Fall TV 2018: These are the 9 must-watch new shows
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Entertainment Weekly TV critics Kristen Baldwin and Darren Franich discuss the best new shows of fall 2018. Let’s listen in…
KRISTEN BALDWIN: Grab that venti pumpkin spice latte and dust off your tweed, Darren, because the Fall TV season is upon us. While TV “seasons” have all but dissolved in this era of perpetual premieres, anticipating the bounty of new shows is as much a part of our annual late-summer mind shift as coping with those “Back to School” ads (which seem to start earlier every year, by the way).
You and I have watched as many of the new shows as humanly possible — some, like CBS’s Murphy Brown revival, were not available at press time — and now we hope to offer the EW audience a little guidance on what they should consider adding to their viewing lists. A caveat before we begin: We’re highlighting shows that premiere on or after Sept. 15. So if you don’t see things like FX’s Mayans MC (a worthy successor to Sons of Anarchy), Lifetime’s You, and Showtime’s Kidding (Jim Carrey as the sad host of a beloved children’s show), don’t think it’s because they’re not worth checking out. (They are!)
My first pick came as a very pleasant surprise. The Good Cop (Sept. 21, Netflix) stars Tony Danza and your mom’s favorite opera singer, Josh Groban, as father and son police officers. Well, Danza’s Tony is an ex-cop, having gone to the slammer for a corruption scandal. Groban’s TJ, meanwhile, is such a straight-arrow detective that the idea of pilfering sugar packets from the IHOP is anathema to him. The duo have a wonderfully easy chemistry — Tony’s shifty charm is the perfect trigger for TJ’s controlled anxiety — and the clever (but never too dark) mysteries are wrapped up tidily at the end of each episode. (The Good Cop comes from Andy Breckman, the creator of Monk.) Darren, if you had told me a few weeks ago that a police procedural starring Tony Danza would be one of my favorite new shows this fall, I would have thrown a DVD of Elementary season 5 at your head. Did any fall shows catch you off guard?
DARREN FRANICH: Ah yes, that special time of year when the Santa Ana winds blow cruel heat out of the desert, and the palm trees don’t noticeably change whatsoever. Autumn might not seem too autumnal here in Los Angeles — send me a picture of the New York leaves falling, Kristen! — but that’s one reason why this city attracts so many newcomers, who’ve heard stories of eternal beach weather (and don’t realize the droughts, wildfires, and earthquakes will never make housing prices any cheaper.) One such newcomer is John Nolan (Nathan Fillion), the apparent main character of The Rookie (Oct. 16, ABC), a 40-year-old small town everyman who seeks a new beginning as the oldest newbie on the LAPD.
I like Fillion, and figured this procedural was aiming to be a new star vehicle for the Castle vet. So it’s a pleasant surprise to discover that The Rookie is actually building a rock-solid cop ensemble. Nolan’s training officer Talia (Afton Williamson) has big career ambitions, which makes her a friendly rival with the equally go-getting Angela (Alyssia Diaz). The other newcomer cops have their own dramas: Lucy (Melissa O’Neil) has some particular struggles as a female cop, while Jackson (Titus Makin) has a legacy to grapple with. There one soapy plot element that cheapens the pilot for me. But a lot of the new Fall TV network dramas are trending in dispiriting directions, self-serious to the point of absurdity (A Million Little Pieces, Manifest) or bland genre remixes (FBI, New Amsterdam.) The Rookie‘s casual humanity works on me.
I realize that we’re both leading with cop shows, Kristen. Are there any definably un-procedural-ish new dramas that grabbed your interest? Bonus points if it’s a limited series with a trendy lack of obvious plot! (Next page: A prison drama from Ben Stiller, plus a chilling new TV witch)
KRISTEN: Here in New York City the fall leaves go directly from Sickly Green to Dead Brown, so I’ll spare you the photos. My next pick is definitely not a procedural but continues the law-enforcement theme we’ve got going: Escape at Dannemora (Nov. 18, Showtime) is a true crime drama about the 2015 Clinton Correctional Facility escape, in which two murders broke out of their upstate New York prison with the help of a female employee they were, uh, romantically involved with. I’ve only seen one episode so far, but Dannemora has a lot going for it: The prisoners are played by Benicio Del Toro (sporting a shoe-polish pompadour) and Paul Dano, the always-welcome David Morse plays a kindhearted prison guard, and Patricia Arquette gives a sure-to-be-Emmy-nominated performance as Tilly, the prison employee whose longing for a little excitement in her life leads to some very bad decisions.
