Charity Wakefield). The dynamic in the pilot among the three of them shows potential, and I'm fairly curious about the backstory of Cassandra, Mr. Johnson, and this game. Yet, as is the case with Blindspot, The Player could burn out quickly — and yes, it's strange that NBC has two dramas that have similar engines to The Blacklist. But for now it's nice to see Snipes, who has had such a strange career (derailed, of course, by his time in prison), having a good time, and I had a good time watching the pilot by osmosis.

Avoid: Blood & Oil


ABC, Sundays at 9 p.m. (Starting Sept. 27)

What a lost opportunity here. The whole Bakken region in North Dakota and Montana has become a destination for yearning, struggling American dreamers whose own hometowns have failed them. It's so inherently dramatic that there is fodder for a rich, nuanced series about the people living through this unlikely oil boom. (Watch the 2014 documentary The Overnighters if you haven't already.) Sadly, Blood & Oil is a total miss. It fails on every level, from its casting (Chace Crawford, no!) to its dialogue (a Native American "character" — scare quotes intentional — actually says, "Whoever kills a spirit animal is cursed"!) to its plotting (I don't know where to begin). I actually screamed at my television as I watched this pilot: Why does Don Johnson have a Southern accent! Why is that bartender woman British! Did I really hear a mystical, angry Native American person say, "Whoever kills a spirit animal is cursed"? Could this show — which is having a slew of behind-the-scenes problems — right itself, and evolve into Season 1 Nashville? I guess. But if you have any friends still held captive by Nashville as it continues to devolve, look into their haunted eyes and save yourself from that torture.

Give It a Chance: Quantico


ABC, Sundays at 10 p.m. (Starting Sept. 27)

Another no from ABC soapland, but at least this one has one redeeming quality. Quantico is about a class of hot FBI recruits who seem to be at the center of a terrorist attack that takes place in New York City months after they first convene. (Ha, typing that sentence made me feel insane!) This show is ridiculous, and taking a page from the flashback structure of How to Get Away With Murder seems premature. Because let's wait to see how Season 2 of How to Get Away With Murder fares! But such is life during the time of OMG TV: Short-term gains trump longevity. Yet Quantico has one huge thing in its favor, and that is Bollywood star Priyanka Chopra as its lead. Chopra, in her debut on American television, rises above this twisty mess, appearing smart, capable, and interesting. If the show can lift itself up to her — and surely that is showrunner Joshua Safran's goal — it could improve. Even if it doesn't, and her 11 million Twitter followers tune in, Quantico will be a success. (At least in the all-important short term!)

Be Excited: Grandfathered and The Grinder


Fox, Tuesdays at 8 p.m and 8:30 p.m. (Starting Sept. 29)

Fox moves away from its double-lady comedy hour (New Girl and The Mindy Project) by going in a very different direction. These two sitcoms are clever, sweet, and well-paired, so we'll see. In Grandfathered, John Stamos is Jimmy, a 50-year-old Los Angeles restaurant owner who has dated around and finds out that he's not only a father (to Gerald, played by Josh Peck), but a grandfather (to a cute little baby girl). We've seen plenty of men in comedies, including Stamos, who is in familiar territory here, have to learn to adapt to parenthood and rush around with babies. There is even a Kramer vs. Kramer reference in the show's pilot — Grandfathered is not the revolution, and knows it. The show's self-awareness is one of its pleasures, and its charm can carry it a long way if viewers show up for these sitcoms.

With The Grinder, you either like Rob Lowe's comedy lane or you don't: I am pro. Lowe and Fred Savage (also delightful!) play brothers. Lowe is Dean, a narcissistic TV star who has played a lawyer on a long-running legal procedural called The Grinder that's come to an end; Savage is Stewart, an actual lawyer and family man who is jealous of his dazzling brother. Lost in his post-Grinder malaise, Dean decides to start practicing law with Stewart, which at first Stewart resists but then (spoiler alert!) embraces. This pilot made me laugh consistently and hard, and I've been sad to read that it's been going through some tribulations. May they work out for the best.

