Martial artists and Muppets, warriors from the Middle Ages and one widely beloved middle-aged warrior (“Hail to the king, baby!”) are among many crazy TV diversions vying for your attention this fall.
Twenty two new shows will debut on network television alone, with many more to come on cable…but let’s be honest for a moment. You probably only have the time, and the desire, to commit to a few of them, right? We understand.
With that in mind, take a look at our list of 10 new series we think are worth sampling. Some of them might be hits. Others may disappear not long after they debut. In any case, we recommend take a look now if only so you can say you did.
THE BASTARD EXECUTIONER
Premieres: Tuesday, September 15, 10pm
Starring: Lee Jones, Stephen Moyer, Katey Sagal, Flora Spencer-Longhurst, Sam Spruell, Sarah Sweeney, Danny Sapani, Darren Evans and Kurt Sutter.
The Story: Wilkin Brattle (Lee Jones), a 14th century warrior, lays down his sword after a divine messenger instructs him to lead the life of another man. But when tragedy strikes, he takes up his sword again and dons the mantle of a journeyman executioner, believing he serves a mysterious destiny. His path is not straight; he’s guided by a healer named Annora (Katey Sagal) who has her own destiny to fulfill, and manipulated by a devious Chamberlain named Milus Corbett (Stephen Moyer), who seeks to use Wilkin’s sword to achieve his own political ends.
What We Like: Given Game of Thrones’overwhelming popularity it’s not surprising that cable’s getting all medieval on our asses. The Bastard Executioner immediately embraces the brashness of Sutter’s last great FX series Sons of Anarchy, but cuts very differently, adding more of a spiritual element in its first hour that establishes how strange of a ride this show is going to be. The Bastard Executioner also adds a rock riff to the heroism, blood and gutsiness of the feudal era, which may win back his Sons of Anarchy fans more easily than any Throneys looking to scratch that itch left by their show’s absence. What it lacks in the HBO hit’s pomp and grace, though, it more than makes up for in its accessibility.
What’s Not to Like: It’s hard to get past how weird and unfocused the premiere feels at times, even if Jones’ performance makes Wilkin Brattle grow on the viewer. Likewise, Sagal is a tremendous actress but the odd, wandering accent she gives to Annora proves to be distracting. It’s also easy to see at least one major twist in the tale coming from a league or two away. None of that should prevent viewers from coming back for the second episode, though.
BLINDSPOT and THE PLAYER
Premieres: Blindspot premieres Monday, September 21, 10 pm. The Player premieres Thursday, September 24, 10pm
Starring in Blindspot: Sullivan Stapleton, Jaimie Alexander, Marianne Jean-Baptiste , Rob Brown , Audrey Esparza , Ukweli Roach and Ashley Johnson.
Starring in The Player: Wesley Snipes , Philip Winchester, Charity Wakefield, and Damon Gupton.
A note about this entry: NBC has two high-concept action hours on the schedule this fall, and they couldn’t be more different. We’re combining them into one entry because each features a star from Cinemax’s underappreciated action series Strike Back: Sullivan Stapleton and Philip Winchester. Strike Back’s finale season is currently underway, and its faithful may be happy to see their duo getting right back to work on new projects. But which one better fulfills its mission?
The Stories: Blindspot begins with a hot Jane Doe (Jaimie Alexander) emerging from a duffel bag, totally naked (and hot) and with every inch of skin on her body that isn’t her face covered in tattoos (also hot), and absolutely no memory of the past (which also could be hot, depending on what you’re in to). The biggest swath of ink is devoted to the name Kurt Weller (Stapleton), an FBI agent tasked with figuring out what Jane’s tattoos have to do with an emerging chain of crimes – and perhaps helping her to remember who she is.
Meanwhile, The Player kicks off with a former military operative turned security expert Alex Kane (Winchester) being pulled into a high-stakes underground gaming operation when a simple job he’s hired for goes sideways. Desperately searching for the criminals responsible for committing a terrible crime, he secretly becomes the player in an impossible betting game played by a mysterious, unseen cabal of the impossibly rich, facilitated by a cold-blooded pit boss (Wesley Snipes) and his icy dealer (Charity Wakefield).
What We Like: Obviously, Jaimie Alexander’s appeal goes deeper than whatever is on her epidermis, be it ink or Asgardian armor. She’s an electrifying presence onscreen and gets to show off her fighting skills in the premiere. As slices of Jane Doe’s memories come back to her, she’ll probably get a lot more action scenes in the future. That’s good news for Blindspot.
