ABC's fall schedule: A snap judgment
Who paid for ABC’s upfront presentation at Avery Fischer Hall? According to Disney ABC Television Group President and resident funnyman Ben Sherwood, it was Shonda Rhimes—the woman behind the TGIT lineup of Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and How to Get Away With Murder, shows that Sherwood joked “literally drive up sales of red wine and popcorn.”
Actually, many of ABC’s new shows could also be credited for that sales boost—not just Rhimes’ own thriller The Catch, but also the Shondaland-esque drama Quantico and the ambitious-woman-whose-personal-life-is-falling-apart mystery The Family. Yet the most promising trailers are comedies, judging by our totally scientific analysis. (Okay, we watched them once and felt qualified to judge the whole series.) More thoughts on which shows deserve your best pinot noir below.
It’s billed as a more “adult” twist on the Muppets, but before you start imagining Dr. Teeth snorting cocaine off Janice’s midriff, that just means we’re seeing the Muppets’ personal lives and everyday moments for the first time. Kermit gets stuck in traffic on the 405. Piggy deflects rumors that she quit starring in a movie to be with Kermit. Fozzie meets his girlfriend’s parents, only to discover that they’re prejudiced against bears. (“If you have children, where will you raise them? Where will they go to the bathroom? In the woods?“) The writing is sharp and funny and just sweet enough to remain on-brand. Somehow, even the dated faux-documentary style works, thanks to Gonzo’s meta-commentary on the format. The Muppets will have to avoid simply coasting on brand recognition and nostalgia, but… hey, look! There’s the Swedish chef! And Beaker! What was I saying again?
Fraud investigator Alice Martin (Mireille Enos) becomes a victim of fraud herself when her fiance steals everything she owns before their wedding day. Bent on revenge, she hunts him down. Already, the premise has its problems: Why would any self-respecting con artist ever choose a fraud investigator as his mark? But the fact that this project comes from executive producers Shonda Rhimes and Betsy Beers (Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, How to Get Away With Murder) suggests that everyone’s motives are much trickier than initial impressions suggest. (“Who is conning who?” the trailer asks. Dun-dun-DUN!) This is exactly the type of double-back plotting that the Shondaland team excels at, and it’s great to see Enos relishing a femme fetale role after her somber, Emmy-nominated turn in The Killing. Putting on red lipstick just to smash some windshields, she makes being a scorned woman look like fun.
A drama about the oil business in North Dakota? It might be a hard sell to anyone outside the Heartland. Married couple Billy (Chase Crawford) and Cody (Rebecca Rittenhouse) Lefever move to “The Bakken,” hoping to build their own oil empire, but they’ll have to get past a local tycoon (Don Johnson) who complicates everything, including their relationship. The trailer features a car accident, a shoot-’em-up fight in a local bar, and a blazing oil fire, but the action sequences don’t do much to liven up the heavy exposition. (“This is unbelievable! The richest areas of oil are on lands previously thought barren. They’re at least ten times bigger than the Saudi field.”) The soapy melodrama doesn’t mix well with the PBS-worthy econ lessons. And this show needs fewer panoramic shots of wheat fields if it wants to be the Dynasty of the Midwest.
Following the model of True Detective, Wicked City follows a different case set in a different era of L.A.’s history every season, starting with a 1982 murder case that takes place within the sex-drugs-and-hairspray world of the Sunset Strip. As anyone who’s read Motley Crue’s The Dirt knows, that was a colorful scene, one that would’ve made for a really vibrant flashback. But from the moment a local rock fan (Ed Westwick) brings a woman back from a concert, into his car, and stabs her in the head while she’s, uh, ducking down beneath his dashboard, it’s clear that this isn’t going to be that kind of show. Add in Erika Christensen as a groupie who’s turned on by violence, and the tone of Wicked City gets weird. Are its writers attacking the misogyny of the Sunset Strip scene, or just exploiting the most extreme side of it? I’m betting on the latter. On the upside, though, the soundtrack should be awesome.
