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It’s almost that time of year again. The time when the various networks unleash a flood of new programming on the unsuspecting public: the 2014 Fall television season. Occasionally, there’s a gem amongst the riff raff, but more often than not, viewers are forced to wade through the new offerings, sampling each to see if it’s to their liking. Considering how many amazing show are already on the air- and with the bulk of them premiering alongside the multitude of new shows- it can be hard to find enough hours in the day to watch returning favorites and give the new shows a shot. Well, this down and dirty look at the different new shows set to premiere throughout the rest of 2014 aims to cut down on time you might waste trying out a show that has nothing to offer you. Think of it as the Cliff Notes to the 2014 new shows batch.
A few ground rules before we dive in. First, these are meant to be snap judgments based solely on the show’s plot, casting, and general pedigree (showrunners, spin-off source material, other source material, etc.). Furthermore, something that sounds absolutely nuts in a few sentence blurb could turn out to be amazing (see last year’s surprise hit Sleepy Hollow) and something that reads great on paper could turn out to be a bust (see Low Winter Sun). Finally, this is just a primer. Something to help you decide if you want to invest some time trying out a show, or if you’re willing to wait and see if a series touches the general pop culture realm’s interest before jumping on board. To that end, I’ve marked each new show as good, bad, or ugly. Good shows seem to be solid investments, and worth giving a legitimate shot beyond the pilot. Bad shows are more on the bubble, with some rewarding elements, but more evidence that the show likely won’t hold up over the long term- but if they entice you, you should give them a shot. As for the ugly, well, these are pretty much guaranteed bombs and not even worth a cursory look at their pilot. With that in mind, let’s get to the shows.
Black-ish, Wednesdays at 9:30/8:30 CT
What It’s About: An upper-middle class black man struggles to raise his children with a sense of cultural identity despite constant contradictions and obstacles coming from his liberal wife, old-school father and his own assimilated, color-blind kids.
Who’s In It: Anthony Anderson (who is also a producer), Tracee Ellis Ross, Yara Shahidi, Miles Brown, Marcus Scribner, Caila Martin, Laurence Fishburne (who is also a producer)
Snap Judgment: Anderson can be quite funny and can certainly carry a sitcom. Fishburne lends an air of gravitas to the project, but has announced he will only appear in a portion of the show’s first season due to his commitments to NBC’s Hannibal. If the series eschews broad comedy and really delves into cultural identity issues a la The Cosby Show, this could be a home run. If it goes for obvious jokes, it could be a disaster. I’d tentatively classify this as one of the good options.
Cristela, Fridays at 8:30/7:30 CT
What It’s About: Cristela is an American Latina straddling two cultures while not fully belonging to either. She’s in her sixth year of law school and living rent-free with her sister and brother-in-law. She hopes to land a prestigious law firm internship as her mother hectors her about getting a real job, her brother-in-law encourages her to move out and her sister runs low on patience.
Who’s In It: Cristela Alonzo, Terri Hoyos, Roxana Ortega, Carlos Ponce, Andrew Leeds, Sarah Halford
Snap Judgment: Another sitcom looking to mine cultural and family hijinks for laughs, this one looks to be more troubling. While Anthony Anderson and Laurence Fishburne are clearly recognizable names to the viewing public, ABC is taking a gamble on Cristela Alonzo winning over audiences on her own charm and charisma alone. While Alonzo might be up to the task, the show’s premise sounds pretty poorly constructed (I cannot imagine anyone lasting six years in law school- particularly considering how expensive law school is). I hate to say it, but on the premise alone, this one sounds pretty ugly.
Forever, Tuesdays 10:00/9:00 CT
What It’s About: Doctor Henry Morgan, New York City’s star medical examiner, has a secret. He doesn’t just study the dead to solve criminal cases, he does it to solve the mystery that has eluded him for 200 years—the answer to his own inexplicable immortality.