Director Ben Stiller (who shot all eight episodes) captures the grey bleakness of northeast winters, and while he seems to be going for more of a character study than a jailhouse caper, Dannemora has all the makings of prestige pulp: Sex! Intrigue! The creeping ennui of middle age! Sounds promising, right Darren?
DARREN: I’m with you on Dannemora, Kristen. Based on the first episode, this looks like one of the year’s big smallscreen swings: An expensive, amoral tale about somewhat unusual people in extremely unusual circumstances. It’s a real kick to see the actors sink their teeth into such meaty parts. Arquette’s giving a performance radiating raw humanity; consider CSI: Cyber officially out of the system! And Del Toro is giving a genuinely eccentric performance, trickier than his Sicario strong-silent type but more dangerous than his recent run of Disney space dudes. The notion of Ben Stiller directing this material might sound unlikely, though I can scan a rough through line from the more surreal parts in Tropic Thunder and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty to some of the stranger flourishes in Dannemora. Like certain other prestige-y limited series this year (cough Sharp Objects cough) the show’s patience might start to feel slow around the midpoint, but I’m joining this Escape.
But enough with the cops and criminals! Is there another new drama that intrigues you?
KRISTEN: Moving on from convicts to conjurers, another drama I’m loving is The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (Oct. 26, Netflix). Created by Riverdale’s Roberto Augierre-Sacasa and based on the comic book series, Sabrina stars Mad Men’s Kiernan Shipka as the titular half-witch, half-mortal girl living with her aunts Hilda (a suitably chilly Miranda Otto) and Zelda (the wonderfully daffy Lucy Davis). We meet Sabrina as she’s approaches her 16th birthday, the day young witches must undergo their “dark baptism” and pledge themselves to Satan, but our heroine isn’t quite sure she wants to embrace this sinister destiny. The show blends the best parts of Riverdale — sharp writing, a glamorously retro-to-the-point-of-anachronistic look — with the metaphor-laden beauty of Buffy the Vampire Slayer: How does a girl become an independent young woman in the face of monsters, mean girls, and “puritanical masculinity”?
As Sabrina, Shipka possesses the same poise and confidence we saw on Mad Men, and it’s a delight to see her tackle the combination of comedy and earnest sweetness in the young witch-girl’s story. Oh, and don’t worry — Sabrina still has her trusty friend Salem the cat by her side, though he doesn’t talk… yet.
So far we’ve only talked about dramas, Darren — did any new comedies catch your eye?
DARREN: I worry sometimes about the network sitcom. The expansion of comedy across cable and streaming keeps moving the goalposts for what audiences expect from TV humor. But the basic structure of broadcast networks squeeze half-hour laffers into tight 22-minute slots, between commercials, under the weight of Standards & Practices. Netflix’s choice to simultaneously release a (great!) new season of Bojack and a (very good!) season of American Vandal on Sept. 14 feels like a fusillade fired at straight at the new wave of funny series.
Will any newbies survive? I’m low-key hopeful for Single Parents (Sept. 26, ABC), executive produced by New Girl‘s Elizabeth Meriwether. The concept is straightforward enough: The titular group of unattached moms and dads unite into a snarky-sweet friend-family, weathering the endless frustrations of childrearing. The pilot goes Full Wacky with its focus on Taran Killam’s Will, a grown-up gone man-child from hysterical fatherhood. But the ensemble feels like it could really click. I’m stoked to have Gossip Girl‘s Leighton Meester back on television, and Brad Garrett, Kimrie Lewis, and Jake Choi fill out a fun crew of extreme opposites united by common threads of heartbreak and parenthood. There’s a scene in the premiere where you find out Lewis’ character works at a hip wine bar, which all-but-demands that Single Parents become a new glass-of-vino hangout favorite. We’re still waiting for a new Cougar Town!
