a) "The Good Place"
This was one of my most anticipated new shows of the fall ever since I heard the premise and that it involved Ted Danson and Kristen Bell (and someday we need to talk about the injustice of one of the best comedic actresses of her generation wasting five years of her prime on "House Of Lies"). And the first three episodes have lived up to the potential pretty well. The weird afterlife concept seems more suited to a one off movie or sketch than an ongoing series, but I feel like they've already done a good job of showing how the concept could have legs. It reminds me a bit of something like Hitchhiker's Guide or "Futurama," in that the fictional world operates by its own weird rules, which can be bent at a moment's notice for the sake of a joke, and in fact the joke is often funnier when the world arbitrarily bends one way or another just to service it.
This doesn't start airing for a couple more weeks but HBO put the first episode on demand and I'm looking forward to more now. I haven't seen any of Issa Rae's YouTube work that got her this show, but this whole pilot is so well put together as a showcase of her comedic style and as a statement of intent. A lot of scenes feel like they're gonna be played seriously and then there's some line from out of nowhere that made me laugh out loud.
c) "This Is Us"
NBC has been selling this show hard as the next touchy feely family drama that will make you emotional, and I enjoyed the last show they worked like that, "Parenthood," well enough to give this one a try. It's pretty damn emotionally manipulative, though, my wife sat there at the end of the episode, both of us with our eyes watering, kind of going "goddammit, they got us." It didn't help that the best part of the pilot, Gerald McRaney, isn't a member of the show's cast, and that aspects of the story felt like a more somber mashup of the "Modern Family" pilot and the "Mike & Molly" pilot. I didn't hate it, it was well done, but it was definitely as offputting as it was charming.
The first episode of this show did several potentially difficult things well: they introduced a family with a teenage son who has cerebral palsy and is unable to speak, they made him a character with a distinct personality and perspective rather than just a prop or a problem for the other characters to solve, and they made the show more funny than sappy. And I liked the cast. That said, it didn't bowl me over, I hope this is a show that rapidly improves as they find their groove.
e) "Lethal Weapon"
A Lethal Weapon TV reboot with Damon Wayans is some Shane Black Inception shit, and the first 10 minutes of the pilot were some of the most unintentionally funny horseshit I've seen out of this whole slate of fall shows. Overall, the first episode wasn't bad, the casting was decent enough as far as trying to recreate a couple of iconic roles, and Lethal Weapon is fairly well suited for episodic television. But it was still incredibly dumb and forgettable and lacking in that Shane Black spark that animated the original movies.
f) "Kevin Can Wait"
Now that, I guess, the Blart bubble has burst, Kevin James is ready to return to CBS sitcom domesticity, now with a wife who's even younger and further out of his league. I find James charming enough and the show is competent, but it's not like I ever made time for "King Of Queens" so I doubt I'll make time for this.
This British show is really singular and exhilarating, Phoebe Waller-Bridge is just a revelation. When the show opened with the main character speaking to the camera, I was wary of it having the Ferris Bueller/Zack Morris vibe that that usually produces in American shows, but the weird way Waller-Bridge will break the fourth wall in the middle of a scene and then go back into the scene works really well. And in the middle of these very manic, very funny scenes and monologues, you'll suddenly get these sad flashbacks of a dead friend she's mourning. I've gotten through 4 of the 6 episodes but I'm really impressed with it so far.
h) "High Maintenance"
This show is based on a web series, and HBO put the web shorts on demand before the series debuted, so I watched a bunch of those, more because they're short than because they're all good. But I did enjoy the better web shorts, and I kinda feel like the first two episodes of the HBO show strained a bit to flesh out the concept to 30-minute installments, and used less of Ben Sinclair's character as a framing device to draw it all together. The first one in particular just kind of took two characters from the shorts and fleshed them out into this narrative spanning many months that was kind of interesting but not remotely as funny as the original short, but the second episode kinda tied two stories together well enough.
Netflix's "Easy" feels very similar to "High Maintenance," except it's about Chicago hipsters instead of New York hipsters, and there's no semblance of a framing device, it's just a bunch of discrete stories about different people with occasional actors showing up as the same character in different episodes. The first four episodes I've watched were alright, but I kinda feel like these are just half hour Joe Swanberg movies that are mildly more bearable than 90-minute Joe Swanberg movies.