Who’s In It: Ioan Gruffudd, Alana De La Garza, Lorraine Toussaint, Donnie Keshawarz, Joel David Moore, Judd Hirsch
Snap Judgment: I’d love for this to turn out to be an amazing show cursed with a badly drawn premise, but this sounds like a pretty awful drama. I particularly want to like it, seeing as it has Lorraine Toussaint who is coming off a stellar turn on Orange is the New Black, but unless this one turns out to be another Sleepy Hollow, it’s in the ugly pile.
How to Get Away with Murder, Thursdays 10:00/9:00 CT
What It’s About: The brilliant, charismatic and seductive Professor Annalise Keating gets entangled with four law students from her class “How to Get Away with Murder.” Little do they know that they will have to apply what they learned to real life, in this masterful, sexy, suspense-driven legal thriller.
Who’s In It: Viola Davis, Billy Brown, Alfred Enoch, Jack Falahee, Katie Findlay, Aja Naomi King, Matt McGorry, Karla Souza, Charlie Weber, Liza Weil
Snap Judgment: Another soapy Shonda Rhimes drama for ABC. If you like Grey’s Anatomy or Scandal, this might be for you. If you’re like me and aren’t on the Shonda train, this is a skip. I’m classifying it as bad. But time will tell if it jumps into so bad it’s good territory.
Manhattan Love Story, Tuesdays 8:30/7:30 CT
What It’s About: Have you ever wondered what your date was thinking? This romantic comedy exposes the differences between men and women through the unfiltered thoughts, and often contradictory actions, of a new couple who have just begun dating.
Who’s In It: Analeigh Tipton, Jake McDorman, Nicolas Wright, Jade Catta-Preta, Chloe Wepper, Kurt Fuller
Snap Judgment: Based solely on ABC’s tagline for the series, this sounds like a mess. But, if it goes the route of some other charming ABC comedies (Happy Endings and Trophy Wife), this could easily morph into a cult favorite. Until that happens, I’m calling this one bad.
Selfie, Tuesdays 8:00/7:00 CT
What It’s About: Eliza Dooley has 263,000 followers who hang on to her every post, tweet and selfie. But one lonely day she has a revelation: being friended is not the same as having actual friends. She asks marketing guru Henry to ‘rebrand’ her self-obsessed reputation and teach her how to connect.
Who’s In It: Karen Gillan, John Cho, Tim Peper, Allyn Rachel, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, David Harewood
Snap Judgment: It’s fitting that this should come at the end of the ABC list, as it sounds like the worst of the crop. Remaking Pygmalion/My Fair Lady is understandable, but cursing the show with such an awful name? Inexcusable. That being said, I would recommend viewers simply check out the original play itself, or watch the excellent film version of My Fair Lady. I’m fairly certain it would be a better use of your time than watching this show. Definitely ugly.
Madam Secretary, Sundays 8:00/7:00 CT
What It’s About: Explores the personal and professional life of a maverick female Secretary of State as she drives international diplomacy, wrangles office politics and balances a complex family life.
Who’s In It: Tea Leoni, Tim Daly, Bebe Neuwirth, Erich Bergen, Geoffrey Arend, Patina Miller, Evan Roe, Katherine Herzer
Snap Judgment: A relatively strong cast, but television doesn’t have the best track record with female fronted political dramas. The emphasis on a complex family life makes me very worried about how well the show will do with balancing the political intrigue with potential dull family drama. I’m going to skip this one, but I’ll mark it bad because of the cast’s potential.
NCIS: New Orleans, Tuesdays 9:00/8:00 CT
What It’s About: Set at the NCIS New Orleans office, which handles cases from Pensacola through Mississippi and Louisiana to the Texas panhandle.
Who’s In It: Scott Bakula, Paige Turco, CCH Pounder, Zoe McLellan, Lucas Black
Snap Judgment: Does the world really need a NCIS spin-off? CBS certainly seems to think so. The show doesn’t look very promising, but its biggest crime is wasting the talents of Scott Bakula on a run-of-the-mill procedural. However, his presence lifts this one up to bad rather than ugly.
Stalker, Wednesdays 10:00/9:00 CT
What It’s About: A drama about detectives who investigate stalking incidents – including voyeurism, cyber harassment and romantic fixation – for the Threat Assessment Unit of the LAPD.