So far you’ve mentioned a streaming series and a premium cable drama, Kristen. Are you liking any new shows with old-fashioned commercial breaks? (Next page: Taye Diggs, more witches, and a hitman)
KRISTEN: Yes! And I’m going to apply your term “low-key hopeful” to my next pick, The CW’s All American (Oct. 10, The CW). This “inspired by a true story” drama follows teen football prodigy Spencer (The Missing’s Daniel Ezra), who’s recruited from his dangerous South L.A. high school to play for a team in Beverly Hills. It’s a classic foot-in-two-worlds premise, and the pilot — which also stars Taye Diggs as Spencer’s new coach, who may not be as altruistic as he seems — felt like a promising mix of The O.C. and Friday Night Lights. Of course, those are two of the all-time best teen dramas, and I don’t want to oversell All American — it definitely has some clumsy moments. Still, I’m cautiously optimistic that executive producer/magical TV wizard Greg Berlanti, along with showrunner April Blair (Reign), won’t fumble All American’s potential. See what I did there? Ugh, sorry — I’d better punt it over to you, Darren. What’s the next show on your list?
DARREN: Allow me to catch your punt on the rebound and then backhand a home run over the net to the 18th hole! I’m not smart enough for sports puns, but I’m the precise intelligence level to enjoy The Cool Kids (Sept. 28, Fox). This multicam comedy set in a retirement community isn’t reinventing the form. But it’s a kick to see stars Vicki Lawrence, David Alan Grier, Leslie Jordan, and Martin Mull hang out together, swapping senior-citizen laughs. They’re a trustworthy bunch — collectively, they’ve got the resumé of seventeen Shipkas — and the presence of co-creator Charlie Day and his Always Sunny in Philadelphia collaborators makes me think Cool Kids will find a solid rhythm as a chill sitcom delight (if it survives the Friday slot).
KRISTEN: As long as we’re talking about things that are old, may I present the one and only reboot on this list: The CW’s Charmed, premiering Oct. 14 at 9 p.m. (Reminder: Sabrina isn’t a reboot, it’s an adaptation of a post-TGIF graphic novel.) This update on the Aaron Spelling-produced series (1998-2006, The WB) has been the subject of much advance scorn, primarily due to some huffy tweets from the first Piper Halliwell (Holly Marie Combs), who apparently feels that the only way to do a “feminist” reboot is… by doing a revival instead with the original cast. To that I say, “Lighten up, Francis.” I’m all for Hollywood using the reboot crutch as sparingly as possible, but until they wean themselves let’s all play nice and at least watch an episode before we trash something.
As a fan of the OG show myself, I can report that the first episode of The CW’s multi-culti Charmed update maintains the heart and humor of the original, while expanding its girl-power premise by factoring the transformative power — for good and for ill — of female rage. These Charmed Ones have the potential to be engaging role models for a new generation; my favorite line of dialogue came during young witch Maggie’s fight with a handsy demon: “When it comes to consent, I can change my mind at any time!”
DARREN: I’m loving this new witch trend, Kristen. (Come back, Salem!) Up until this summer, 2018’s hottest TV fad was a renewed fascination with assassins. Professional killers were at the center of HBO’s wondrous Barry and BBC America’s delightfully twisted Killing Eve. (I’d throw in the final season of The Americans, too, which turned into a Keri Russell killfest.) Mr Inbetween (Sept. 25, FX) is an understated addition to this hip new canon, but I hope it doesn’t fall through the cracks. Creator Scott Ryan stars as Ray Shoesmith, a workaday hitman-type in the Australian underworld, juggling life-threatening circumstances with everyday problems (shared parenting with his ex-wife, new romance, anger management courses). Ryan radiates a casual toughness, like he’s cheerfully counting your most breakable bones. Mr. Inbetween gets wilder as it goes along, until the season finale becomes a fully surreal, Fargo-ish tale of a hit gone way wrong. And did I mention the season’s only six half-hour episodes long? We live in the era of infinite content, Kristen, so thank heaven for modest runtimes!