Every few years, MTV seems to make a go of having a concert series, which I generally applaud, but they never seem to figure out a format that sticks. And this one is really strained and hokey, in the first two minutes of the show they cut between two hosts, who kept saying things like "wavy" and "Harambe," and you'd keep having to wait around through tedious interview segments and shit for a couple songs. I appreciate what they're trying to do with kind of packaging a variety show that's entirely about music and the artists they have on, but the execution leaves a lot to be desired.
k) "Legends Of Chamberlain Heights"
This show is basically a spiritual heir to "South Park," if the animation was so crude it made "South Park" look beautiful, and if the kids were black and said the N word about a hundred times more than I thought was possible on Comedy Central. There are a few bold lines here or there that make the show feel a bit like a dimestore "Boondocks" but mostly I find it brazenly awful and unwatchable.
I was weary about another period piece cable drama, but the fact that this show, about a '70s Vietnam vet who comes home and becomes a contract killer, is based on a series of novels that actually started in the '70s at least gives me some confidence in the show's grasp of the setting. In fact the main thing that strained my credulity was that this guy comes home to Memphis in 1972 and is immediately up on Big Star's just-released cult classic #1 Record, but I guess someone just couldn't resist that touch. But mostly the show is pretty bleak and violent -- I think Jamie Hector's best friend character would've been a good part of the show had he not been killed off in the first episode.
m) "Geeking Out"
This show on SyFy features Kevin Smith and Greg Grunberg being loud enthusiastic nerds about the usual comics and movies. But really the show is pretty enjoyable, these guys have the kind of connections where every episode has an interview with a Matt Damon or a J.J. Abrams but they have that geeky enthusiasm to really ask good questions and have fun with it.
I'm amused at how NBC seems to put Mark McKinney from "The Kids In The Hall" on the air once every decade or so -- a season on "SNL," then the short-lived "Studio 60," and now "Superstore," which has actually survived to a second season. The first season ended with kind of a cliffhanger with the staff of the store on strike, but before the proper season premiere picked up the story, they ran an episode a month ago during the Olympics that kind of jumped back chronologically into the middle of the first season. It's a strong little ensemble show, glad it's back.
o) "Adam Ruins Everything"
This was one of my favorite new shows last year and it's continued to be a lot of fun in the second season. I feel like it would appeal to people who watch John Oliver pedantically dig into a different topic every week, even if the sketch-y format is not too similar.
p) "The Strain"
The craziest thing about this show's third season is it only takes place about 3-4 weeks after the show's pilot. It makes sense that they've slowed the timeline down to get the day-to-day story of the outbreak, but it's just insane to think of everything that's happened in that time period. It's not a great show but I enjoy it, and at this point I'm kind of rooting for Kevin Durand and/or Ruta Gedmintas to become the de facto heroes of the show over Corey Stoll.
q) "American Horror Story"
Earlier this year, "The People v. O.J. Simpson" became the first Ryan Murphy show that I finished an entire season of, and I'd started 3 previous seasons of "American Horror Story" before kind of throwing my hands up in exasperation at its general misunderstanding or disregard of everything I like about horror movies. But "American Horror Story: Roanoke" hooked me pretty quickly with the first two episodes and it's had a more convincing sense of dread and suspense than any of the previous seasons I've seen. I'm still a little unsure about the weird faux documentary device that has one set of actors telling the story in talking head segments and a different set of actors playing those same characters in 'reenactments,' but maybe it will pay off somehow in the end? The Roanoke Colony was always such a fascinating creepy mystery in history class, it was a great idea to use it for a horror story.
r) "The Voice"
I like this show enough to kinda pop in once or twice a year but not enough to actually keep up with it. The first episode with Miley Cyrus and Alicia Keys as coaches was about what you'd expect from them, I guess. A guy did an absurd smoothed out falsetto cover of "Sex & Candy" and Adam Levine was predictably the first chair to turn around, it was hilarious. I feel bad for everyone on this show who has to pretend that there are any real stakes in winning, it's such a sham. I mean, Cassadee Pope was on a #1 country single this year, so I guess it's not all bad, but even the weakest season of "American Idol" delivered better career prospects, and now that "Idol" is over "The Voice" still isn't any better at making stars.