Who’s In It: Maggie Q, Dylan McDermott, Victor Rasuk, Mariana Klaveno, and Elizabeth Rohm
Snap Judgment: Early buzz on this series is pretty grim- mostly that it seems to glorify stalking rather than highlight the destructive nature of the crime. Considering it’s paired with CBS’s other gruesome series Criminal Minds, this should makes for a dark evening of television. I can’t get behind a show that show stalking in a potentially positive light (although I have no doubt the show will do brisk business in the ratings department), I’m labeling this one ugly.
Scorpion, Mondays 9:00/8:00 CT
What It’s About: An eccentric genius and his international network of super-geniuses form the last line of defense against the complex threats of the modern age.
Who’s In It: Elyes Gabel, Katharine McPhee, Robert Patrick, Eddie Kaye Thomas, Ari Stidham, Ernie Hudson
Snap Judgment: The phrase “eccentric genius” always worries me, but this sounds like it could potentially be a fun series. The cast is pretty intriguing as well. I’m going to label this one good.
The Flash, Tuesdays 8:00/7:00 CT
What It’s About: Barry Allen is a Central City assistant police forensics investigator who arrives in Starling to look into a series of unexplained robberies that may have a connection to a tragedy in his past. A comic book fanboy, Barry is obsessed with the Arrow unaware that working with Oliver and Felicity to solve the crime has brought him right into the dangerous world of the vigilante.
Who’s In It: Grant Gustin, Jesse L. Martin, Rick Cosnett, Danielle Panabaker, Candice Patton, Carlos Valdes, Tom Cavanaugh, John Wesley Shipp, Michelle Harrison, Patrick Sabongui
Snap Judgment: I’m a major fan of Arrow, but I will admit to being a bit wary about The Flash. I wasn’t sold on Grant Gustin in his appearances on Arrow, but I like that this series appears to be a bit lighter in tone than the sometimes uber-dark Arrow. I trust the creative team to do this one right, so I’m marking it as good.
Jane the Virgin, Tuesdays 8:00/7:00 CT
What It’s About: A series of surprising and unforeseen events causes a hard-working, religious young Latina to be accidentally artificially inseminated. Adapted from a Venezuelan telenovela.
Who’s In It: Gina Rodriguez, Jaime Camil, Yael Grobglas, Brett Dier, Andrea Navedo, Justin Baldoni, Ivonne Coll, Ryan Devlin
Snap Judgment: This one sounds weird on paper, but the last telenovela translated for American TV was a pretty amazing series (Ugly Betty, RIP). I’ve heard nothing but good things about this one, and I’m intrigued to see if it holds up to the high praise. Give this one a try- it looks like it might be one of the good ones.
Gotham, Mondays 8:00/7:00 CT
What It’s About: Explores the origin stories of Commissioner James Gordon from the Batman comics and films — who is still a detective and has yet to meet Batman — and the villains who made Gotham City famous.
Who’s In It: Ben McKenzie, Donal Logue, Robin Lord Taylor, Zabryna Guevara, Sean Pertwee, Erin Richards, Jada Pinkett Smith, Drew Powell, Cory Michael Smith, David Mazouz, Camren Bicondova
Snap Judgment: Easily the most buzzed about show of the new television series, Gotham will likely be the breakout hit of the Fall. My only worry is that the series is focusing too much on both young Bruce Wayne and the iconic villains from the Batman universe and not enough of Jim Gordon. Either way, this one is firmly in the good column.
Gracepoint, Thursdays 9:00/8:00 CT
What It’s About: An American version of the British drama Broadchurch, the series will explore the murder of a young boy in a small town and its impact on the residents- one of whom is likely the killer.
Who’s In It: David Tennant, Anna Gunn, Michael Peña, Nick Nolte, Jackie Weaver, Kevin Zegers
Snap Judgment: This will be a good show, since the original British series (which also starred Tennant) was excellent. But, I don’t see the point of remaking a show that aired last year on BBC America (and is available on Netflix). I’d recommend watching the original version first, rather than the American imitation.