Give It a Chance: Code Black


CBS, Wednesdays at 10 p.m. (Starting Sept. 30)

CBS's departing entertainment chairman, Nina Tassler, has been very clear that she wants Code Black to be ER, a show she developed when she was the head of drama at Warner Bros. And it does well at emulating that formula, at least in the pilot. ER introduced viewers to the world of a nonstop emergency room in which real medical language is tossed around without explication over bleeding, vomiting bodies. That's Code Black's challenge and problem, of course: All of this has been done before. (By Grey's Anatomy, too, though that show is also about sex, friendship, and the whole hospital.) Yet I semi-fell for Code Black anyway. I watched ER for all 15 seasons, and as it aged, I marveled at how enduring its stories — unfolding over just the one hour, or over years — were. On Code Black, Marcia Gay Harden plays Dr. Leanne Rorish, who has experienced a tragedy that has changed her practice, making her more callous, but also possibly more inventive and brave. Her counterpart is Neal Hudson (Raza Jaffrey), who’s finally getting to play a character with potential. (You may remember him from his disastrous Smash season or his recent wooden turn on Homeland.) There are the first-year residents, too, who are, of course, being hazed: There's the rich kid, the cocky guy, the mom who has gone back to work, and the teacher's pet. There's also Jesse (Luis Guzmán), the nurse who oversees the ER. Yes, we've seen all of this before! That's fine with me for now — especially with Harden on my television. (Also, this pilot made me cry in a scene that will be obvious when you see it.)

Avoid: Dr. Ken


ABC, Fridays at 8:30 p.m. (Starting Oct. 2)

At one point while I was watching Dr. Ken on ABC's terrible online press site, the streaming video froze on the show's lead, Ken Jeong. His eyes were shut, he was leaning to one side, and he was stuck waving his arms as if mid-seizure. It symbolized the mystery that anyone thought Jeong's exaggerated persona — developed as a side character in The Hangover and on Community — would work as the central character in this family sitcom. Watching Jeong's performance, more cartoon than man, is hard; it's uncomfortable. That he's surrounded by practiced actors who are performing in a standard, occasionally even sharp-witted show is harder. They seem to be trying to ignore his spasticity, which isn't possible. The pilot also features a tasteless, unpleasant cold open in which Ken bickers with a self-diagnosing patient: "Duh, it's a hemorrhoid," he says in an exaggerated linguistic mishmash of Asian patois and standard dummy, "and you would know, since your head's up your ass!" Bizarre.

Be Excited: The Last Kingdom

BBC America

BBC America, Saturdays at 10 p.m. (Starting Oct. 10)

This eight-episode series is fall television's other offering set hundreds of years ago in what's now the United Kingdom but was then only loosely held together. And The Last Kingdom is also muddy and violent, but unlike The Bastard Executioner, the main goal of that violence isn't to appall you. (Be warned, though, The Last Kingdom is not afraid to kill its more recognizable faces.) The plot is based on Bernard Cornwell's The Saxon Stories, which have a loyal following. Alexander Dreymon plays Uhtred, a highborn Saxon kid during the ninth century who is adopted by Danes, until — well, that doesn't work out, and he has to figure out where his loyalties lie. Dreymon is a star to watch (he's appeared in American Horror Story), and for once in a show like this, the character is not dour, and even looks like he's having fun. (It helps that Emily Cox plays his friend and love interest, Brida, and they find time to mock each other even as they cross the countryside fearing for their lives.) The cinematography, by the way, is also beautiful, the battle scenes are impressive, and the series' music is propulsive. One more thing I really like about the four episodes of The Last Kingdom that I watched? All the men don't look alike. Someone actually made an effort in one of these settings to make sure that the faces and hair of the mostly male characters were distinct enough that I didn't spend the first hour or two completely confused. Thank you!

Avoid: Truth Be Told


NBC, Fridays at 8:30 p.m. (Starting Oct. 16)

Truth Be Told is a sitcom that engages with race deliberately and almost obsessively in its pilot, which also lays out its generic structure: Two couples who live next door to each other are best friends. (One of the couples has a young daughter.) What makes the show stand out is that Mark-Paul Gosselaar is the only white lead character, playing an ethics professor and dad. (His wife is played by Vanessa Lachey, and Tone Bell and Bresha Webb play the other couple.) After seeing its trailer at NBC's upfront presentation in May, I was dreading the show's jokes about race. But they're fine. Truth Be Told actually has a vision, and the cast sells the friendships well. What I should have been dreading is that there isn't a single funny moment in this pilot — not even close.

