News Column

Detroit Free Press Julie Hinds column

September 15, 2013


Sept. 15--No TV program is perfect, unless you're in the lofty territory of "The Sopranos" or "Breaking Bad." But these 10 new shows for fall 2013 are all worth checking out, either because they have a smart, ambitious approach or because they just want to entertain without taking themselves too seriously.

-- "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" (Fox, 8:30 p.m. Tue.): This cop comedy has some of the quirky charm of "Parks and Recreation" (and comes from two of that show's writer-producers). It also has the hip attitude of the "21 Jump Street" movie. "Saturday Night Live" graduate Andy Samberg is appealing as a smart-aleck detective whose goofball tendencies don't get in the way of his police skills. Andre Braugher lends gravitas as the strict new captain who's an unflappable foil to Samberg's antics. And the supporting characters are promising, like the anxious sergeant played by Terry Crews who has grown fearful since becoming the father of twin girls named Cagney and Lacey. This offbeat contender is a bright spot in a season of seen-it-before sitcoms.

-- "Almost Human" (Fox, 8 p.m. Nov. 4): With J.J. Abrams as one of the executive producers, the sci-fi drama could be almost amazing. It's 2048, a crime-plagued era where cops must partner with emotionless robots. When a testy cop named John Kennex (Karl Urban, the blustery Bones of Abrams' "Star Trek" movies), wakes up from a lengthy coma, he gets paired with a discontinued android, Dorian (Michael Ealy), who is programmed to have feelings. The "Blade Runner" comparisons are none too subtle, what with the dark, rainy backdrops and groovy futuristic vehicles -- not to mention the philosophical issue of what it really means to be human. Time will tell whether Kennex and Ealy can activate and sustain the necessary chemistry.

-- "The Millers" (CBS, 8:30 p.m. Sept. 26): Watching Will Arnett in such a familiar family-com is like listening to Iggy Pop sing "Yesterday." He can do it, but why? Still, the "Arrested Development" regular has the right sarcasm to anchor the "Everybody Loves Raymond"-esque squabbles of Beau Bridges (doing his "My Name is Earl" wacky dad thing) and Margo Martindale (switching from "Justified" villainess mode to that of interfering mom). Arnett is their local news reporter son whose divorce prompts his parents to split after 40-plus years together. If you like your comedy broad, you could do worse than watch pros like this hit their laugh lines.

-- "Dracula" (NBC, 10 p.m. Oct. 25): Another vampire saga? Yes, but this one is touted as coming from the producers of "Downton Abbey." Well, that explains the British aristocrats in evening wear. The ultra-magnetic Jonathan Rhys Meyers, so watchable as King Henry VIII in "The Tudors," plays Dracula, only this version of the blood-sucking icon is pretending to be an American in late 19th-Century London. There's also some sort of secret group embedded among the upper class that seems even nastier than Drac. It's a campy hour of escapist melodrama that's sort of like "Dark Shadows" with slicker production values.

-- "Hostages" (CBS, 10 p.m. Sept. 23): Like a suburban "24," this small-screen thriller hinges on a multitasking mom thrust into a plan to assassinate the president. Dr. Ellen Sanders (Toni Collette) is scheduled to perform surgery on the leader of the free world when she's kidnapped along with her family by an FBI agent (Dylan McDermott) who has his reasons. If her family is to survive, her VIP patient must die when she's operating. Yikes! Plus, everyone is juggling personal secrets that might affect how they react to the desperate situation: her husband (Tate Donovan), her daughter, her son. Clearly, some family counseling is needed, and maybe a SWAT team? Count on executive producer Jerry Bruckheimer to make viewers' pulses race.

-- "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D" (ABC, 8 p.m. Sept. 24): The comic book behemoth's seeming quest to take over the entertainment world is proceeding nicely with the introduction of this zippy franchise spin-off from Joss Whedon, his brother Jed Whedon and a bunch of other people with comic book cred. The actions revolves around S.H.I.E.L.D. operatives like Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg), a.k.a. the guy in the dark suit from films like "The Avengers." He leads a handsome, eclectic team of law enforcers who track unexplained phenomena. Despite lacking the cinema-sized special effects of the movies, the show is a fun ride with inside references to the superhero universe and nifty spy-tech gizmos. And Whedon's trademark offhand humor lightens the earnest task of keeping the world safe and sound.

-- "Super Fun Night" (ABC, 9:30 p.m. Oct. 2): Fearlessness is part of Rebel Wilson's comedy DNA. The Australian actress who had breakout roles in "Pitch Perfect" and "Bridesmaids" joined forces with Conan O'Brien (wearing his executive producer hat) to launch this wild-card sitcom about three best friends with a long-standing Friday night stay-at-home date ("Always together! Always inside!"). When the girl decide to start socializing with others, mayhem ensues, as demonstrated by the previews of Wilson's dress being accidentally ripped to reveal light-up underwear. Mixing Wilson's gung-ho spirit with O'Brien's stream-of-yuks-consciousness is a recipe for something. A daring triumph? A train wreck? Either way, you better slow down and watch.

-- "Masters of Sex" (Showtime, 10 p.m. Sept. 29): If the sexual revolution had a science department, it would have been cochaired by William Masters and Virginia Johnson. The famous sex researchers make a fascinating odd couple in this pay-cable series. Masters (Michael Sheen) is a medical whiz whose pioneering ideas don't match his uptight personality. Johnson (Lizzy Caplan) is a sexually liberated woman in the repressed 1950s who begins their partnership as his secretary. Their culture-shaking quest is depicted with retro stylishness, arch humor and, yes, nude sex scenes -- but most of them involve wearing electrodes to monitor heart and brain activity.

-- "The Originals" (CW, 9 p.m. Oct. 3): Centuries-old vampires, witches, werewolves and ordinary humans inhabit this brooding tale spun from the spicy adventures of "The Vampire Diaries." The story is a complicated gumbo of supernatural intrigue, sibling bonds, potential romantic triangles and power struggles set in a New Orleans where monsters and men rub shoulders. This could be the most mesmerizing eye candy of the new fall season, if you count the decayed beauty of the French Quarter and the simmering good looks of actors like Joseph Morgan, Charles Michael Davis and Claire Holt.

-- "Up Late With Alec Baldwin" (MSNBC, 10 p.m. Fridays starting in October): This one comes out of left field (and not just because of the liberal slant). Baldwin, the "30 Rock" actor who's so adept at hosting "Saturday Night Live," has always had a serious side (see him in "Glengarry Glen Ross," "The Hunt for Red October," "The Departed," or any of his non-Jack Donaghy dramatic roles). But it's his strong opinions about politics and other pressing current events that won him a weekly talk show on MSNBC. The format should be similar to his two-year-old podcast for WNYC, where he honed "a fondness for hosting a show that involved talking with smart, talented and engaging people in every imaginable field," as Baldwin said in a statement. Just keep the paparazzi away from the set. Far, far away.


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