The Player, on the other hand, is fueled by fast-paced thrills and a time-constraint element that Jack Bauer fans will find all too familiar; all of Alex Kane’s missions must be completed by midnight on the day they begin. Fortunately Winchester is more than up to the challenge of taking on the action star role, although it’s just as enjoyable to watch the nattily dressed Snipes ham it up. Though Kane promises to throw the pit boss out of a high window one day, we hope that doesn’t happen any time soon, since Snipes and Winchester are an entertaining pair.
What’s Not to Like: Neither Blindspot nor The Player is breaking new ground for the television genre. Blindspot, though, suffers in comparison to a past show about tattooed conspiracies, Fox’s Prison Break. The table is set for Blindspot to be Alexander’s show more than Stapleton’s, which is just as well since the Strike Back star doesn’t have much range to play with in Agent Weller. Unfortunately Weller gets a lot more of the focus than Alexander’s character as the show begins which, like the wallpaper of tats on the woman’s skin, makes no sense.
The Player is crazier and more prone to nitpicking, but like its lead-in, The Blacklist, it can be such frenetic fun that viewers may be willing to endure the odd plot holes with a shrug and a smile. This is a gamer’s show more than anything else – not Vegas gaming, but rather, a live-action video game. Indeed, Winchester’s Alex Kane might as well be a pixelated hero made flesh and blood, and exudes just as much determination and numbness to pain. So when the dialogue he’s saddled with seems just as two-dimensional, maybe that’s okay. We’re willing to give this show an additional life.
Premieres: Tuesday, September 22, 8pm (regular time-slot is 9pm Tuesdays)
Starring: Emma Roberts, Jamie Lee Curtis, Lea Michele, Abigail Breslin, Nasim Pedrad, Oliver Hudson, Skyler Samuels, Keke Palmer, Billie Lourd, Diego Boneta, Glen Powell, and Lucien Laviscount
The Story: A killer in a red devil costume sets his sights on Kappa Kappa Tau, the most elite sorority house at Wallace University, after the university’s Greek system-loathing Dean decrees that KKT’s pledging process must be open to anyone who rushes.
What We Like: By now you’re either a card-carrying member of the Ryan Murphy/Brad Falchuk Culture Club, or you’re not. Fans are already in the bag for Scream Queens, of course, and rightly so: The rapid-fire dialogue and heightened depictions of sorority and frat boy bitchery are stunningly hilarious. As Kappa House’s queen bee, Emma Roberts is virtually the same snide diva she portrayed in American Horror Story: Coven, which is a good thing; her character was one of the best features in a middling season. The main reason to watch for many, other than to laugh at Lea Michele struggling with the world’s worse neck brace, will be to see Jamie Lee Curtis chew up the scenery. We’re delighted to say that she does not disappoint.
What’s Not to Like: Murphy and Falchuk are fond of lampooning racism and sexism by writing jaw-dropping dialogue for utterly horrid characters. But there’s a fine line between being unafraid to go there and coming across as downright assaultive via a barrage of bigotry presented as lighthearted punchlines. Sure, Scream Queens is a send-up of both elitist university culture and slasher flicks. We get it. But instead of making us queasy at seeming to be complicit in these characters’ disgusting points of view, we’d rather be shocked by more frights, thanks much.
Premieres: Tuesday, September 22, 8pm
Starring: Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Gonzo, Rowlf, Scooter, Pepé the King Prawn, Rizzo the Rat, Dr. Teeth, Janice, Animal, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, Beaker and some sow named Denise.
The Story: Returning to primetime as a mockumentary-style comedy, The Muppets explores the lives of Kermit and the rest of the gang as they produce Miss Piggy’s late-night talk show, “Up Late with Miss Piggy.” Oh, and in case you haven’t heard, Miss Piggy and Kermit have parted ways, but they remain cordial enough for Kermit to produce Piggy’s show.
What We Like: So far ABC has only made the 11-minute pilot presentation available, but thanks to recent theatrical releases and a slew of viral videos, the audience has been primed to embrace the Muppets’ re-introduction into primetime. What we saw was a lot of fun, though, and it helps that Bill Prady (The Big Bang Theory) and Bob Kushell (3rd Rock From the Sun) co-created the new series and serve as executive producers. Don’t be surprised if The Muppets out to be one of broadcast’s best new comedies the fall. (Given the competition, that’s not exactly a tough title to win.)
