a) "The Grinder"
Rob Lowe is great at playing vain, vapid, smooth-talking perfectionists, from Wayne's World to "Parks & Recreation" to this, partly because no matter how self-aware his performance is, it's hard not to suspect that that's who he is in real life. His three previous most noteworthy TV roles were all ensemble shows that he left before their runs ended -- Lowe was vocal about leaving "The West Wing" and "Brothers & Sisters" because he wasn't getting enough screentime, and "Parks"), and on "Parks" he submitted himself for lead actor Emmy consideration even though nobody thought of him as a lead on the show. So "The Grinder" is a promising show in part because Lowe gets to hog the spotlight to his heart's content and it just makes his character funnier when he does. And Fred Savage, who's directed far more TV comedy than he's acted in over the last 20 years, is a really good foil for him. The pilot wasn't amazing or anything, but out of this fairly unexciting fall season it's the show I can most easily imagine still wanting to watch in 6 months and rooting to get picked up for a 2nd season.
Considering how many '80s and '90s network stars have been shipped off to sitcoms on TV Land or TBS or whatever, I'm kind of shocked that FOX wanted John Stamos to headline one of their new fall shows. And this show is kind of light and cutesy in a way that would probably function better or ABC Family or something anyway, with Stamos kind of parodying his own public persona the same way Lowe does in "The Grinder," to lesser results. It's not a terrible show, the scenes with Paget Brewster have a spark, mostly because she's great, but it's totally forgettable. And she just did seasons of "Community" and "Another Period," we're not starved for Paget Brewster at the moment.
c) "The Muppets"
When this show was announced, I was naive enough to picture that it would just be a straightforward update of the vaudeville-style "The Muppet Show" from the '70s, and I never got over the disappointment of finding out that it would be instead be in that stale mockumentary sitcom format. The first episode was actually much more tolerable than I expected, though, the writing was sharp enough that if it was just another workplace sitcom about humans, it would be the better ones out there. But that's kinda the problem, Muppets are humans, and treating them interchangeably only has so much mileage as a joke.
Banter goes a long way for me as a television viewer, if it's well written and suits the characters. And dramas, especially procedurals, have gotten pretty weak with the banter lately, so I was immediately pretty impressed that this show has genuinely funny, engaging dialogue. The whole show maybe bends over backwards too much to be charming, with the doctor people call 'Rosey' who volunteers his forensic services to Miami police and has a "Moonlighting" dynamic with a female detective AND has a heart defect that means he only has a few years to live. It's all laid on kinda thick, but again, it's sharply written, the first new procedural in years that I might be tempted to watch regularly.
e) "Scream Queens"
This show has been kind of cementing my theory than Ryan Murphy shows are like Bryan Fuller shows but for dummies. I appreciate the mix of dark comedy and camp and soap opera and gore and progressive politics, and it sometimes gets so close to being funny or surprising, but it always just feels too satisfied with itself to do anything smart or interesting. Emma Roberts is getting good at playing villains, but as a whole the show is kind of loud and monotonous.
f) "The Bastard Executioner"
I appreciated what "Sons of Anarchy" did well while recognizing what was ridiculous or poorly done, so I didn't know what to expect from a new Kurt Sutter show. Medieval Wales is a good setting for a show, and theoretically it would require some of the same things "Sons of Anarchy" excelled at, but everything is kind of drab and bland and they don't know how to write interesting characters with all the modern biker gang trappings.
g) "The Player"
Probably the single most boring new show of the fall season. It just wants to be exciting and intriguing and it isn't. I feel bad for Wesley Snipes, he deserves a better television vehicle than this. But then, he passed on "Empire," and for better or worse that show might've been more of a legitimate drama and less of an unintentional comedy with Snipes in the Terrence Howard role.
h) "The Daily Show With Trevor Noah"
I feel like I'm in the minority that I've watched Trevor Noah's standup and went into his "Daily Show" debut rooting for him to pull it off (to be fair, it doesn't help that Comedy Central hasn't bothered to air any of his several standup specials, or have him tape a new one if need be). The first week hasn't been a knockout victory, but he only fell flat in a couple small moments, and mostly has maintained the established rhythm and sensibility of the show without doing a Jon Stewart impression. He didn't really have a bit that only he could do until Thursday's "Trump is presidential like an African president" bit, though, that was good. Jordan Klepper has been growing on me out of the newer correspondents, he's really unafraid to play the asshole for laughs.
i) "Best Time Ever with Neil Patrick Harris"
I've always been pro-NPH and the whole career resurgence he's enjoyed since Harold & Kumar and "How I Met Your Mother," and back when there was all the upheaval in late night talk shows, I was rooting for him to get one of the hosting gigs. Turns out he apparently was offered Letterman's job, and turned it down because he'd rather host a weekly variety show, and this is that show. And while I get what they're going for with this wacky U.K.-style show where anything can happen, it all comes off a little bit toothless and short on laughs. My wife likes it, and there is a decent balance of weird stunts and music and surprise guests and cute heartwarming segments that it stays fairly entertaining, but I just think about how it could've been better.