Be Excited: Supergirl


CBS, Mondays at 8 p.m. (Starting Oct. 26 at 8:30 p.m; it will move into its regular slot the following week)

If you were hooked on The Flash from the start, I can almost guarantee you will feel the same about Supergirl. (I say "almost" because what if you're a monster who dislikes female superheroes? You could be!) The newest DC Comics offering from Greg Berlanti, who — along with executive producer Andrew Kreisberg — has expertly adapted Arrow and The Flash on The CW, is to me the second best broadcast network show this season. (Scream Queens is No. 1.) Supergirl is charming, and it's sure of itself. One smart decision Supergirl's executive producers made is to avoid the now too familiar trappings of an origins story. When we meet Kara Zor-El (Melissa Benoist) in the pilot, she is fully aware of where she came from and what her powers are — she has just never really used them. That changes, of course, and though there's a reason for her to take off flying for the first time, it's clear that Kara is just ready for a more exciting life. She has an adopted sister who's her best friend (Alex, played by Chyler Leigh, who has a secret of her own); a job (like her famous cousin Kal-El, she has chosen journalism); a cartoonishly abusive boss (Calista Flockhart, who is having fun here); and male attention at work (Mehcad Brooks plays James — not Jimmy! — Olsen, and Jeremy Jordan is IT guy Winn Schott). So why not get involved in a secret government agency that battles the evil aliens her Kryptonian mother had put in prison, all of whom have escaped and now inhabit Earth? With Arrow and The Flash as a track record, there's no reason to think Supergirl won't be a blast. (Especially once it gets past the pilot's cutesy Superman references, calling him "big guy," the "man in blue," "my cousin," and "him." Stop it.)

Avoid: Angel From Hell


CBS, Thursdays at 9:30 p.m. (Starting Nov. 5)

It's not that I didn't laugh during the pilot for the single-camera comedy Angel From Hell, because I did — several times, actually. Jane Lynch has such precise, inventive comic timing, and it's a relief to see her on television playing someone who isn't Glee's Sue Sylvester: What a repetitive rut that part put Lynch in. As Amy, a drunken, crass guardian angel for Allison (Maggie Lawson) — an uptight doctor who is settling in every aspect of her life — Lynch is sharp, and she and Lawson (and she and Kyle Bornheimer, who plays Allison's brother) have nice chemistry. But what is Angel From Hell? Or more specifically, why is it? The pilot sets up an elaborate world in which Amy, who has watched over Allison her whole life, is so attached to her that she intervenes, breaking the "rules" of guardian angels. This is not a good premise for a television show, and the rational explanation, that Amy is a stalker — which Allison sometimes believes — is not fun or funny to play out, nor is it a source for good comedy. By the end of the pilot, the dynamic seems tired already. (And is a cheating boyfriend really all it takes to have your guardian angel break down the fourth wall? I feel like worse things have happened to me: Get down here, slacker!)

Be Excited: Master of None


Netflix (All 10 episodes of Season 1 will begin streaming on Nov. 6)

Even if you've never taken to Aziz Ansari's comedy or acting — because he can be grating — you still might like Master of None. Its lo-fi style turns Ansari's own volume down, and there's an unexpected thoughtfulness and even poignancy to the show, along with real, smart laughs. Ansari and fellow Parks and Recreation alum Alan Yang created this comedy together, clearly drawing from their own lives. Ansari plays Dev, a struggling New York actor, and the half-hour episodes are divided by theme. In the first one, "Parents," Dev and his Taiwanese American friend Brian (Kelvin Yu) reflect on their experience as the children of Asian immigrants who have benefited from — and as adults take for granted — their parents' sacrifices. We've actually never seen this on television before! It's kind of amazing, especially because it flows through comedy, not didacticism. (And Ansari's real parents play his parents, which— well, that is adorable.) The third episode, "Indians on TV," begins with a montage of Indian representation in pop culture that is truly horrifying when strung together. But if this description makes Master of None seem like it deals with a heavy hand, it really doesn't: The second episode (titled "The Other Man") is about Dev wrestling with the morality of having a fling with a married woman played by Claire Danes. I'm surprised and pleased to say that I can't wait to watch the rest of this show's first season.