What’s Not to Like: As “Up Late with Miss Piggy’s” head writer Gonzo points out, the hand-held mockumentary sitcom is a little overused conceit these day, but perhaps not as worn-out as the network’s flogging the demise of Piggy and Kermit’s romance. That said, it’s pretty fun to throw shade at that sow Denise, even though she in no way (as far as we know) had anything to do with the death of one of entertainment’s most celebrated fictional relationships.
Premieres: Sunday, September 27, 10pm
Starring: Priyanka Chopra, Jake McLaughlin, Aunjanue Ellis, Yasmine Al Massri, Johanna Braddy, Tate Ellington, Graham Rogers
The Story: Jumping back and forth between the first days of training at Quantico and the first moments after the dust settles on the most devastating attack New York City has sustained since 9/11, ABC’s new action series follows fresh recruit Alex Parrish (Priyanka Chopra) as she desperately struggles to figure out which of her peers could have masterminded the attack.
What We Like: Though powered by an ensemble cast, Chopra stands apart as Quantico’s magnetic lead, ably wielding a hard-edged toughness and sensuality in one moment and emotional vulnerability in the next. Her various emotional tones render Alex as a complex, multifaceted heroine capable of navigating the hairpin turns of Quantico’s enticing plot. The premiere bounces between your typical ABC soft-soap deviousness and evasion tactics reminiscent of 24, and like that series, it can be highly entertaining as long as you don’t think too deeply about its twists.
What’s Not to Like: Like so many new series, one wonders how long Quantico’s writers can keep the story going, and the flashback/flashforward device may grow tiresome. True, it works well for How To Get Away with Murder, but…it’s also already very much in use by How to Get Away with Murder.
THE LAST KINGDOM
Premieres: Saturday, October 10, 10pm
Starring: Alexander Dreymon, Emily Cox, David Dawson, Rune Temte, Matthew Macfadyen, Rutger Hauer, Ian Hart, Tobias Santelmann, Peter Gantzler, Joseph Millson.
The Story: Another series bound to inspire badly-sourced high school history papers, this tale begins in 9th century Northumbria. Uhtred, the son of a Saxon nobleman (Alexander Dreymon), has his world upended when invading Danish forces destroy his father’s troops, leaving him an orphan and a slave to the warlord Earl Ragnar. But Ragnar raises Uhtred and a fellow captive named Brida (Emily Cox) as his own children, and Uhtred grows up to be a fearsome warrior.
A twist of fate leaves Uhtred and Brida caught between rival Viking groups, leaving them to turn their attention to Uhtred’s rights to his inheritance and lands in Northumbria, which were usurped by his duplicitous uncle, Aelfric (Joseph Millson).
What We Like: The Last Kingdom’s story should appeal to fans of Ragnar Lothbrok in particular, since it’s a fictionalized spinoff of his stories based on a novel by Bernard Cornwell. Since Last Kingdom follows the British side of the tale as opposed to taking the Northmen’s point of view, it may serve a nice companion piece to Vikings, and a fine way to keep us sated until the next season starts. It also helps that Dreymon looks smoking in those furs.
What’s Not to Like: Since we’re comparing the two, Last Kingdom does lack a little of the emotional heat that sets Vikings alight each season. Also, if you’re a fan of the History series, you’ll really miss that show’s engrossing involvement of Norse religion and the script’s egalitarian presentation of women — Vikings’ shieldmaidens really do pack a wallop.
Premieres: Monday, October 26, 8:30 pm (regular time-slot is Mondays at 8pm)
Starring: Melissa Benoist, Calista Flockhart, Chyler Leigh, Mehcad Brooks, David Harewood and Jeremy Jordan.
The Story: After 12 years of keeping her powers a secret, Superman’s 24-year-old cousin Kara Zor-El (Benoist) lives in National City and works as an assistant to a media mogul — and alongside famous photographer James Olsen, who Kara’s boss hired as her company’s new art director. But when the head of a super-secret agency enlists her help to protect the citizens, Kara finds it challenging to balance her human life with her calling to be Supergirl.
What We Like: The earnestness and hope permeating the premiere of Supergirl are a nice counterbalance to darker superhero series such as Fox’s Gotham, ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and The CW’s Arrow. Not that we don’t love those shows; it’s just nice to see a sunny, blue-skies version of a comic book character in a show tailored to appeal to families and geeks alike.
Benoist does justice to the character, and her interactions with Calista Flockhart’s Cat Grant are just as entertaining as watching Supergirl single-handedly save a plummeting plane. Bonus points to executive producers Greg Berlanti, Ali Adler, Andrew Kreisberg, Sarah Schechter for casting Mehcad Brooks as James Olsen, transforming Superman’s aw-shucks boy sidekick into a strong mentor for Benoist’s burgeoning hero.
