It’s a time-honored rite harking back to an era of black-and-white TVs and the trio of networks whose programs they delivered: the grand unveiling of new fall fare.
As part of the ritual, this latest fall crop is an occasion for handicapping the good and the misfires. Granted, it’s a risky business to rate a new series’ prospects on the basis of its pilot episode, which is typically the only thing critics have to go on. But even if it doesn’t guarantee a great series will follow, a pilot must at least trigger interest at a level to get viewers to return the second week.
Here are 10 new series that might catch your fancy:
“RED BAND SOCIETY” (Fox; premieres Sept. 17). A group of teenagers meet as patients in the pediatric ward of a Los Angeles hospital. Sure, a show that gathers kids to frolic, flirt and even face death sounds like “Glee” without the jazz hands. But what could have been an overglossed rendering of life’s gravest moments instead comes with heart and a dose of authenticity that ground the good times.
“GOTHAM” (Fox; Sept. 22). In an industry where nothing is a sure thing, fall’s most-awaited show by the most-desirable demo would seem to be a sure thing. “Gotham” turns out to be not only an “origin series” about Batman but also a humdinger of a noir crime thriller. Rolling back the clock to when Bruce Wayne was a youngster and his alter ego was years from being conceived, the series lays the groundwork for the Batman myth while introducing not-yet-Commissioner James Gordon (played by Ben McKenzie) as a rookie cop.
“THE MYSTERIES OF LAURA” (NBC; Sept. 24). Debra Messing stars as a brilliant, rules-breaking NYPD homicide detective and harried single mother whose estranged detective-husband becomes her boss (awkward!). Messing (“Will & Grace”) has an indisputable gift for comedy. Here she’s arresting as a brassy, disheveled cop in a series that clearly wants to match the light-comedy tone of the long-ago “Columbo.” “Mysteries” has its cops-and-robbers element, but it’s mostly helter-skelter fun.
“BLACK-ISH” (ABC; Sept. 24). The versatile Anthony Anderson stars as Andre, a determined patriarch who sets out to restore (or is it establish?) a sense of cultural identity for his middle-class African-American family which, he worries, is ethnically unmoored. Andre’s concern isn’t shared by his biracial wife, Rainbow (Tracee Ellis Ross), or their four kids. But Andre frets about “keeping it real.” This is a clever premise, whose black-centricity has plenty to say about the pros and cons of assimilation by any group. It’s a lot of Deep Thoughts packed into a fluffy sitcom, but “black-ish” seems up to the challenge.
“HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER” (ABC; Sept. 25). A legendary attorney is fearless in the courtroom representing society’s worst criminals. Then she’s fearless in the classroom as she drills a no-holds-barred philosophy of law into her students – and she selects a group of her top students to work at her law firm, where they fall under her spell as they help tackle her toughest cases. “Murder” promises to be twisty, wicked, dark and fun. And it stars Viola Davis, who brings life to a character of endless calculations and mystery.
“MANHATTAN LOVE STORY” (ABC; Sept. 30). Girl meets guy in the Big Apple. She’s new in town and full of romantic yearnings. He’s a true Gothamite who lives the sporting life. And of course opposites attract. Meanwhile, the audience is privy to their innermost thoughts about dating and other pressing matters via the characters’ voiceovers. This “Love Story,” starring winsome Analeigh Tipton and wisecracking Jake McDorman, touches the heart and, more important, the funny bone.
“BAD JUDGE” (NBC; Oct. 2). Good judge, bad girl: That’s the character Kate Walsh tackles on this new sitcom. Judge Rebecca Wright is unforgiving on the bench but an unapologetic party animal elsewhere. Walsh presides with little judicial restraint on a show you'll find guilty of selective raciness and plenty of laughs.
“THE FLASH” (CW, Oct. 7). A young man named Barry Allen awakens from a coma after being struck by lightning, only to find he has the power of superspeed. Ipso facto, he becomes a superhero. It’s more complicated, of course, but what really matters is: This version of a familiar comic-book stud feels refreshingly re-thought, and should satisfy fans as well as those who have never found their way into the Flash ethos. It stars Grant Gustin (“Glee,” “Arrow”) who, in his grand unveiling as Barry’s fleet-footed alter ego, eschews the familiar red long johns in favor of a different kind of uniform. Message: This is a new brand of Flash.
“JANE THE VIRGIN” (CW, Oct. 13). The one-line description of this series seems like a cruel joke: Jane Villanueva, an effervescent young Miami woman with her eyes trained on the future and her knees clamped virtuously together, is mistakenly impregnated with a specimen meant for someone else. And to add a further twist, the specimen came from the owner of the luxury hotel that employs Jane as a waitress. The wonder of this series is that it feels fully plausible, authentic and delightful, unfolding in a multicultural world with the irresistible Gina Rodriguez in the title role. Time will tell if its grand ambitions outstrip its ability to deliver, but in the short term it succeeds in the thing a TV series rarely does: It keeps you guessing what will happen next.
“MARRY ME” (NBC, Oct. 14). Jake and Annie are a modern version of George Burns and Gracie Allen. Annie is flighty. Jake is settled and eternally amused by Annie’s zaniness. Except that, unlike George and Gracie, Jake and Annie aren’t yet married, or even engaged – just dating for six-years-and-counting, with Annie more than ready for Jake to pop the question. On this slender premise hang the ample comic gifts of co-stars Ken Marino and Casey Wilson, not to mention those of series creator David Caspe, whose fast-paced, clever style was first displayed in his hilarious sitcom “Happy Endings,” in which Wilson, now his real-life bride, starred.