Who would’ve thought that mixing Homeland with How to Get Away With Murder might work? Quantico starts out like a promising Shondaland drama: A diverse range of “the best and brightest” recruits undergo training at the FBI Quantico Base, hook up with each other, and slowly realize that every one of them has secrets, even the clean-cut blond they call Golden Boy. But when Alex (Priyanka Chopra) is suspected of masterminding the biggest terrorist attack since 9/11, the show switches tone, becoming something more like a paranoid political thriller. Is its use of 9/11 imagery emotionally manipulative? Absolutely. But I have faith in showrunner Josh Safran (Gossip Girl, Smash). Let’s just hope he doesn’t make Golden Boy turn out to be a jihadist.
THE REAL O’NEALS
This sweetly awkward comedy about a gay teenager and his Catholic family has many great things going for it, including a talented cast (including Martha Plimpton and Mad Men‘s Jay R. Ferguson as his parents), strong writers (Casey Johnson and David Windsor from Trophy Wife and Don’t Trust the B– in Apartment 23), and a producer credit for Savage Love columnist Dan Savage, whose real life inspired the concept. So maybe it’s not shocking that the trailer is funny. But it is a little surprising that The Real O’Neals gets away with jokes about prostitutes, Jesus, and condom-crazy teenagers without losing its image as a wholesome family show. Along with The Muppets, this looks like ABC’s best prospect for a hit, or at least a cult favorite, and the fact that it’s already drumming up a ridiculous controversy shouldn’t hurt the ratings.
Before he earned his reputation as the Hey, It’s That Guy! actor from your favorite comedies (the campy gangster in Pineapple Express, the blunt doctor in Knocked Up, the naked dude in The Hangover), Ken Jeong worked as a doctor in real life. So it’s extra sad to see that he went all the way through medical school… and all he got was this sitcom. Focused on a physician (Jeong) who has no bedside manner at work or at home, Dr. Ken offers little more than bad puns (working as a mime is “an invisible box that you cannot get out of”), broad jokes about overprotective parenting, and the same talent show gag that About a Boy pulled off better years ago. This isn’t quite what you’d expect from a guy who ABC describes as “the wildest comedian of our time.”
This mystery follows a politician (Joan Allen) whose young son (Liam James) returns to his family more than a decade after he disappeared. Is he really who he says he is? The fact that the premise so closely mirrors the story of The Imposter—a riveting documentary that I won’t describe here, lest I spoil anything–gives me high hopes for The Family, as does the cast, which also includes Alison Pill (The Newsroom), Zach Gilford (Friday Night Lights) and Andrew McCarthy (St. Elmo’s Fire). Too bad it’s overstuffed with dramatic subplots, including a scandalous affair, a contentious governor’s race, and the elder son’s struggle with alcoholism. Wasn’t a gripping true story enough?
OF KINGS AND PROPHETS
Decapitations! Sexposition! Woman with elaborately braided hair! This sepia-toned Biblical saga about a king (Ray Winstone), a prophet, and a young shepherd looks like it’s made for only two kinds of people: true believers and the kind of superfans who’ll watch anything that vaguely resembles Westeros while they’re waiting for the next season of Game of Thrones.
Every upfronts season, there’s one show that makes you ask yourself, How did that ever get made? Not because it’s poorly written, but because it’s, say, a remake of a 1989 John Candy movie that many people probably don’t remember. Uncle Buck stars Mike Epps in Candy’s role as the loveable but highly irresponsible nanny for his brother and sister-in-law’s kids. Right now, it’s unclear whether this update will amount to anything beyond age-old jokes about children doing inappropriate things (eating cake for breakfast! twerking!). But if anyone can add something to it, it’s Epps, who’s striking just the right balance between goofy manchild and that creepy older guy who still hangs out in the parking lot of your high school.