What’s Not to Like: The comic book genre is hot right now, but there’s the nagging question as to how well a show like this will fit into CBS’s brand…and if it doesn’t right away, what sorts of contortions the network might put it through to make it fit. Supergirl maybe virtually invulnerable, but network meddling is every television show’s kryptonite.
ASH VS. EVIL DEAD
Premieres: Saturday, October 31, 9pm
Starring: Bruce Campbell, Lucy Lawless, Ray Santiago, Dana DeLorenzo and Jill Marie Jones.
The Story: Three decades after defeating the Army of Darkness and that assault tree, Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell) is still a stock boy who loves ‘em and leaves ‘em, with nary a care in the world or a cent to his name . But once again, he must step up to stop a new Deadite plague before it destroys all of mankind. This time, however, he is not alone.
What We Like: As Campbell pointed out in a recent interview, there’s no way he’ll ever be rid of this iconic character — and thank God (or the Deadites?) for that. Campbell’s Ash is just as unapologetically cheesy, self-centered and dunderheaded as he ever was, and brother Sam and Ivan Raimi (who wrote the script) upped the ante by showing us just how unkind time has been to him. It’s a tough to think of another series that shows the male action lead strapping himself into a homemade girdle.
Even better than giving Evil Dead fans more of Ash’s adventures is knowing that Campbell is teaming up with Lucy Lawless, who plays his adversary Ruby. Lawless and Campbell were an outstanding comedic team in his limited Xena: Warrior Princess guest appearances. It’ll be a fabulous treat to watch them play off of one another on a weekly basis.
What’s Not to Like: Each episode is only half an hour long.
Okay, that’s not really a bad thing. The first season consists of 10 episodes — that’s around five hours of new Evil Dead action, around 30 minutes more than the running time of all of theatrical releases put together. But we had to think of at least one thing to gripe about.
FLESH AND BONE
Premieres: November 8
Starring: Sarah Hay, Irina Dvorovenko, Sascha Radetsky, Emily Tyra, Damon Herriman, Josh Helman, Raychel Diane Weiner, Ben Daniels.
The Story: Claire (Sarah Hay) is an emotionally wounded young dancer who emerges seemingly out of nowhere to audition for New York City’s American Ballet Company. At first its cruel, demanding director notices her for all the wrong reasons. But soon he sees that Claire’s fragility belies a magnificent talent, one born of a dark past and of self-destructive tendencies.
What We Like: Created by Emmy-award winning executive producer and writer Moira Walley-Beckett, Flesh and Bone contains all the complexity and darkness of the last series Walley-Beckett worked on (that’d be Breaking Bad) and may even prove to be more ambitious. Anchoring the main cast are a number professional ballet dancers, led by Hay. This results in incredibly raw, affecting performances by the lead and her co-stars, so much that scenes depicting nastier elements of the ballet world’s underbelly feel distinctly uncomfortable to watch. This production also ended up being one of Starz’s most expensive to date, one of the reasons “Flesh and Bone” will be an eight-episode limited series with a close-ended storyline.
What’s Not to Like: The script is brilliant, the performances are mesmerizing, but the plot gets incredibly grim so quickly that you may need therapy by the third episode’s end credits. It’s that harsh.
INTO THE BADLANDS
Premieres: Sunday, November 15, 10pm
Starring: Daniel Wu, Aramis Knight, Emily Beecham, Sarah Bolger, Oliver Stark, Orla Brady, Ally Ioannides and Stephen Lang.
The Story: Loosely based on the Chinese tale Journey to the West, Into the Badlands blends elements of the classic Western with martial arts action flicks, throwing in a bit of futuristic technology for good measure, to tell the story of a brutal land controlled by feudal barons. Across this landscape travels a fearsome warrior (Daniel Wu) and a boy, searching of enlightenment and asses to kick.
What We Like: Only the Comic-Con trailer was screened to critics in July, which is the same one seen here. But honestly, look at that trailer. How can this series be anything less than amazing?
What We Don’t Like: Well, it is possible that the best elements of the series are on display in the trailer. That has happened before. But even the small taste that AMC has given viewers, and Wu’s involvement in creating the series, makes us continue to have faith in its greatness.
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Melanie McFarland is a Seattle-based writer who serves on the board of the Television Critics Association. Her work has appeared in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The Seattle Times, Variety and Salon, among other outlets. Follow her on Twitter: @McTelevision.