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Well, now it gets serious. After all the reruns, the limited-run summer series (what did you think of Salvation? The Sinner? Were you shocked that Jessica Biel could act?) and surviving Stephen Colbert hijacking the Emmys into a political rally, the still-traditional fall TV season now truly swings into full gear.
Back in the Dark Ages – the 1980s and '90s, when I was working as a full-time television critic in Detroit – I could give you detailed descriptions of virtually every new series preparing to say hello in the next three weeks or so. To be a member of the Television Critics Association back then was to master the art of binge watching long before anybody gave it a cool name.
Because it's considered only polite (and mandatory) to see an artist's work before you interrogate them about it, I remember watching pilots of new series running on continuous closed-circuit loops in my Los Angeles hotel room during TV critic conventions, allowing me to background myself before attending the show's press conference the next day. Try being objective about the quality of a new family sitcom at 3:30 in the morning.
With virtually every cable service producing original series these days and the advent of streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, I really don't see how television critics do their jobs today without constantly feeling inadequate. And given the fact that, on average, nearly 70 percent of all first-year series get the axe before Season Two – many don't even make it to Thanksgiving – the whole process can feel like a futile exercise at times.
Still, we love TV. And because I'm now basically an average viewer without the advantage of sneak peeks, I have to say there are a number of freshman series I'm quite interested to see. Here, in reverse order based on level of curiosity, are my most Tempting Ten (all times EST):
10. LIAR, Sundance TV (premieres 10 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 27): Sundance TV is like PBS with commercials. Though it has been home to some outstanding original series the past few years (Rectify, Hap and Leonard and Cleverman leap to mind), I still get the sense most people tune to it for the Hollywood Reporter talk show roundtable and end-of-the-week Law & Order reruns. They might want to hang around for this six-episode mini-thriller starring Ioan Gruffudd (Fantastic Four) and Joanne Froggatt (Downton Abbey) in the all-time ultimate bad first date.
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8. Wisdom of the Crowd, CBS (premieres 8:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 1): Ari Gold is back! Only this time, Entourage's Jeremy Piven is brainier, brooding and immersed in grief. He plays a visionary tech genius who creates an ultra-intense crowdsourcing platform to help solve his daughter's murder – and possibly revolutionize law enforcement in the process. I'm fascinated to know how future episodes of this procedural drama will play out, how the series responds to the inevitable accusations that it encourages vigilantism, and how it avoids comparisons to CBS's previous high-tech crimebusting hit, Person of Interest. Whatever befalls, this show gets big ups from me because it returns the immensely likable Richard T. Jones (Judging Amy) to primetime. Loves me some Richard T.
7. Star Trek: Discovery, CBS All Access (premieres Sept. 24): Do I really need to explain this?
6. Me, Myself and I, CBS (premieres 9:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 25): The promise of this sitcom makes me happy for at least three reasons: (1) it's a unique, high-concept comedy – simultaneously watching a man in three distinct stages of his life, as child, adult and retiree – a rarity for the big networks; (2) it's a marvelous SNL graduation gift for Bobby Moynihan, a stalwart and standout performer on the latenight launching pad for nearly a decade, and (3) it marks the primetime return of two of the most legendary sitcom stars in TV history, John Larroquette (Night Court) and Jaleel White (Family Matters). Sure hope it's funny.
5. Law & Order True Crime – The Menendez Murders, NBC (premieres 10 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 26): I would pay money to watch the fabulous Edie Falco read a menu. So you can imagine how giddy I am over the prospect of her playing flamboyant, tough-tuches defense attorney Leslie Abramson, as Dick Wolf – who, can we all agree, is the preeminent procedural storyteller of our generation? – sets his Law & Order formula on a case not just "ripped from the headlines," but a true-life, eight-episode dramatization of one of the most spectacular murder cases in modern U.S. history.
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3. Will & Grace, NBC (premieres 9 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 28): Somebody try to tell me there is no God! What are the odds of getting all four original cast members from one of the funniest, most groundbreaking comedies of the last decade to reunite 11 years later for a W&G 2.0 edition that's as fast-paced and hilarious as the original, if not more so? It's a miracle! For TV's Fab Four –Debra Messing, Eric McCormack, Megan Mullally and Sean Hayes – it's as if time stood still. Yet two things have changed: America's acceptance of characters representing the full LBGTQ rainbow on television has increased significantly; and from the White House to pop culture, the show has a delicious range of new targets to skewer. (Every episode of the original series is streaming on the NBC app and on Hulu, which will air every new show the day after its network premiere.)
2. Dynasty, The CW (premieres 9 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 11): Devotees of primetime soaps as long in the tooth as I surely remember dashing, silver-maned John Forsythe as Blake Carrington, breathtakingly beautiful Linda Evans as Krystle – and who could ever forget the villainous machinations of Joan Collins as Alexis? Well, the character names are the same, but the faces have been changed and sure look innocent in this contemporary, multiethnic re-do of the most memorable and lavish '80s weekly melodrama next to Dallas. This nobody-you've-heard-of version promises to be younger, hotter, sexier, less homophobic – my word, to hear the producers talk, it might even cure baldness! When TNT attempted to reboot Dallas a few seasons ago they bought back many of the show's original characters; the braintrust for the new Dynasty says Collins will appear in upcoming episodes. (Does anybody really want to see that?) I think everybody in America seen that face slap in the promos by now. I'm fascinated to see how this all plays out, and if it can come anywhere close to capturing the magic of the original.
1. Young Sheldon, CBS (premieres 8:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 25): This is genius. (No pun intended.) The Big Bang Theory, while still undeniably America's No. 1 sitcom, is moving down the backstretch as it enters its 11th season Monday night. Why not groom its heir apparent while the show still has some legs? "Old Sheldon," Jim Parsons, is an executive producer, narrator, and helped cast the spinoff's star, baby-faced, 9-year-old Iain Armitage. By all indications, he's phenomenal in the role. Big Bang will be the lead-in for its premiere, but its second episode won't air until November 2! Hey, no pressure, right? Anything less than spectacular ratings for Young will make CBS restless. What I want to know is, will viewers find the same lines they howl over when deadpanned by Parsons as funny coming from an imperious, snot-nosed kid? (Amaze your friends with this factoid: Zoe Perry, who plays young Sheldon's mom, is the real-life daughter of Laurie Metcalf, who appears in a recurring role as adult Sheldon's Bible-thumping mother on Big Bang.)
Those are my really-wanna-sees for fall. What are some of yours?
* * *
This is a huge deal. Her stock response this time of year is, "I'm not taking on any new shows at this time."
Mercifully, some of her selections are the same as mine.
In no particular order:
White Famous, 10 p.m. Sundays, premiering Oct. 15 (Showtime);
Ten Days in the Valley, 10 p.m. Sundays, Oct. 1 (ABC);
Young Sheldon (CBS);
9JKL, 8:30 p.m. Mondays, Oct. 2 (CBS);
Me, Myself and I, (CBS);
Law & Order True Crime – The Menendez Murders (NBC);
SEAL TEAM (CBS);
Will & Grace (NBC);
S.W.A.T., 10 p.m. Thursdays, Nov. 2 (CBS).
The last choice, I have no doubt, may have something to do with Shemar Moore.
(Photos Courtesy CBS, ABC.)