This show kinda feels like a scramble of tropes and plot points from La Femme Nikita, Bourne Identity, Memento, Long Kiss Goodnight, among others. It feels like they were trying to combine all these elements to create a super intriguing pilot with a super memorable opening scene, but it all kinda falls flat. I don't care about these characters, I don't care what happens with them, I checked out in my mind before I was done watching the second episode.
k) "Minority Report"
Adapting this as a TV series is one of those ideas that seems like a no-brainer for about 5 seconds until you start thinking of all the potential problems. And the people making the show attempt to sidestep all that by basically setting the show a decade after the events of the Philip K. Dick story and the Spielberg movie and asking what happens to the precogs after the precrime program shuts down. This is kind of creative, but kind of not -- now one of the precogs is secretly helping a cop solve crimes, so it's just another fantasy procedural where someone has a secret mysterious crimesolving power. Plus, of course, the ramifications of punishing 'precrime' is a pretty fucking relevant thing for fiction to tackle in 2015, but this show doesn't really seem interested in pursuing that topic. And of course, we've removed the entire context for the meaning of the phrase "minority report" from the story, but it's still the title of everything, which is kind of stupid.
I wasn't sure what to expect with this show, I kinda thought it would be a light frothy procedural about a sexy cast with sexy problems that happened to be FBI recruits. And it is that somewhat, but the pilot packed a lot of plot into an hour and set a lot of story in motion, and the characters were fairly well drawn. Nice to Johanna Braddy from the summer's best show, "UnREAL," getting a network gig.
m) "Indian Summers"
This is a British series that PBS just started showing on "Masterpiece Theatre," I tried out "Poldark" over the summer and didn't stick with it and I don't know if I'll stick with this one either. It's about Brits in 1930s India, and it seems more like a soap than a history lesson or a political drama so far, but it's not an especially interesting soap. And honestly shows like this that are primarily about white English-speakers in a foreign land with the natives in supporting roles are just tiresome at this point, even if the show is ostensibly critical of colonialism and whatnot.
n) "Blood & Oil"
I'm sure this oil tycoon soap opera wants to be the new "Dallas," but I don't think it'll be on for 13 seasons, and I don't think anyone will care if they shoot Don Johnson. Maybe they should shoot him anyway.
I don't think I ever saw the Bradley Cooper movie this is spun off of, I thought maybe I did but I guess that was The Words. You kinda get the idea of the movie from the trailer anyway, and the show is just a new guy, more of an offbrand Chris Pratt, getting the same powers Coop had (and Coop makes a cameo). It's all pretty dumb.
p) "We Have Issues"
The E! network has long tried to come up with more comedic pop culture commentary shows to pair with "The Soup," and nothing has stuck around for really long yet. "The Comment Section," a show that featured one of my tweets in the first 5 minutes of its premiere episode, recently completed a 6-week tryout and now another show, "We Have Issues," is getting its turn. This one is kind of a weird format, two hosts playing up a rivalry with each other that isn't as funny as they think it is, but the show has a mean bitchy edge that works for them. They have other comics guest on the show, and Guy Branum was great on the 2nd episode, hope he shows up again. Still, if the 2 shows are in competition, my vote is for "The Comment Section," and not just because they showed my name on TV.
q) "Life In Pieces"
One of my biggest pet peeves with sitcoms these days is that many of them seem to put zero effort into integrating plots and weaving the ensemble together -- it's just an A plot with these characters and a B plot with these characters and things rarely dovetail together in a clever "Seinfeld" way or anything. So this show, which features a sequence of 4 separate, unrelated stories in every episode, seems almost designed specifically to piss me off, although I kind of respect that they're open about the format. I was just lamenting recently that Zoe Lister-Jones is one of my favorite people on TV that can't seem to get a good permanent gig, and this show mostly continues that trend. On a show where Diane Wiest, James Brolin and Colin Hanks are all pretty wasted, Lister-Jones is at least really funny in her scenes.
r) "Blunt Talk"
Here's a prime example of one of the shows that jumped a little too fast to filling half of every episode with B-plots that don't feature the main star. This show is charming and odd in many of the same ways as "Bored To Death," but when that show took you away from the main character, you were usually with an extremely entertaining Ted Danson or Zach Galifianakis. "Blunt Talk" has a fine supporting cast but I think they're getting asked to do a little too much without Patrick Stewart so early in its run.
s) "Documentary Now!"
I haven't caught up on all the episodes yet, but this show has been increasingly impressive with just how thoroughly they've studied different documentaries or types of docs and pastiche them with accuracy and subtle satire. Like, the source material for any given episode is usually relatively obscure but whether you're familiar or not it's usually just fun to watch Armisen and especially Hader try on new faces and voices.
I had mixed feelings about the first season, but I think it's really stepped up in the second season. It's so hard to do warts-and-all comedy about marriage without it getting too dark or too cheesy and cliched, but they're striking that balance pretty well.
u) "The Hotwives Of Las Vegas"
I didn't think the show was as good this year as the "Hotwives of Orlando" season was last year. But as with both seasons, and with the shows they're parodying, the 'reunion episode' finale was the funniest one.
v) "Rick And Morty"
This show really just gets better and better. I feel like it's taking a somewhat "Futurama"-like approach to using science and speculative fiction tropes as a springboard for comedy, but the fast pace and meaner edge of the dialogue is much more to my liking. The Tiny Rick episode was a classic, so was the 'purge' episode, especially when Tony! Toni! Tone!'s "Feels Good" was used to soundtrack scenes of robot suit mass murder.
Everyone who likes this show seems to be frothing at the mouth at how amazing it is, so I feel weird about just thinking it's merely good. I caught some of the original Australian series it was adapted from on YouTube, and I thought it was maybe a little more my speed, might have to catch up on that.