Be Excited: Flesh and Bone


Starz, Sundays at 8 p.m. (Starting Nov. 8)

As the title indicates, this limited series set in the ballet world is interested in the body, which at least in the first two episodes includes a few difficult-to-watch moments. (I may have screamed at my desk during one of them in the show's first hour. It involves a toenail, and that is not a spoiler, it is a warning.) Grotesqueries aside, there are also the beautiful things the ballet dancers do with their bodies, and Flesh and Bone wants to show viewers that as well — as authentically as possible, it seems from the cast, who come largely from the dance world. Sarah Hay plays Claire, a skittish, gifted ballerina, who escapes from her home in the show's first moments (you find out the circumstances by the end of Episode 1) to head to New York and fulfill her ballet dreams. Hay has no poker face, and her emotional rawness works well for the character, who has a shred of confidence but mostly lives in a state of fear — which is not great in a backstabbingly vicious ballet company. There is a lot of plot in Flesh and Bone — the past Claire is running from, the many and layered politics of the dance company — and I'm a little worried that it's too much to wrap up in only eight hours. But from the 25% of it I saw, Flesh and Bone — created by Breaking Bad writer Moira Walley-Beckett — is pretty riveting. It's also gorgeous, and looks expensive: David Michôd, the director of Animal Kingdom and Rover, directed the first episode, and Ethan Stiefel (hi, Center Stage!) did the choreography.

Avoid: Agent X


TNT, Sundays at 9 p.m. (Starting Nov. 8)

For fans of Sharon Stone — and I consider myself to be one — who have felt that for many years she hasn't had the roles she deserves, Agent X should be a gift. If a 57-year-old woman, even one who looks like Stone, can't get good film parts anymore, then yes, of course she should come to television like so many women before her. TNT isn't HBO or Showtime, but with past shows such as The Closer (Kyra Sedgwick) and Saving Grace (Holly Hunter), it has proved to be a refuge for female actors of a certain age who once starred in movies to showcase their many talents. Given those precepts, I am especially sad to report that the hour I saw of Agent X was absolutely dreadful. (It will have a two-hour premiere, but I was provided only with its first: sweet relief!) This show's many problems begin with its premise: Stone plays the vice president (yes, of the United States!) who, upon moving into her official residence, discovers that there is a secret provision in the Constitution (yes, of the United States!) that the veep gets an agent assigned to them who helps ensure the safety of our nation. Just one agent, by the way — and he is played by Jeff Hephner. This show is overly violent — and it can't decide whether it's cartoonish or HBOish — and poorly scripted (at one point, watching Agent X's spy doings as they're filmed with his body camera, Stone's character exclaims, "Holy Toledo!"). Also, the Freemasons are mentioned. Get me out of here!

Be Excited: The Man in the High Castle

Amazon Studios

Amazon (All 10 episodes of Season 1 will be available on Nov. 20)

Amazon rescued this adaptation of Philip K. Dick's novel from development hell: For nearly 10 years, The Man in the High Castle bounced from the BBC to Syfy as a possible miniseries. In this expanded form, the show's creator, Frank Spotnitz (The X-Files), has rich material to work with from the book's famous premise — that Germany and Japan won World War II, and have divided the United States. It's 1962 when the show's action begins, and Joe Blake (Luke Kleintank), acting as a member of the resistance, sets off from Nazi-occupied New York to head for Colorado. Meanwhile, in Japanese-controlled San Francisco, restless Trudy Walker (Alexa Davalos), radicalized by her activist sister's murder, decides to head there too. Both Joe and Trudy are carrying film reels that indicate that perhaps things aren't as they seem: Is it possible that the Allies didn't lose after all? Yes, there's a lot to set up here, especially when you throw in this science-fiction element. But I'm hopeful about all of it. The show's visuals — the pilot was directed by David Semel — are impressive and ambitious. And The Man in the High Castle works on different levels, with the plot's ambitious infrastructure providing both a dynamic canvas for its thriller elements (seeing Times Square dominated by Nazi architecture and swastikas) and a chilling unfolding of small horrors. Yes, the Germans are still incinerating people, a fact that The Man in the High Castle casually drops in during the pilot's most effective moment.

Note: The premiere episodes for The CW's Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, ABC's Wicked City, NBC's Chicago Med, and Starz's Ash vs. Evil Dead were not available to screen, and therefore those series were not included. And though FX's Fargo and American Horror Story are anthology shows, they were not included either because the shows themselves are not new.


The actor who plays Brian's mother in Limitless is Blair Brown. An earlier version of this post misidentified her as Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, who plays an FBI agent on the show.

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