Trying to decide what new shows to check out each fall is a crapshoot. How many times have you started watching a new program only to have the network pull the plug after a couple weeks?
Best bets. At the top of my list is Westworld (HBO, Sundays 8 p.m., premiered October 2), not just because anything on HBO is a sure bet, but getting Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, Jeffrey Wright, and Evan Rachel Wood to sign on is overkill. Turning the movie into a series plays up the Fantasy Island aspects, in which every week new characters learn (or fail to learn) valuable life lessons, while putting off the high-tech-theme-park-gone-haywire. Could Westworld work where Joss Whedon’s Doll House did not? Let’s find out.
This is Us (NBC, Tuesdays 9 p.m., premiered September 20) earns my vote for new show that aims highest. The conceit is that we follow a diverse group of 30-somethings who all happen to have the same birthday. The pilot was absolutely brilliant, the best family drama pilot I have seen since thirtysomething itself, full of twists and turns with beautiful payoffs. You will not forget this one.
Designated Survivor (ABC, Wednesdays 9 p.m., premiered September 21) reminds me of Tom Clancy’s Debt of Honor, embodying the idea that the system is not going to change unless you get rid of all the chickens. Kiefer Sutherland plays it low-key as a Cabinet Secretary who becomes President of the United States when most of the government gets blown up by what we presume are terrorists...or was it? Of course the few who survive all think they can do better than the man who has the job. Think of it as Mr. Smith Goes to Jericho. I freely admit this is the show that will tick me off the most and allow me to scream at the television about all the idgits in the dat gum guv’ment.
Willing to take a look. Casting is worth more than concept. Take, for example, Conviction (ABC, Mondays 9 p.m., premiered October 3), about a former First Daughter who investigates wrongful incarcerations. Being confronted with injustice most weeks (they can’t all be innocent, right?), could wear on the soul. But it has Hayley Atwell and, if they are not going to bring her back as Marvel’s Agent Carter, this is better than nothing. Maybe.
Bull (CBS, Tuesdays 8 p.m., premiered September 20), about a trial consultant played by Michael Weatherly, might work better as a movie than a weekly series. How many variations on this theme can you pull off? But the show is promoting itself as doing for lawyer shows what House did for medical shows. Hugh Laurie spent eight seasons being wrong for 50 minutes (Lupus? Could it be lupus?), before figuring out the zebra in the room at the last minute. Which means it all comes down to Weatherly.
Guilty pleasures. There are several new programs I will check out without any illusion that these are future Emmy winners for Best Drama, but they could be fun.
Timeless (NBC, Mondays, 9 p.m., premiered October 3) is at the top of the list. When I was a kid I was hooked on Time Tunnel, where they did things like try to stop the Titanic from sinking but nobody would listen. On Timeless, a trio of history-hopping heroes is trying to stop a time-traveling villain from changing history, so they have to do things like make sure Abraham Lincoln is assassinated. (People of my generation should be thinking “The City on the Edge of Forever” from Star Trek.) The question is whether people who know nothing about American history (a.k.a., the American public) will enjoy such shenanigans.
Pitch (FOX, Thursdays 8 p.m., premiered September 22) is about the first female pitcher in the major leagues. Here in Duluth, we know a little something about female pitchers, although I bet this show was inspired by Mo’ne Davis at the 2014 Little League World Series. Again, I am reminded of a show from the past, Bay City Blues, and I like baseball, so I am curious to see what this serves up.
My top guilty pleasure offering is The Exorcist (FOX, Fridays 8 p.m., premiered September 23). The book was the worst written captivating story I ever read, and the movie remains one of the scariest of all-time. Based on the first two episodes, this is the best new show of the season, and the fact it is on broadcast television makes that even more impressive.
The story and characters are similar, but not the same: experienced older priest and skeptical younger priest, terrified mother (Geena Davis) and possessed daughter, but now the family has another daughter and a father. The show takes all this stuff seriously. How good is it? My wife is watching and the book scared her to death, so much she never went near the movie.