When I start hearing buzz about a new fall drama or comedy, I usually wait before diving right in. It needs to reel in some great reviews and ratings first, maybe an article here and there in Entertainment Weekly. After I read up on it and watch a trailer or two, I give it the ol’ pilot test. If the pilot episode hooks me, I stay with it for a while. If it doesn’t keep me interested, I try to rough it for a few episodes, given that some shows just take longer to really get underway, which I get. And even though I usually have a full fall roster every year ready to jam up my TiVo, I still try a couple new ones, just because. So this year, here’s what’s new to my ever-growing line-up and whether or not I think I’ll keep them ...
Best Time Ever, Tuesdays at 10 on NBC
As mentioned in my last column, I’m a huge Neil Patrick Harris fan so imagine my surprise when his hugely touted variety show, new to NBC this season, appeared to flop miserably. I found myself with a puzzled look on my face throughout much of the first episode, even fast-forwarding entire segments. The second episode did not fare much better. It’s as though he’s trying to cram much too much into every second and the pressure of performing it all live puts a strain on the easy-going, natural charmer that we know NPH to be. The audience participation in the first episode leaned more toward stalking and the second—an on-air proposal—seemed odd and out of place. His celebrity guest announcers falter awkwardly and “The End of the Show Show” runs the gamut from chaotic to sloppy. The only parts worth sitting through are the pranks and the physical obstacle course, which changes from show to show. But even so, after two episodes, I removed this from my TiVo to-do list. Sorry Neil, it just didn’t live up to its name.
Blindspot, Mondays at 10 on NBC
Every once in a while, a show comes along that sparks just enough intrigue to make it worth a watch. Will the show have as much of a draw once the mystery is inevitably solved remains to be seen, but for now, let’s enjoy the ride. This is true of “Blindspot,” a new NBC drama, starring Jaimie Alexander (Lady Sif!) as a woman who pops out of a duffel bag in the middle of Times Square—seriously—naked save for the labyrinth of tattoos covering her body. The first clue is the name of an FBI agent given prominent position on her back. If X marks the spot, that’s where the show starts, with said agent trying to find a clear path to answers through all the ink on this Jane Doe’s skin. The pilot already unraveled a few of those secrets and it’ll be interesting to see where it goes from there. But once the entire map is solved, what point will there be to continuing the show? How long can it possibly be drawn out? Season one: The back tats. Season two: Legs. Season three: Arm edition! The longevity is questionable, but for now, I’m just as curious as the characters to see who this woman really is, and why she was abducted, tattooed, and left to live as a walking Rubik's Cube.
Grandfathered, Tuesdays at 8 on FOX
I normally wouldn’t look twice at a show like this. It's bound to be a cliché with a plot that revolves around a typical bachelor type who suddenly discovers that not only is he a father, but a grandfather already ... it’s a weak premise for a sitcom, undoubtedly trite and poorly written, but I’ll give it a shot because the lead is the ageless John Stamos. It hasn’t aired yet, so we’ll see how it does in its first 20 minutes. Maybe I'm not being fair. Maybe it will surprise me. But the rest of the casting is questionable; Josh Peck plays the son while Christina Millian tries again to make an acting career work. Eh and more eh. I'm bracing for the worst—no offense to Uncle Jesse.
The Grinder, Tuesdays at 8:30 on FOX
Another FOX sitcom which hasn’t yet aired at press time, I’m giving this the test because the plot sounds like it has a bit more potential for true humor—“Television lawyer Dean Sanderson moves back to his small home town after a stint in Hollywood thinking his time on TV qualifies him to run his family's law firm.” (IMDb) I haven’t seen Fred Savage on TV since his brief cameo on his brother’s show as a sleazy teacher putting the moves on a student. As I understand it, he’s behind the camera more often these days, so it’ll be interesting to see how he does in front of it again. As for Rob Lowe, I’ve enjoyed his work in “Brothers & Sisters” and “Parks & Rec” and he has a habit of creating annoyingly charming characters. This sounds like it has potential. We shall see!
Scream Queens, Tuesdays at 9 on FOX
I was a massive (and I mean scarily massive) fan of “Glee” when it first began. For me, the show really hit its stride in the second and third season, and then faltered when half the characters graduated and it split its time between those moving on to post-high school life and those still roaming the halls at McKinley. Towards the end, it became really difficult to watch because Ryan Murphy and the rest of his team were trying much too hard to make it campy and ridiculous and it just didn’t fit with the theme of the show as it had evolved over the years. After “Glee,” they went on to create “American Horror Story,” a no-holds-barred anthology/gross-fest with each season progressing more toward shock value than story (though I still can’t seem to stop watching it). Now, with “Scream Queens,” it seems Ryan, Ian Brennan, and Brad Falchuk are trying to combine the two. And I hate it. With a surprising cast full of big names (Jamie Lee Curtis, cameos from Nick Jonas and Ariana Grande, Abigail Breslin, Emma Roberts, and of course, Ryan’s little princess, Lea Michele), you would think the star power would give it a little star quality. No such luck. Within the first SIXTY SECONDS of the pilot, I had a sinking suspicion that this show was going to turn into everything I hated about how “Glee” had ended. Aiming to be a satirical look at the modern millenial, “Scream Queens” is a “horror comedy” about a masked murderer plaguing an elite university sorority. Absolutely everything about it is over-the-top and while some may find that sort of melodrama amusing, I find it makes for mind-numbingly mindless television. I choked my way through the two-hour premiere and deleted it immediately.
Empire, Wednesdays at 9 on FOX
This one’s a cheat because it’s already in its second season, however, it’s new for me. My mom caught a season one marathon on FX, recorded the whole thing, and she and I recently binge-watched it all in one weekend. So now we’re diving right into season 2. I have friends who watch this show and I remember seeing commercials all the time, wondering if I maybe should’ve given it a chance. But I was bogged down with fall-TV-fatigue at the time. Now I’m glad to have given it a shot. This is some damn good television. Terrence Howard, whom I’ve only really seen in minor roles in movies such as “Prisoners,” “August Rush,” and “Awake,” is electrifying as the stone-cold music mogul Lucious Lyon. It only takes the first episode or two to see why Taraji Henson was nominated for an Emmy for her role as his ex-wife, sharp-tongued Cookie. The music, most if not all of which is written and produced by Timbaland, is radio-ready, catchy, and addictive. It also didn’t take long for me to pick a favorite character (Jamal!) ... I can’t wait to see what season 2 has in store and I’m definitely happy that I took the time to join the empire.
DOUBLE BONUS (This entry not found in the printed version out October 1.)
Quantico Sundays at 10 on ABC
"The FBI's top recruit is now their most wanted." That's the tagline for this riveting whodunnit thriller set within the Virginia training base where a new class of recruits is learning how to become the best of the best. Front and center is Alex Parrish, played by newcomer Priyanka Chopra, whom we see in flash-forwards is the prime suspect in being a sleeper agent and has now had a heavy hand in causing the worst terrorist attack on American soil since 9/11. So there's the intrigue factor! Is she truly guilty? She appears to have been framed and only time will tell as we whittle the class of 50 down to the top suspects. "Thirty years old and I'm back at summer camp," one future agent complains and that's where the fun factor starts to play a role. The new recruits are a diverse group of young adults, forced into dormitory-like living quarters, exercising their interrogation tactics by discovering each other's secrets, and acknowledging that they all joined for vastly different reasons. But which one is secretly a terrorist? And why? I was vaguely interested in this when I read about it and I'm glad to have given it the pilot test. I'll definitely be tuning in week after week to see if I can follow the clues and predict the truth.