Tuesday, September 24, 2013
With three new dramas and three new comedies on the schedule, this fall NBC will be working hard to find new candidates for long-term success. With their once magnificent Thursday comedy block almost completely revamped for this season after the finales of The Office and 30 Rock, and with CBS' competing comedy block looking like there's at least one strong contender with 9pm's The Crazy Ones, revving up Thursdays nights isn't going to be easy. More on that later.
Monday night on NBC sees the return of the successful singing competition show The Voice from 8p - 10pm. NBC is using the strong lead-in to premiere their best chance for a drama hit this season there, much as they previously launched Revolution. The Blacklist stars unique TV favorite James Spader (Boston Legal, The Office, The Practice, Crash, Stargate, White Palace, Sex, Lies and Videotape) as a brilliant government agent-gone-rogue who offers to help the FBI capture a sordid assortment of the worst criminals out there. His only catch is the stipulation that a newly-minted female agent, played by Megan Boone (Law & Order: Los Angeles, Blue Bloods, My Bloody Valentine), be assigned solely to work with him. Although NBC isn't trying very hard to divorce itself from Silence of the Lambs weirdness comparisons -- e.g., when they meet, Spader is trussed up and emerges from a plastic cube -- NBC already has their actual Hannibal series coming back next year. That series was a critical success despite its disturbing core of grotesque violence probably better suited to cable. The Blacklist with its emphasis not on serial killers but instead terrorists and more refined evildoers seems not be heading into the quite same blood-soaked territory (we hope).
Co-starring with Spader and Boone are Harry Lennix (Man of Steel, Dollhouse, Emily Owens, M.D., Little Britain USA as the President, 24, the last two Matrix movies) and Diego Klattenhoff (Homeland, Pacific Rim, After Earth, Mercy, Men in Trees) as FBI colleagues and Ryan Eggold (90210, Entourage, Daybreak, Dirt) as Boone's onscreen husband, a relationship which is secret. Buzz is very positive; everybody loves Spader in anything these days, and the suspense is genuine in this series that could definitely become a new crime procedural hit. The Blacklist airs -- naturally, using TV logic -- directly opposite CBS' own super-suspenseful new drama Hostages. If you prefer your leads on the deliciously hammy side, go for Spader who never disappoints. The Blacklist airs on NBC at 10pm beginning Monday, September 23rd.
Wednesday nights at 10pm NBC premieres a reboot of the network's long-running -- 1967 to 1975 -- police series starring Raymond Burr as a San Francisco police detective with a wheelchair. A novel concept at that time, this time the action's in New York and we have the appealing Blair Underwood (The Event, L.A. Law, The New Adventures of Old Christine, Dirty Sexy Money, In Treatment, Fatherhood, Sex and the City) filling Burr's formidable shoes. Ironside co-stars Brent Sexton (Justified, The Killing, Life, Deadwood, Surface) as Ironside's friend and fellow detective, Pablo Schreiber (Orange is the New Black, The Wire, Weeds, A Gifted Man, Lights Out, Dirt) as a tough cop whose home life is key for him, Spencer Grammer (Kelsey Grammer's daughter, As The World Turns, Greek) as a female police officer who thrives on the thrills, Neal Bledsoe (Smash, Law & Order: SVU, Ugly Betty) as a rebellious cop who comes from money, and Kenneth Choi (Sons of Anarchy, Glee, 24, Red Dawn) as Ironside's intense captain with whom he doesn't always see eye to eye. Buzz on Ironside isn't too positive; Underwood is a draw but the police action feels tired, a little too by-the-book. Of course there's some built-in pop culture familiarity, but anybody who saw Ironside the first time around is certainly not the demo NBC is probably looking for. Ironside airs on NBC at 10pm beginning Wednesday, October 2nd.
Thursday nights bring three new comedies to follow the returning Parks and Recreation. First up at 8:30pm is Welcome to the Family, the story of two very different families who are thrown together when their teenage children find out they are expecting a baby. This is one of those plots that is only possible in a world where nobody's heard of birth control or abortion; in other words, a world much like a lot of America, unfortunately. Basically we have the culture clash of a white family getting to know the Latino parents of their daughter's boyfriend. Mike O'Malley (Glee, Justified, My Name is Earl, Yes, Dear, Parenthood) and Ricardo Chavira (Desperate Housewives, Six Feet Under, Monk, Burn Notice) are the fathers, Mary McCormack (In Plain Sight, The West Wing, ER, Murder One, K Street) and Justina Machado (Six Feet Under, Private Practice, Desperate Housewives, Three Rivers, Burn Notice) are the mothers. Ella Rae Peck (Gossip Girl, Deception) and Joseph Haro (Awkward, Glee, Broadway musicals) are the young couple. Welcome to the Family has enough elements to make it the 21st century version of that very old play Abie's Irish Rose -- out of place girl marries into family with different culture -- which probably means it's not offensive but also unlikely to go anywhere you can't see coming. Buzz is good cast, tired premise, despite the attempt to update it into the most likely cross-cultural pollination we'll be seeing during our lifetimes. Welcome to the Family airs on NBC at 8:30pm beginning Thursday, October 3rd.
