What to Watch – and Avoid – This Fall

Written by Caroline Forrey

Every year, new shows are released on cable and network TV and left to the mercy of the hungry but increasingly disinterested masses.

This means that we are treated to countless lazy cash-ins, a few diamonds in the rough that are canceled too soon and, sometimes, the start of something new and wonderful. Keeping up with all this when you’re not the type to make a fantasy league for TV pilots can be difficult, so here is a breakdown of what and what not to pay attention to this fall.

Lethal Weapon

Fox, Wednesday 8/7c

Starring: Damon Wayans, Clayne Crawford

A small screen remake of the popular “Lethal Weapon” film series from the 80’s starring Mel Gibson and Danny Glover, Fox’s “Lethal Weapon” brings Martin Riggs (Crawford) and Roger Murtaugh (Wayans) into the 21st century as hipper, younger versions of themselves.

It doesn’t aspire to be much more than good popcorn-eating fun with a largely forgettable plot and mostly succeeds in its mission. A warehouse explodes in the pilot’s final act, the two cop’s bicker, Clayne Crawford doesn’t try to be Mel Gibson, Damon Wayans remembers that he isn’t really that old and in the end justice gets served.

It’s a fun watch, but not one that sent me rushing to the next episode. It seems to have hit its mark perfectly as something fans of the original won’t hate, but is still accessible to the casual viewer.

Timeless

NBC, Monday 10/9c

Starring: Abigail Spencer, Matt Lanter, Malcolm Barrett

When an Elon Musk-type invents time travel and the time machine is promptly stolen by a criminal improbably named Garcia Flynn, the government recruits an unusual trio – a history professor (Spencer), a scientist (Barrett) and a soldier (Lanter) – to prevent him from altering time and destroying America as we know it.

Out of that wild premise comes a surprisingly serviceable show which is clearly having more fun delving into historical details, settings and characters than the physics of time travel even as much of the plot revolves around the consequences of alterations to the timeline. I might be showing a preference towards sci-fi plots but judging from how many are coming out this year, TV execs think that’s the best way to crack the millennial nut.

The pilot sparked my interest and it seems that every episode afterwards just gets better. And, come on, you can’t tell me that you never wanted to meet long gone people like Ian Fleming, the author of James Bond and a real spy in Nazi Germany or see the Heidenberg. 

It’s also a relief to watch a show that finally acknowledges some of the downsides of traveling into the past, especially if you don’t happen to be white. That’s been a long time coming, so I’ll take it even if the show does handle it a little clumsily. A solid show to watch this season or catch up on later on Netflix.  

Frequency

CW, Wednesday 10/9c

Starring: Riley Smith, Peyton List

Another show (sort of) about time travel and (sort of) a remake. Loosely based on the 2000 film by the same name, a magic bolt of lightning striking a HAM radio allows police detective Raimy Sullivan (List) in 2016 to speak to her father Frank Sullivan (Smith) in 1996 just days before his murder. She manages to warn him before he is set up by dirty cops and thus gains 15 more years with her father only to realize that every change to the past has repercussions in the present.

In a lot of ways this is similar to “Timeless” if “Timeless’” subplots were their own show. While it may not have the fun of rewriting American history, “Frequency” makes up for it in personal stakes. The first half of the pilot establishes Raimy’s life as essentially happy but marred by the early loss of her father and her conversations with her father instantly make Frank likeable so that when the episode ends with Frank alive and everything else in Raimy’s life falling apart you don’t know what to feel.

The adaptation is also perfect since most movies don’t have plots that could be stretched out over multiple seasons, but Frank and Raimy’s parallel timelines have enough narrative potential to do so. It’s nice to see that The CW can make good shows outside of the superhero genre. I will definitely be watching to see where this goes.

No Tomorrow

CW, Tuesday 9/8c

Starring: Joshua Sasse, Tori Anderson

Speaking of The CW, the network is particularly on fire this year. “No Tomorrow” might just be the only TV rom-com to work in recent years, though the ratings don’t show it.

Tori Anderson stars as an overly organized, overly cheerful administrator at an Amazon-like company who meets the man of her dreams in Xavier (Sasse) with just one little hitch — he believes an asteroid is going to destroy the earth in just over eight months.

The show hasn’t revealed yet whether he’s right or if he’s just crazy but uses his theory as a challenge to their relationship and a reason to check off something off his long, reckless bucket list each week. There’s not much of a plot here but that’s because it’s a comedy, and a delightful one at that. One that will probably make you wish you spent more time jumping off of cliffs, forming new relationships and breaking your cousins out of jail than leading your normal, mundane life.

It might be too saccharin sweet for some, but it’s a pleasant television palate cleanser. I encourage you to tune in or catch up online, it might not be here for long.

The Good Place

NBC, Thursday 8:30/7:30c

Starring: Kristen Bell, Ted Danson, William Jackson Harper, Jameela Jamil

Another high concept comedy, “The Good Place” follows a woman (Bell) dealing with a case of mistaken identity in the afterlife. A self admitted terrible person, she doesn’t know how she ended up in the “good place” instead of the “bad place” but she’s not about to give it up anytime soon. Too bad that her very presence is wreaking havoc on the good place and Ted Danson’s angel (sort of, maybe?) is looking for the cause.

This is a show full of clever wordplay, surprise twists and a satirical look at just what separates the good from the bad — though it may be a little over the top with its replacement of the “F-word” with “fork” as part of the good place’s goodness.

The internet is already full of speculation on the true nature of the good place and just what that means for the characters. If you’re interested in show mythology without all the drama of a drama, this might be the show for you.

Westworld

Westworld is HBO's next big hit | Photo by Abbey Gingras
Westworld is HBO’s next big hit | Photo by Abbey Gingras

HBO, Sunday 9/8c

Starring: Evan Rachel Wood, James Marsden, Jeffrey Wright, Ed Harris, Anthony Hopkins, Jimmi Simpson, Thandie Newton

Last but certainly not least on this list is HBO’s bid to replace “Game of Thrones” as a chart topping, discussion making hit as the other series winds its way to an end.

While it may never reach that point (there’s not nearly enough gore, nudity and dragons so far), this sci-fi/western small screen remake already has fans and it deserves them. The pilot is moody, introspective and full of ominous questions about the nature of humanity and Ed Harris as the Man in Black cuts a startlingly disturbing figure.

It’s the kind of hour of television that leaves you wanting more and feeling satisfied all at the same time. With what appears to be an stratospherically high budget and a cast of spectacular actors, I don’t know where the plot is going but I want to stick around for the ride. Without a doubt, this is the show to watch this season.  

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