'The Man in the High Castle', 'Quantico', and more fall TV best bets from Melissa Maerz and Jeff Jensen
For EW’s Fall TV Preview mega-issue, we covered a whopping 115 new and returning shows. To help you narrow down the field, here are seven of your best bets courtesy EW critics Melissa Maerz and Jeff Jensen.
MELISSA MAERZ ON …The Man in the High Castle (Amazon, Nov. 20)
Inspired by the classic Philip K. Dick novel, this high-concept drama imagines what would happen if the Nazis had built the bomb first and won World War II, leaving America split into the Greater Nazi Reich (in the East) and the Japanese Pacific States (in the West). The premise alone is rich with political intrigue, as Juliana (Alexa Davalos) and Joe (Luke Kleintank) carry out secret missions during the early 1960s that may or may not help the Resistance. When Juliana discovers newsreels that suggest the Allies really did win the war, leading to a massive cover-up, her search for a rebel hero known as the Man in the High Castle will leave viewers furiously trading conspiracy theories on Reddit. But the plot isn’t even the best part. It’s the evocative paranoid world that creator/executive producer Frank Spotnitz (The X-Files) has built, cast in seasick greens and yellows, with swastikas, rising suns, and other propaganda hidden within billboards — and a creeping sense that you’ll never really know who or where the enemy is.Quantico (Sept. 27, 9 p.m. ET, ABC)
It’s the best Shonda Rhimes drama that Shonda Rhimes never touched. Created and produced by Joshua Safran (Smash) with Mark Gordon (Grey’s Anatomy), this soapy thriller follows FBI recruits (Priyanka Chopra, Jake McLaughlin, Yasmine Al Massri, Johanna Braddy, Tate Ellington, and Graham Rogers) as they train at Virginia’s Quantico base, where they discover that they all have — whisper it with us, now — secrets. One of them ends up masterminding the biggest terrorist attack since 9/11, and Alex (Chopra) is the main suspect, though every recruit seems suspicious. Like any good Shondaland drama, the pilot features oh-my-God twists, a suspenseful cliff-hanger, and a diverse cast of attractive, hyper-ambitious characters who generate enough sexual tension at work to warrant a call to HR. Plus, as a former Miss World who breaks typecasting as an inscrutable agent, Chopra’s bound to be a breakout star.Scream Queens (Sept. 22, 8 p.m. ET, Fox)
Is this twisted horror comedy satirizing Mean Girls, or acting like a mean girl itself? You might ask yourself that question as you watch this instant camp classic from Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuck, and Ian Brennan, the creators of Glee. Emma Roberts oozes pure evil as sorority queen Chanel, who’s been forced by Dean Munsch (Jamie Lee Curtis) to open Kappa House to all students (even the misfits), while a devil-masked killer knocks off pledges and Kappa sisters. The premise borrows liberally from 1988’s Heathers, and some jokes are too easy or cruel, like when we’re encouraged to laugh at a deaf woman. But the wit is sharp and the schadenfreude is high, with pop stars (Ariana Grande, Nick Jonas) cast among the spoiled and the doomed. The whole time I watched, I was either laughing out loud, or feeling guilty for laughing out loud.Red Oaks (Amazon, Oct. 9)
No one makes the kind of raunchy, retro, politically incorrect comedies anymore that David Gordon Green (Eastbound & Down) has resurrected for the small screen. Having directed the pilot of Red Oaks and executive produced alongside Steven Soderbergh, writers Joe Gangemi and Gregory Jacobs, and others, he’s really in his element with this show about 20-year-old David Meyers (Craig Roberts), who lands a gig as a tennis instructor at a country club in 1985. It’s a throwback to the summer-job hilarity of Harold Ramis, the awkward nerd-angst of John Hughes, and other goofy coming-of-age movies of the 1980s, particularly the ones with lots of gratuitous nudity, which might turn off some viewers who want to see more from female characters than just their boobs. At its worst moments, it’s hard to tell if Red Oaks is a clever satire of dumb, fun sex comedies, or just a dumb, fun sex comedy itself. But Alexandra Socha’s performance as a sarcastic hipster who’s unimpressed by David and his friends gives me hope that the show is something smarter than that, and I’d tune in just to watch Ennis Esmer, who’s hilariously sleazy as David’s boss. For anyone who misses Eastbound‘s Kenny Powers, here’s your new favorite character. He’s just the right amount of wrong.
JEFF JENSEN ON …Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (Oct. 12, 8 p.m. ET, The CW)
Besides Scream Queens, no new show tries harder at being ballsy than Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Rebecca (Rachel Bloom) grew up with a mom who drove her to be a success … and may have driven her bonkers in the process. Now a hotshot, happiness-challenged lawyer, Rebecca scores a promotion that would surely please Mom, but ultimately throws everything away to chase an old flame. Did we mention this is a musical? Bloom fascinates with a risky performance that embraces Rebecca’s hot mess instead of laboring to make it cutesy-endearing. The pilot has a work-in-progress vibe, but with the right tuning, this offbeat fable about personal reinvention could really sing.Flesh and Bone (Nov. 8, 8 p.m. ET, Starz)
A dark drama about a talented dancer in a prestigious New York ballet company will evoke comparisons to the film Black Swan. But Flesh and Bone creator Moira Walley-Beckett, an ace Emmy-winning Breaking Bad scribe, immediately forges a unique identity with a grittier take. In a quietly commanding performance, Sarah Hay is Claire, a damaged ingenue determined to live the dream. She gets her shot — and more — when a tyrant auteur (Ben Daniels) becomes obsessed with making her a star. The performances and the realism, psychological and otherwise (Hay really dances!), are riveting, and the urgent drama of a young woman trying to rise and thrive within a degradingly competitive, predatory, exploitative culture — or just surviving it, without moral compromise — positions Flesh and Bone as a meaty allegory that resonates with the times.The Grinder (Sept. 29, 8:30 p.m. ET, Fox)
Rob Lowe has been making midlife millions slyly spoofing his image, from DirecTV commercials to the upcoming Archer-wannabe adult ’toon Moonbeam City. He hones the act to giggly perfection on The Grinder playing Dean Sanderson Jr., a vain TV star yearning for a more substantial existence now that his popular legal drama has come to an end. Returning to his Idaho hometown, the prodigal son charms his way into the life—and the law practice—of his more mature little bro played by Fred Savage. He’s as endearing as he was on The Wonder Years but even more skilled, elevating his beleaguered straight man and generating great chemistry with Lowe. The Grinder could become a grind if the show can’t keep the premise vital, but Lowe and Savage will inspire you to see if it can.
Follow critics @MsMelissaMaerz and @EWDocJensen to get their instant reactions to the fall season, and check back with EW.com for full reviews of the above and more as the season goes into full swing.
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