NBC's fall 2017 schedule: A snap judgment
Once again, NBC adds only three new shows to their fall lineup, and with This Is Us as their breakout hit of last season, you’d think they’d go all in on tear-jerking sentimentality. Turns out that’s not the case: Instead, the peacock’s pair of new dramas — The Brave, slotted behind The Voice on Monday nights, and Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders,following This Is Us‘ new timeslot on Thursdays — tap into two completely different genres. The former is far less zeitgeisty, riding the coattails of early 24 and Homeland and looking into modern terrorism; the latter is Dick Wolf tossing his hat into the true-crime ring popularized by the likes of FX’s American Crime Story, Netflix’s Making a Murderer, HBO’s The Jinx, and countless other retellings about grisly behavior.
And then there’s Will & Grace. The reunited cast of the 12-episode revival of the late ’90s and early 2000s sitcom staple opened the network’s lavish, Radio City Music Hall-set upfronts presentation Monday morning to plenty of cheers, but the comedy faces a question that’s plagued every small-screen, nostalgic reboot: Will it attract new audiences along with its original fans, or will it feel too outdated to stand apart in the era of Peak TV? My (mixed) take on the trio of new offerings is below.
Mondays, 10 p.m. ET
The Brave, about an elite team of soldiers who work undercover and on black ops missions under the watchful eye of Anne Heche’s steely deputy director Patricia Campbell, hails from a producer of Homeland, was created by the writer of The Manchurian Candidate, and was formerly titled For God and Country. Its trailer emphasizes the characters’ courage, sacrifice, and Heroism Under Pressure, while offering glancing takes at Muslim-American relations. (One member is shown praying at a mosque, even as the enemy they’re facing dons a hijab and threatens a surgeon.) There’s sweeping music. There’s a shot of a drone. There’s Anne Heche, looking concerned at wide screens in a high-security level facility. There’s an American woman who’s kidnapped by “hostiles” but — spoiler alert! — saved by the end. In other words, coming soon to NBC: It’s Homeland, without Claire Danes! It’s also 24, without the Legacy! In fact, it’s Michael Bay’s 13 Hours crossed with Peter Berg’s Lone Survivor crossed with Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty, brought to the small screen! America!
I know, I know, I’m being facetious. But if you, like me, have watched nearly every variation of these television series revolving around the war on terror, trailers like this one can induce flashbacks to any number of titles. Of all of them, though, The Brave reminds me most of NBC’s most recent action-drama offering: Taken, which featured a younger Bryan Mills working for a black ops team protecting these United States.
Still, it’s not just the familiarity of The Brave that makes me wary of its quality. Much of what’s shown in the trailer feels formulaic. Our hero is Commander Michael Dalton (Under the Dome‘s Mike Vogel), an all-American soldier who’ll do anything for his country. His team is skilled and diverse, yet appears to be completely one-dimensional in that they’ll also do anything for their country. I’m all for waving a flag and cheering a team like this on, but what does the fifth or even 10th episode of this look like? Why should I dedicate myself to another drama about the complicated drama abroad that seems less insightful than what I’ve already seen? Then again, The Brave‘s rote familiarity probably means it’ll find an audience somewhere. Just not with me.
Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders
Thursdays, 10 p.m. ET
So, uhh, who’s the genius who slotted a drama about a gruesome parricide right after a drama about a loving multicultural family? I’m only kidding: The real star of The Menendez Murders isn’t the eponymous crime; it’s Edie Falco as defense attorney Leslie Abramson. Just look at the way the trailer opens with her unflinchingly striding into the courtroom to hundreds of flashing cameras!
Sure, it’s a new Dick Wolf series (albeit without Chicago in the title) that’s transparently taking advantage of the true crime wave, but count me in. The trailer offers tantalizing visuals of the murders, and though they’re a bit much — Bryan Fuller might disagree — it left me wanting to see how the actual drama would portray much of the intrigue around the case. The Menendez brothers’ case was notoriously grim (the blood washing down the drain should give anyone unfamiliar with the crime a good idea of how far the brothers went), and with the 1989 Beverly Hills setting, The Menendez Murders has more than enough to parse.
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That said, this one-and-a-half-minute look doesn’t show much more than Falco’s glare and plenty of footage of the brothers as children. It does, however, give her a juicy voiceover that essentially states this true crime series’ thesis: “When you terrorize people,” Falco’s Abramson says, “they react precisely as you would expect them to.” In other words, maybe this Law & Order will be examining the brothers’ psyches and alleged abuse by looking back at the past more often than it does at the media frenzy at the time. That’s another tantalizing possibility to this series; whether it delivers on that tease remains to be seen, but either way, this is Falco’s turn to play a D.A. with a questionable coif. Welcome back to the awards circuit, Edie. (Potentially.)
Will & Grace
Thursdays, 8 p.m. ET
Eric McCormack, Debra Messing, Megan Mullally, and Sean Hayes make one thing clear in this musical non-trailer trailer presented at the NBC upfronts: They’re back. And okay, they make a few other things clear, too: They’re here to have fun, and they’re here for the fans. In this meta-performance, the cast riffs on their own purported influence on NBC — after all, their “sitcom-sized apartment” set’s still there — but more importantly, they give a taste of how much things have stayed the same in the intervening years. Like their chemistry: Before the music breaks out, McCormack is unabashedly Will-esque and into the idea of bringing the gang back together; Messing is somewhat reluctant and neurotically Grace-ish about taking advantage of the whole thing because she’s too busy with social media responsibilities. (Or maybe that last part’s purely Messing.)
But truth be told, Messing is asking the right questions. What if something fundamentally has changed? Here they are, seamlessly back into filming for the show, with Mullally’s Karen popping up on the couch from an extended nap and Hayes’ Jack wafting through the door with a new boy toy — and yet, something’s a little different. Maybe it’s the joke about Airb-on-b (boy-on-boy, natch), which definitely wouldn’t have happened on the original Will & Grace. Or maybe it’s the fact that the cast is in their 40s. These bits land well, but they don’t completely hide the fact that times have changed, and perhaps the humor about being gay won’t come across the same way. It’s hard to judge a first look like this one, and besides, whatever the episodes turn out to be will be colored by intense nostalgia. As McCormack sings, they’ve got “a world to rediscover” even as they try to stay loyal to the original incarnation. Well, for what it’s worth, Mullally and Hayes faux-slapping each other will never not be funny.