Thursdays at 9pm sees the premiere of Sean Saves the World starring the multi-talented Sean Hayes (Will & Grace, Smash, Up All Night, an outstanding Larry Fine in The Three Stooges, a great Jerry Lewis in the Martin and Lewis TV movie, and theater such as Damn Yankees and Promises, Promises). Hayes plays a divorced gay father whose fourteen-year-old daughter moves in with him. Newcomer Samantha Isler (child reporter on Today) plays his daughter, veteran Linda Lavin (Alice, more theater than you can imagine) is Sean's opinionated mother, Thomas Lennon (Reno 911, The State, The Dark Knight Rises) is his pompous boss, Echo Kellum (quite amusing on last season's Ben and Kate) is his co-worker, and Megan Hilty (Smash, The Closer, lots of theater and voice work) is Sean's best friend. Everybody knows that Sean Hayes is indefatigable and will wring any possible laughs out of the material given to him. This show will rise or fall on his funny bones so let's hope he's got what it takes to elevate this one past the usual and predictable domestic sitcom. I think I like everything about it except the fatherhood part; that cast is killer, isn't it? It will be competing directly against CBS' The Crazy Ones with Robin Williams; we'll have to wait to find out which of these gifted comic actors will be able to go the distance. Sean Saves the World airs on NBC at 9pm beginning Thursday, October 3rd.
Thursdays at 9:30pm is the home of the new The Michael J. Fox Show, one of the season's most anticipated new series because of its titular star. If everybody loves James Spader for his slightly creepy quality, they love Michael J. Fox for just the opposite reason. He's earned his place as one of the most beloved celebrities thanks to his genuine nice guy personality, unending talent and the matter-of-fact way he's conducted his life with Parkinson's Disease. Show business loves Michael J. Fox, too, with his string of hits dating back to the early '80s and his breakout role in Family Ties (and for NBC, too), then movie stardom with titles like Back to the Future, Teen Wolf and Doc Hollywood, then back to TV for successful series Spin City in the mid-'90s and more recent work in Boston Legal, Rescue Me, and The Good Wife.
His new sitcom plays off his real-life circumstances; Mike Henry is a big-time TV journalist who was diagnosed with Parkinson's, took some years off (which Fox never did), and now is coming back into the business. His family is all for the change -- too much dad time -- and how MJF deals with being in the spotlight again is what we can look forward to enjoying. Betsy Brandt (Breaking Bad, Private Practice) is Mike's wife, Conor Romero (Sleeping With the Fishes) is his older son, Juliette Goglia (Ugly Betty, Joan of Arcadia (remember the little girl who played God?), Desperate Housewives, Vanished) is his teen daughter, Jack Gore is his younger son, and Wendell Pierce (The Wire, Treme) and Ana Nogueria (Blue Bloods, The Battery's Down) are workplace buddies. Charles Grodin and Candice Bergen have also been cast as Fox's parents in at least one episode. Given a full-season order before it even began and picked up without a pilot solely on the strength of Michael J. Fox, The Michael J. Fox Show has a lot going for it in goodwill but it will take really good comedy to keep audiences watching. Everybody wants this one to work. The Michael J. Fox Show premieres on NBC at 9pm for a two episode intro on Thursday, September 26th but moves into its regular 9:30pm slot beginning Thursday, October 3rd.
Fridays brings another supernatural series to NBC's Friday fright night to act as companion to the successful Grimm which enters its third season this year. This time it's a Victorian England-set rendition of the classic vampire tale Dracula, a British co-production (10 episodes only) with some exciting provenance behind the camera (talent from HBO's Carnivale, Downton Abbey, The Tudors) and the equally exciting Jonathan Rhys Meyers (The Tudors, Velvet Goldmine, Gormenghast, Bend it Like Beckham, Elvis, Mission Impossible III) in the title role. Dracula is in London looking for revenge and pretending to be an American businessman. All the familiar characters are there and more, played by a mostly British cast: Oliver Jackson-Cohen (Lark Rise to Candleford, William and Kate: Before Happily Ever After playing Prince William, Ken Follett's World Without End, Mr. Selfridge) is Jonathan Harker, Australian actress Jessica De Gouw (The Arrow) is Mina, Thomas Kretschmann (The River, King Kong, Downfall, Transsiberian) is Van Helsing, Katie McGrath (Merlin, The Tudors) is Lucy Westenra, Nonso Anozie (Games of Thrones, The Grey, Conan the Barbarian,) is Renfield, Victoria Smurfit (Ballykissangel) is Lady Jane, Ben Miles (the original British series Coupling, The Forsyte Saga, Lark Rise to Candleford) is Mr. Browning, and Robert Bathhurst (Downton Abbey, The Pillars of the Earth, Cold Feet) is Lord Davenport. This one looks plenty good -- maybe a little Steampunky, hopefully -- but it will have to accomplish more than that to keep Grimm watchers happy. They like thrills, chills and some personality, too; let's hope this Dracula isn't too refined for its own good. Dracula premieres on NBC at 10pm on Friday, October 25th.
NBC has several other series on tap for mid-season and we'll cover them at that time. There are real opportunities for NBC to regain some of the strength that they've lost over the last several years. We have the highest hopes for The Blacklist and The Michael J. Fox Show, but as we know there are few safe harbors anymore on TV. We'll see what transpires over the next few weeks as the early ratings offer either hope or something less to these contenders.
Next up, the CW!