The fall TV season is fast approaching with the network’s blitz of new series. Some might last, but most will fail.
We sifted through the fall season's pilots for the most promising new shows. These aren’t reviews, per se – a lot can change between when a pilot is shot and the show actually airs. But pilots do help give us an idea about where the show in question is heading, and whether they hold latent possibilities for greatness. Our top five, in alphabetical order:
BEN AND KATE
Premieres Tuesday, Sept. 25 at 7:30pm on Fox
Primetime is already lousy with half-hour comedies, many of them great and plenty of them terrible. This entry from Dana Fox (What Happens in Vegas) about the stunted lives of the eponymous adult siblings finds a nice, shaggy middle ground between traditional laffers and those hip, irreverent single-camera goof-offs. There’s room for the series, especially if it keeps playing to its strengths, namely the brother-sister relationship that feels lived-in, dynamic, and believable. Nat Faxon’s aggressive, droll line readings as Ben are almost Apatowian, and Dakota Johnson gamely lands her pratfalls and slapstick playing Kate. Really, the show resembles the kind of lazy Sunday laundry-folding background noise that sucks you in. Amusing, warm, and bordering on winning.
Premieres Thursday, Sept. 27 at 9pm on CBS
Yes, Benedict Cumberbatch is the preeminent portrayer of Sherlock Holmes, but Jonny Lee Miller’s broody take lands him smack in the middle of modern-day Great Detectives, right above Robert Downey Jr.’s overly fey performance. (It helps that Lucy Liu is going toe-to-toe with Miller as his Watson.) Set in New York, this Holmes is fresh out of rehab and working as a consultant for the police; Watson is hired by his father to keep him from relapsing. Miller plays Holmes as a charming, irascible genius with a dark past – think shades of Gregory House and Simon Baker’s titular Mentalist. It wouldn’t be CBS without the typically rote, vaguely sexy whodunits (they’ve helped build their empire, after all), but this duo has a crackling chemistry that eschews sexual tension: For once, it’s about them working (not getting) together.
Premieres Thursday, Sept. 27 at 7pm on ABC
The USS Colorado receives ominous orders to launch nuclear missiles at Pakistan from unofficial channels. When its captain (Andre Braugher) hesitates to question the directive, they’re fired upon by another American ship, marked enemies of the state and left for dead. The survivors take over an island NATO outpost and aim their nukes stateside: Until they unravel who set them up, they’re going rogue. If that sounds like the kind of heavily serialized, high-concept series you’d have to devote yourself to… that’s because it is. But creator Shawn Ryan (The Shield) knows how to make a thriller barrel along with intriguing characters (including a lobbyist played with particular gusto by The O.C.’s Autumn Reeser) and gripping, legitimate stakes. This geopolitical war drama may be Ryan’s greatest undertaking yet, but even if he fails, Andre Braugher wins the fall’s best performance as the submarine captain enamored with his own flashes of warlordism.
THE MINDY PROJECT
Premieres Tuesday, Sept. 25 at 8:30pm on Fox
Can TV sustain another winking, pop culture know-it-all? The Office producer-actress Mindy Kaling sells her brand – a charming, fizzy mix of armchair cultural studies and Meg Ryan-era romcom wistfulness – with slick professionalism. She knows how to make TV, and how to make it funny. Kaling plays an OB/GYN with a flair for witty asides and hooking up with her English Lothario co-worker. (“I think he’s Hugh Grant in About A Boy,” she explains. “I think he’s Hugh Grant in real life,” her friend rebuffs.) Kaling’s performance is a few beats short of finding its inner Tina Fey (who took about half a season to figure out Liz Lemon), but the riffs she’s written are sharp and the show zips along.
Premieres Wednesday, Oct. 10 at 9pm on ABC
Friday Night Lights’ Connie Britton is TV’s smartest gambler: She double-downs on her earthy, Southern charisma in this music drama (from Thelma and Louise screenwriter Callie Khouri) and ably takes the pot. She plays Rayna James, a country singer whose star is fading beneath a rising (and surly) ingénue (Heroes’ Hayden Panettiere) eyeing to steal the spotlight and Rayna’s producer and bandleader. In the busy pilot, there are also some cutie open-mic songbirds, sketchy political dealings involving Rayna’s father (Powers Booth), and not-terrible original music produced by T-Bone Burnett. But laced between those sudsy details is a critical sketch of the music biz: The much more interesting drama of Rayna’s internal negotiation between being creative and going commercial has whiffs of richness. Could be Almost Famous by way of The O.C.
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