Just how original is Fox’s “original programming” for its 2016-2017 season? On Monday, the network announced that nearly 90 percent of its prime-time schedule for the 2016-2017 season will feature original programming. Yet, this fall, Fox is premiering three updates of decades-old movies (Lethal Weapon, The Exorcist, Rocky Horror Picture Show). For midseason, it has scheduled a reboot (Prison Break), a spin-off (24: Legacy), and a new musical drama from Lee Daniels (Star) that looks quite a bit like the last musical drama from Lee Daniels (Empire).
With American Idol missing from its schedule for the first time since 2003, Fox is banking on recognizable titles. Not surprisingly, though, the few series that actually do look original — a goofy time-travel comedy from Phil Lord and Chris Miller (Lego Movie), and an intense drama about law enforcement, crime, and race from Gina Prince-Bythewood and Reggie Rock Bythewood (Beyond the Lights) — also look the most promising. Unfortunately, they’re midseason titles, so I’ll wait until closer to midseason to judge them. In the meantime, here’s your snap-decision guide to two familiar properties coming this fall, and one live-action/animation hybrid comedy that you’ve likely never seen anything like before.
Wednesdays, 8 p.m., before Empire
“You ready for this?” Those are the first words we hear in this trailer, spoken by ex-Navy SEAL-turned-detective Martin Riggs (Clayne Crawford). Somewhere out there in TV Viewerland, there’s a sweaty guy clutching an overdue Lethal Weapon VHS tape from Blockbuster, and he’s been waiting nearly 30 years to shout, “HECK YES!” This update of the Mel Gibson/Danny Glover classic is the kind of laughably over-the-top, loose-cannon dramedy they don’t make anymore, probably for good reason, considering how old-fashioned it looks at a time when cops aren’t exactly celebrated for breaking from protocol. An early scene shows Riggs pressing a bank robber’s gun to the middle of his forehead, then shooting all the bad guys, stealing a piece of pizza from one dead man’s grasp, and slowly walking out the door to join his partner, Roger Murtaugh (Damon Wayans, Sr.), before the whole building blows up behind him. He’s exactly the kind of action hero that Lonely Island was already making fun of back in 2009 with the song “Cool Guys Don’t Look at Explosions.” Sample lyrics: “Cool guys don’t look at explosions / They blow things up and then walk away / Who’s got time to watch an explosion? / There’s cool guy errands that they have to walk to.”
Director McG (Charlie’s Angels) never met an action-movie cliché he didn’t want to drive through a plate-glass window, and there are plenty of them here. “All Along the Watchtower” plays while Riggs jumps onto the roof of a red sports car and hangs on while it swerves through traffic. And Murtaugh, who’s back on the job after suffering a heart attack, looks like he’s about two cool-guy explosions away from his last breath. Wayans is charming enough with his ever-exasperated expression, but this show doesn’t reward performances like his. It just needs a bare-minimum excuse to dish out the kind of quotes you might find on a beer koozie. Like this one: “I like solving cases, not kissing asses.”
All of this might still be in good fun if Lethal Weapon didn’t also take itself so seriously. It’s not enough to learn that Riggs is a reckless crackpot because he’s traumatized by his wife’s death. We have to watch a flashback of her getting into a car crash while cradling her pregnant belly. (Note to TV writers: Can we please ban the “surprise,” filmed-from-the-passenger’s-perspective shot that’s figured in every sad, dramatic car crash for the past 10 years? If no one can do it better than Adaptation, then no one should do it again.) Add in the fact that Jordana Brewster’s LAPD hostage negotiator seems to do nothing on screen except furrow her brow, and you’ve got a very slight remake that doesn’t do justice to the original. As Murtaugh used to say, we’re getting too old for this s–t.
Fridays, 9 p.m., after Hell’s Kitchen — clever!
It’s an impossible task to improve upon what’s largely regarded as the best horror movie ever made. All the jump-scares in the world won’t replace your childhood nightmares of pea-soup vomit and 360-degree head spins. But there are promising elements to this project, including the fact that the series was directed by by Rupert Wyatt, who successfully revamped another franchise with Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Also, it might be the same old story, but the themes are vaguely contemporary, as the series appears to explore the battle between diehard Catholic traditionalists and the new face of the Church. Based in a Chicago parish, Father Tomas Ortega (Alfonso Herrera) is the type of compassionate, progressive Catholic that the Pope might support. But in order to complete an exorcism, he needs help from Father Marcus Brennan (Ben Daniels), a grizzled old priest who appears to have plenty of experience handcuffing children to beds. It’s an interesting set-up: Can demon-possessed young people simply talk out their feelings with a warm-fuzzy priest, or do they respond better to the old-fashioned, crucifix-burning-your-forehead brand of tough love?
As we ponder questions like these, the two priests are trying to help Angela (Geena Davis), whose eldest child Katherine (Brianne Howey) has just returned from college and spends her days in a dark bedroom, refusing to come out. She might be the spawn of the devil. Then again, she might just be bummed about living back home after graduation. I like that the trailer leaves it deliberately unclear whether the family is struggling spiritually or just psychologically. Angela seems to be projecting her own depression on her daughter. Her alienation from Katherine is making her paranoid about what’s really going on with her daughter, and you could read the fact that she’s “hearing voices” in the walls as an excuse to spy on her kid. Such choices give me hope that the premise might be sustainable beyond what we’ve already seen in the movie.
The cinematography is artfully eerie, especially in the nightmarish dream sequence with Father Brennan, and my anticipation is high for Daniels, who was marvelously intimidating in the underrated ballet drama Flesh and Bone. But I’m not yet sure that a pretty-good trailer justifies why The Exorcist needed to be turned into a TV show in the first place. Plus, it makes me laugh that the clip insists the show is “based on the world wide phenomenon.” Are they talking about the movie, or the act of being possessed?
Son of Zorn
Sundays, 8:30, between The Simpsons and Family Guy
Originally created by Reed Agnew (Wilfred, The Andy Milonakis Show, Crank Yankers) and Eli Zorn (Wilfred), who are known for creating wildly imaginative but polarizing shows with cult followings, this hybrid live-action/animated comedy seems destined to either join the ranks of the “brilliant but cancelled” or become a spectacular flop. I’m rooting for the former, even though Agnew and Zorn have since exited the project. They’re leaving it in the capable hands of exec producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller (Lego Movie), and it comes with a unique premise, a strong cast, and the trailer made me laugh a few times. Who knows? It’s been programmed between The Simpsons and Family Guy, two shows whose geek cred suggests their fans might be already pre-ordering personalized Zorn body armor, so maybe it will have more staying power than one might expect.
The story follows Zorn (voiced by Jason Sudeikis), an animated warrior who hails from an island of animated characters, but has returned to Orange County, Calif., after 10 years to win back his flesh-and-blood ex-wife, Edie (Cheryl Hines) and raise their son, Alangulon — or just “Alan” (Johnny Pemberton). Like the jokes in The Simpsons, the show’s punchlines are interpretive enough to reflect whatever biases you happen to have. When Zorn jokes that his boss (Artemis Pebdani) looks and talks exactly like a woman — “He carries a purse, he uses tampons!” — but can’t accept that his boss literally is a woman, because she’s his superior, it will likely be funny to all sorts of people, whether liberal or conservative, for all sorts of reasons. But don’t worry, it’s far less political that sentence suggests. For me, the best bit was the simple, violent, but legitimately hilarious gag with the bald eagle at the end of the trailer. Go watch it now if you haven’t yet, and tell me you aren’t at least curious enough to check out the pilot.