Mulaney, Sundays 9:30/8:30 CT
What It’s About: Follows an aspiring comedian coming of age in NYC under the influence of his over-the-top boss — who was a major stand-up comedian in the 1980s and ’90s and now hosts a game show — his roommates and his neighbors.
Who’s In It: John Mulaney, Martin Short, Elliott Gould, Nasim Pedrad, Seaton Smith, Zack Pearlman
Snap Judgment: This cast is incredible and the premise sounds pretty funny as well. I’m very intrigued and putting this in the good pile.
Red Band Society, Wednesdays 9:00/8:00 CT
What It’s About: A group of teenagers meet as patients in the children’s wing of a hospital and become unlikely allies and friends.
Who’s In It: Griffin Gluck, Octavia Spencer, Charlie Rowe, Rebecca Rittenhouse, Zoe Levin, Brian “Astro” Bradley, Ciara Bravo, Nolan Sotillo, Dave Annable
Snap Judgment: I’m one the fence with this one. The trailer looks interesting, but teen angst combined with deadly illnesses screams of sacchrine melodrama. If the show can avoid that, it will squeak into the realm of the good, but until it proves itself, I’m labeling this one bad.
A to Z, Thursdays 9:30/8:30 CT
What It’s About: Whimsical romantic comedy set in the world of an online dating company that details the “A to Z’s” of a relationship, from meeting to breakup. The ensemble navigates the complicated world of modern dating and poses the question: Is there such a thing as destiny?
Who’s In It: Cristin Milioti, Ben Feldman, Henry Zebrowski, Leonora Crichlow, Christina Kirk
Snap Judgment: Destiny is in the show’s official breakdown, and that pretty much lobs this one into the realm of the bad right away. NBC has had awful luck with comedies over the past few seasons, and this one does not sound any better.
Bad Judge, Thursdays 9:00/8:00 CT
What It’s About: It centers on a hard-living, sexually unapologetic woman who plays with the law and whose life on the edge is constantly in balance because she also happens to be a judge in the criminal court system.
Who’s In It: Kate Walsh, John Ducey, Tone Bell, Theodore Barnes, Miguel Sandoval
Snap Judgment: You’re so much better than this, Kate Walsh. I’m not sure how a judge who “plays with the law” is funny. Ugly all the way.
Constantine, Fridays 10:00/9:00 CT
What It’s About: Based on the characters in DC Comics’ stories about John Constantine, an enigmatic and irreverent con man-turned-reluctant supernatural detective who is thrust into the role of defending us against dark forces from beyond.
Who’s In It: Matt Ryan, Harold Perrineau, Charles Halford
Snap Judgment: For fans of the Constantine character, this is a watch. For others, I’d be wary. The show has already replaced its female lead, which is a red flag. I’m putting this in the bad column.
Mary Me, Tuesdays 9:00/8:00 CT
What It’s About: A young couple gets engaged — and they quickly realize it’s harder than it looks.
Who’s In It: Casey Wilson, Ken Marino, John Gemberling, Tim Meadows, Tymberlee Hill
Snap Judgment: I love the cast and the pedigree (it was created by one of the co-creators of Happy Endings), so I’m putting it in the good column despite its flimsy premise.
The Mysteries of Laura, Wednesdays 8:00/7:00 CT
What It’s About: Based on the popular Spanish series Los Misterios De Laura follows the life and relationships of a female homicide detective who can handle murderous criminals — but not her evil twins.
Who’s In It: Debra Messing, Laz Alonso, Josh Lucas
Snap Judgment: This sounds beyond ludicrous. Definitely ugly.
State of Affairs, Mondays 10:00/9:00 CT
What It’s About: Centers on a key CIA attaché who counsels the president on high-stakes incidents around the world. She balances her intense political responsibilities with a complicated personal life.
Who’s In It: Katherine Heigl, Sheila Vand, Adam Kaufman, Alfre Woodard, Cliff Chamberlain, Leslie Odom Jr.
Snap Judgment: This is a poor man’s Homeland but with Katherine Heigl instead of Claire Danes. The show’s showrunner has already stepped down, which tends to signal a train wreck. Ugly for sure.