6 Best New Shows
Cops, criminals, heroes, and sex scientists made our critics' list this fall
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Tuesdays, 8 p.m., ABC
Leave it to Joss Whedon to co-create a smarter superhero drama, one that geeks out over conventions as often as it skewers them. S.H.I.E.L.D. brings The Avengers‘ Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) back from the dead to lead a covert government force that protects mortals from mutants, choreographs exquisite fights to French music, and wages awesomely nerdy debates about whether Thor is a god. When not planning helicopter escapes, the crew is joking about what Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division means to them. ”It means someone really wanted our initials to spell out S.H.I.E.L.D.,” quips Agent Ward (Brett Dalton). Throw in some comic-book jokes and you’ve got the best Marvel caper since that green monster and some beefcake with a hammer saved the city last summer.
Tuesdays, 8:30 p.m., Fox
Workplace comedies and cop shows are played out. But a cop show that doubles as a workplace comedy? Hilarious! That’s the thinking behind the latest project from Michael Schur and Dan Goor (Parks and Recreation), which casts Andy Samberg as a man-child detective who’s such a goofball he’d probably use his Glock to rescue a kitten from a tree. And Schur and Goor aren’t far off from their goal, especially with the great Andre Braugher as the uptight gay captain who’s not amused by the squad’s jokers. The fact that a gay character plays the comedy’s straight man is just one of its tweaks on buddy-cop tropes. (That Braugher is poking fun at his own police-drama history is another.) With its dose of slapstick, it’s the perfect middle ground between Barney Miller and The Office. Just call it NYPD: WTF?
Masters of Sex
Sundays, 10 p.m., Showtime
You might think it’s just Mad Men with gratuitous nudity, and you wouldn’t be totally wrong. This drama was inspired by William Masters (Michael Sheen) and Virginia Johnson (Lizzy Caplan), whose research in human sexuality landed them on Johnny Carson’s couch — and in each other’s beds. But like Mad Men, it’s a fascinating look at what happens when the world is changing fast yet people remain the same. Caplan brings genuine depth to Virginia, whose character could’ve been an easy joke: She’s a club singer-turned-orgasm expert, and a case study in early feminism. Sure, a see-through dildo is used in the pilot. But if the show breaks down taboos, it’s a credit to Masters and Johnson, who clearly did their jobs.
Mondays, 8 p.m., Fox
The year is 2048. Technological innovation and crime have run amok, and cops are supported by robo-partners. John Kennex (Karl Urban) is rebuilding his life following a firefight with villains known as the Syndicate. Dorian (Michael Ealy) is an obsolete robo-droid programmed to be emotional and analytical. Together, future-crime is fought, and timely fantasy is made. A bromantic Blade Runner set in a world straddling utopia and dystopia, Human immediately engages you with a detailed vision of tomorrow. Led by two strong actors with buddy-cop chemistry, the show offers fresh takes on sci-fi archetypes and explores themes like reinventing outdated constructions of manhood and cultivating humanity in an increasingly synthetic culture. It comes from J.J. Abrams and longtime Fringe exec producer J.H. Wyman. Yes, there is a mysterious box. And when you see what’s inside, you’ll want to see more.
Mondays, 10 p.m., NBC
The Blacklist doesn’t win any points for originality, but it will win you over by being very good very quickly at exactly what it wants to be. James Spader lets the charisma rip as international man of secrets selling treachery Raymond ”Red” Reddington, who inexplicably surrenders to the FBI so he can (allegedly) bust underworld Lex Luthors like himself. As the fresh-out-of-Quantico profiler and the only agent Red will talk to, Megan Boone sparks nicely with Spader and confidently claims the heroic center of this action-packed mystery thriller. You’ll be reminded of Alias, The Silence of the Lambs, and a half-dozen other things, but The Blacklist starts with a well-produced bang that’ll hook you with the promise that it can be as entertaining as its influences.
Sundays, 10:30 p.m., HBO
Stephen Merchant, who created The Office with Ricky Gervais, puts a new face on self-deluding douchebaggery as the writer-star of the season’s funniest new comedy. He plays Web designer Stuart, a tact-challenged Brit in L.A. who’s not nearly as suave as he thinks. Sample (epic fail) come-on: ”No need to bring up abortion — not until we need to!” Early episodes focus on Stuart’s disastrous excursions with mopey pal Wade (Nate Torrence) and frenemy Kives (Kevin Weisman), a Don Juan in a wheelchair. How long before Stuart realizes he has a soul mate in Jessica (Christine Woods), a Web-series auteur who rents a room in his digs and brings out his humanity? Hopefully not for many hilariously rude and delightfully uncomfortable superfun nights to come.